QUERY: Openings and Closings in the American West

rich megraw's picture

Dear Colleagues:

I am currently organizing an undergraduate seminar (at present 11 students nearly all of them senior AMS majors) entitled “Opening and Closings in the American West.”  My approach is both topical and chronological, ie, I’m treating an “Opening” or a “Closing” (or both at once as is so often the case) in accumulating chronological sequence.  To this end, I would appreciate sincerely any suggestions you may care to make regarding topics, assigned readings, and/or activities.

Regards and best wishes for a good summer,


Rich Megraw,

Associate Professor

Department of American Studies

University of Alabama


Hi Rich,

Your timing is good as I just submitted an entry to Oxford on sectionalism so I have Turner well in mind.

Since you are basing the seminar on Turner's thesis, I want to point out his, The Frontier in American History, is free to read online: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/turner/

If you are looking for in-class video material, you can get a lot out of the PBS series on The West. The companion website has numerous essays and a teacher lesson plan section with plenty of primary course materials: http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/

Other places of primary sources include the US National Archives: http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/westward/
Digital History http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/ run by the University of Houston
http://www.nebraskastudies.org/ - includes primary documents, video, images, maps, and more
The Kansas Historical Society has lots of material, including lesson plans: http://www.kshs.org/p/lesson-plans/18960
The Online Archive of California has a fair number of digital sources you could use: http://www.oac.cdlib.org/
The Mountain West Digital Library (http://mwdl.org/) covers numerous archives in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, and portions of Wyoming, billing itself as: A central search portal for digital collections about the Mountain West region.

One topic that may have parallels to certain sentiments today would be a focus on the Chinese who came for the gold rush in '49 and then subsequently for the railroads. Erika Lee has an essay in the Journal of American History called "Enforcing the Borders: Chinese Exclusion along the U.S. Borders with Canada and Mexico, 1882-1924" (http://www.jstor.org/stable/2700784). This could be paired with primary sources such as the National Archive's sheet music of the song, "The Chinaman Must Go" (https://www.loc.gov/item/sm1880.11339) and a section on "San Francisco and the Chinese" in American Notes: Travels in America, 1750-1920, Carpenter's geographical reader; North America (http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=lhbtn&fileName=19061/lhbtn19...). If you want to make the issue of race more complicated, you could add Daniel Liestman's interesting essay in the Western Historical Quarterly called, "Horizontal Inter-Ethnic Relations: Chinese and American Indians in the Nineteenth-Century American West" (http://www.jstor.org/stable/971376). He looks at the complex relationships between the Chinese and Native Americans, relationships that were both cooperative and antagonistic.

Being a historian of religion I'll also suggest this anthology as it has many informative essays examining the issues of religion and race in the west: Botham, Fay, Sara M. Patterson, and Laurie Maffly-Kipp, eds. Race, Religion and Region: Landscapes of Encounter in the American West. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2006. There is also a blog, Religion in the American West: http://relwest.blogspot.com/

I hope these few links and suggestions help get you started. Good luck with your seminar.

John L. Crow
Florida State University