- Purchase/rental options available:
Eighteenth-Century Studies 39.1 (2005) 120-130
[Access article in PDF]
Scalping the Appalachian Frontiers
The imagistic sequence of the rifle, the axe, and the plow encapsulates the stages of a favorite European settler narrative, articulated in Frederick Jackson [End Page 120] Turner's infamous thesis, about the Appalachian frontier: the inevitable supplanting of indigenous claimants to the land, the transformation of the wilderness into a hospitable civilization, and the incarnation of the republican capitalist ideal throughout an ultimately receptive continental space. While the ideological ellipses in that narrative have long been the subject of critical complaint among first- and second-generation myth-and-symbol historiographers (Henry Nash Smith's Virgin Land (1950) and Annette Kolodny's The Lay of the Land (1975), for example), only over the past decade and a half have the so-called New Western and especially the New Indian Historians been able to provide sufficient grounding in archival and archaeological sources to allow alternative frontier narratives—and, crucially, anti-narratives—to develop. These corrective histories of the interior have all re-imagined the Eurocentric and teleological concept of "frontier" as a contact zone, arguing that native-European relations in the eighteenth-century backcountry are better understood as emerging from complex intercultural mixing than from the clash of monolithic cultural units.
In retrospect, these historical revisions of what are by now clearly plural Appalachian and early western frontiers can be broken into 5 more-or-less distinct stages (each listed here with a seminal text). First, the polemical debunking of the simplistic frontier mythologies of the past (Francis Jennings's bracing The Invasion of America, 1976); second, the careful ethnographic presentation of missing native voices (Daniel Richter's Ordeal of the Longhouse, 1992); third, the exploration of the shared if unstable interculture of natives and Europeans on the frontiers (James Axtell's The European and the Indian, 1981; Richard White's Middle Ground, 1991; and James Merrell's Into the American Woods, 1999); fourth, the illumination of the internal diversity of the native and European cultures present in the backcountry (Contact Points (1998), edited by Andrew Cayton and Fredrika Teute); and fifth, the spelling out of the links between the continental interior and the circum-Atlantic imperial warfare that penetrated the eighteenth-century century American hinterlands (Fred Anderson's Crucible of War, 2001, and Christine Daniels and Michael Kennedy, eds., Negotiated Empires, 2001). It is a testament to the power of this perspectival shift that the subject of frontier intercultures has scarcely been exhausted by the energetic and imaginative scholarship surveyed above. Indeed, theoreticians from outside the discipline of frontier history—anthropologist James Clifford, sociologist Arjun Appadurai, and literary critic Stephen Greenblatt, to name three of the most influential—have elevated the frontier from its position as an interesting marginal case in a world dominated by culturally pure centers and re-imagined it as the standard model of culture generally in a world now understood to be "all edges." In a rerouting to the etymology of frontier (from...