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212 Canadian Review of American Studies Revue canadienne d' etudes americaines Liberal Dreams and Nature's Limits is a good book which should stimulate debate, and will likely be controversial, but I have a depressing feeling that many will still prefer to shop at K-Mart. Ri,chardAnderson York University John W. Bennett and Seena B. Kohl. Settling the Canadian-American West, 1890-1915: Pioneer Adaptation and Community Building, An AnthropologicalHistory . Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995. Pp. xiii + 295 + bibliography + illustrations. Authors Bennett and Kohl have devoted much of their scholarly careers to studying southeastern Saskatchewan, southwestern Alberta, and adjacent territory in northern Montana. Readers familiar with this most arid and inhospitable section of the northern plains will no doubt recall their earlier work, which presented anthropological-sociological profiles of contemporary rural society. History often appeared as mere background information in those studies; now the authors have brought their social-science expertise to bear squarely on the frontier origins of those communities. Even so, they often stray beyond their 1915 termination date, and beyond their study area, in search of materials and insights. Readers might surmise that a comparative study of Canadian and American settlement is the chief concern of this book, but few explicit comparisons are drawn. Indeed, the authors argue (sensibly, for the most part) that nationality meant little to the pioneers, especially since many Canadians and Americans crossed and recrossed the border, and they responded to common problems in a common environment in remarkably similar fashion. In much the same way, ethnic differences were also blunted. Occasionally, the authors note some national differences, and attribute them briefly, as have so many others, to the more orderly and organized British character of the Canadian frontier. The authors' general theme is to explore adaptation to the region without much concern for the border. But the focus is not on economic adaptation to the demands of a particular physical environment-indeed few geographical interpretations are offered, and there is little on agricultural adaptation specifically. Instead, the authors are largely concerned with the Book Reviews 213 personal and social adjustments to such frontier conditions as isolation, loneliness, sudden catastrophe, and critical shortages of capital and services. Their study reveals and explains two seemingly contradictory impulses in great plains settlement: rugged individualism and mutual assistance, both essential keys to survival. While a review essay would be required to critique the many insights that emerge on such topics as migration, ethnicity, gender, family life, community relations, social organizations, and services, the authors note that many individual variations in experience and behavior defy easy generalizations. They argue, for example, that the level of pioneer expectations determined much, including whether or not an individual decided to abandon the area, or remained to endure its hardships. The most interesting feature of the book is its methodological approach. Historians of the northern plains are wearily familiar with the existence of hundreds of local community histories consisting largely of family biographies written by the surviving family members themselves or by their descendants. The general uselessness of these books for serious scholarly purposes has long frustrated historians. Bennett and Kohl, however, sifted through one hundred and five of these fat volumes seeking threads of gold in a mountain of base metal. They explicitly discuss the nature of these community-written histories, and compare them directly with single author reminiscences (both published and unpublished), and with original documents like letters and diaries. They note the very different perspectives on pioneering presented in these diverse sources, and their most interesting and penetrating insights almost always emerge from the deliberate crossfertilization of these disparate materials. By contrast, whenever they stray from this approach, their analyses are less original and less interesting. On balance, however, the book is impressive. Indeed, it is the most comprehensive overview of the purely social aspects of plains pioneering since the publication of C.A. Dawson's Pioneering in the Prairie Provinces: Social Side of the Settlement Processin Canada (Toronto, Macmillan Canada, 1940), and Everett Dick's Sod House Frontier in the United States (Lincoln, Johnson Publishing, 1954). Covering many of the same topics as those longoutdated volumes, but informed by recent advances in anthropology...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 212-213
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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