Calvin College and NEH logos



Director's Message


Lesson Plans




Syllabus and Schedule




Library Resources


Application Information


Calvin College


West Michigan


National Endowment for the Humanities




William Katerberg
Calvin College


Carol Higham
North Carolina

Robert Schoone-Jongen, Calvin College






















































































































































































































































































NEH Summer Institute for Teachers, 2012


Syllabus and Schedule


Pre Readings

Ray Allen Billington and Martin Ridge. Westward Expansion: A History of the American Frontier, Abridged version, 6th edition. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2001.

Frederick Jackson Turner. “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” (1893), excerpts.


Sunday, June 24 

Arrival, welcoming picnic, brief introductory meeting.


Monday, June 25 Frederick Jackson Turner

Frontiers and American Exceptionalism: Will Katerberg

The morning discussion and presentations will examine Frederick Jackson Turner’s thesis in its context in the 1890s and its influence in subsequent decades. We also will address the Turner thesis as a variation on the idea of American exceptionalism. In the afternoon, we will talk about how to teach about Turner’s thesis in middle and high school classes using the essays by Reichard and Starr as starting points and examining images of the frontier in nineteenth-century paintings and community histories.


Carol Higham and William Katerberg, Conquests & Consequences: The American West from Frontier to Region. Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, 2009. Chapter 1.

David A. Reichard. “How do Students Understand the History of the American West? An Argument for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.” Western Historical Quarterly 37:2 (Summer, 2006): 207-14.

David Starr. “The Great Frontier Thesis As a Framework for the American History Survey in Secondary Schools.” The History Teacher 6:2 (1973): 227-32.

Godfrey Hodgson. The Myth of American Exceptionalism. New Haven: Yale University, 2009. Brief selections.

Ian Tyrrell. “American Exceptionalism in an Age of International History.” American Historical Review 96 (1991): 1031-55.


Buffalo Bill's Wild West ShowTuesday, June 26 

Comparing Frontiers, Borderlands, and Empires: Carol Higham

The morning’s focus will be alternatives to Turner’s frontier thesis, notably the “metropolitan” thesis of H.A. Innis (Canada’s equivalent to Turner); the model developed by Howard Lamar and Leonard Thompson, which focuses on conflict between indigenous and intruder populations; and the concept of borderlands. We also will compare frontiers to different types of empire building using essays by Walter Nugent and Walter Prescott Webb. A presentation on Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show, using images and film clips, will show how popular culture in the 1890s and early 1900s connected the conquest of the U.S. West to overseas empire building and compare depictions of empire in that popular culture to scholarship in recent decades. The afternoon will be individual research time for participants.


H.A. Innis. The Fur Trade in Canada. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1930. Conclusion.

Walter Nugent. “Frontiers and Empires in the Late Nineteenth Century.” Western Historical Quarterly 20:4 (Nov. 1989): 393-408.

Leonard Thompson and Howard Lamar. “Comparative Frontier History.” In The Frontier in History: North America and Southern Africa Compare, edited by Howard Lamar and Leonard Thompson. New Haven: Yale. 3-I3.

Walter Prescott Webb. “Ended: 400 Year Boom - Reflections on the Age of the Frontier” and “Windfalls of the Great Frontier.” Harper’s Weekly, (October and November 1951).

Anne K. Nelsen and Hart M. Nelsen. “Family Articles in Frontier Newspapers: An Examination of One Aspect of Turner’s Frontier Thesis.” Journal of Marriage and Family 31:4 (Nov. 1969): 644-649.

Stephen Aron and Jeremy Adelman. “From Borderlands to Borders: Empires, Nation-States, and the Peoples in Between in North American History.” American Historical Review, 104 (June 1999): 814-41.

George M. Fredrickson. "From Exceptionalism to Variability: Recent Developments in Cross-National Comparative History." Journal of American History, 82:2 (September 1995): 587-604.

Elliott West, Chapter One. “The Frontier,” in Growing Up with the Country : Childhood on the Far Western Frontier. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989. 1-22.


Wednesday, June 27 

Frontier Mythology and Heroic Figures: Will KaterbergBuffalo Bill Cody

This session explores frontier figures in popular mythology. It begins with a discussion and brainstorming session on Western heroes: who qualifies, who is more of a mythic figure than a hero, etc. Then the presentation and discussion compares Buffalo Bill Cody and Oscar Micheaux, placing each within his own definition of the frontier and ideals of exceptionalism. (We will continue the comparison the next day, focusing on Teddy Roosevelt and Owen Wister.) The afternoon discussion session will be large group and focus on identifying what students already know. It will focus on breaking down what the participants know about the mythic West, how they know it, and how perceptions change based on different contexts. This exercise will provide them with an icebreaker for their own class discussions and generate ideas about how to change context and knowledge. Using the work of Richard Statta, Cowboys of the Americas, the participants will discuss ways to help students see similar figures in other contexts.


David Hamilton Murdoch. The American West: The Invention of a Myth. Reno:  University of Nevada Press, 2001. Chapters 5, 6.

Dan Moos. Outside America: Race, Ethnicity, and the Role of the American West in National Belonging. Lebanon, NH: University of New England Press, 2005. Chapters 2 & 5.

Richard Slatta. Cowboys of the Americas. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990. Chapter 12.

In-class exercises
Recent news articles on the pardoning of Billy the Kid and the participants in the Sioux Uprising.

Excerpts from accounts by Indians such as Black Elk and Luther Standing Bear who worked in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show.

Richard W. Slatta. "Making and Unmaking Myths of the American Frontier." European Journal of American Culture 29:2 (2010):  81-92.


Teddy Roosevelt & Rough Riders on San Juan HillThursday, June 28 

The Politics of Frontier Mythology: Will Katerberg 

Building on the previous day’s work, this session examines the political significance of frontier mythology, connecting it to ideas of American “manifest destiny” and the role of the U.S. in world history. We will examine what frontier mythology and the popular cowboy icon meant on the global stage. In particular, we will focus on Teddy Roosevelt and how his vision of the frontiersman shaped social and political values and American foreign policy, notably the transition from expansion across the American West to U.S. expansion overseas in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines. The morning discussion will focus attention on using these materials in the classroom. We will also look at the work of Owen Wister and Frederic Remington and at political cartoons of Theodore Roosevelt. The afternoon will be individual research time for institute participants.



Gail Bederman. Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917. University of Chicago Press, 1995. Chapter 5.

Albert J. Beveridge. “March of the Flag.” Public address from Sept. 1898, reprinted in various publications.

Brian Dippie. “Frederic Remington's Wild West.” American Heritage 26 (April 1975): 6-23, 76-79.

Theodore Roosevelt. “In Cowboy-Land.” Century Magazine 46:2 (June 1893): 276-84.

Theodore Roosevelt. “The Strenuous Life.” Public address given in 1899, reprinted in various publications.

Ben Merchant Vorpahl. “A Splendid Little War.” American West 9 (1972), 28-35.


Friday, June 29 

Frontiers in the Midwest: William Van Vugt

Midwest settlers

The morning session will examine the frontiers in Ohio and Michigan, including looking at British immigrants in the Old Northwest. The afternoon will be a field trip to local sites in the field and a museum that illustrate the history of Western Michigan as a logging frontier, notably the Lowell Area Museum and Fallasburg, the only preserved pioneer village that has not been developed and still has its mill site and foundations. The West Michigan furniture industry was started in this area in 1839. The tour will include visiting sites along the Flat River that were used during the logging era.




Milo M. Quaife, ed., “Henry Hay’s Journal from Detroit to the Mississippi [Miami] River.” Proceedings of the State Historical Society Wisconsin, Vol. 62. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1915.

Letters from Immigrants on the Frontier: John Ingle Letters (1813-1868), Saunders Hornbrook Letters (1818-1821), John Rose Letters (1822-1830), Samuel Mearbeck Letters (1815-1821), Charles Johnson Letter (1833), John Hodgson Letter (1845), Jane Trattles Letters (1854-1867).

Nineteenth Century Biographies of Immigrants on the Frontier: Robert Grieve, John Harrison.

Ray Allen Billington. Land of Savagery, Land of Promise: The European Image of the American Frontier in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1981. Excerpts.

Jon Gjerde. The Minds of the West: Ethnocultural Evolution in the Rural Middle West, 1830-1917. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997. Excerpts.

Malcolm J. Rohrbough. The Trans-Appalachian Frontier: People, Societies, and Institutions, 1775-1850. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. Excerpts.

Robert P. Swierenga. “The Settlement of the Old Northwest: Ethnic Pluralism in a Featureless Plain.” Journal of the Early Republic 9 (Spring 1989): 73-105.


Monday, July 2 slave family

Frontier Texas: West or South?: Andrew Graybill

This morning session will begin by having the participants debate whether Texas is Western or Southern. Dr. Graybill will then present material on race relations in Texas in the context of both slavery and emancipation and the cattle industry and lead a discussion of the assigned readings. The afternoon discussion will examine how to use these materials in the high school classroom, notably the primary source by Olmsted and the reflections of McMurtry in his collection of essays.


Terry G. Jordan. North American Cattle Ranching Frontiers. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1993. 208-40.

Larry McMurtry. In A Narrow Grave: Essays on Texas. 1968; New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. 99-116.

Frederick Law Olmsted. A Journey Through Texas. 1857; LIncoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004. 418-57.

Michael Phillips. White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007. 18-35.


Tuesday, July 3 Holland American Steamship

Immigrant Communities and Frontiers: 
Robert Schoone-Jongen

Immigrants provide fascinating ways of testing Turner’s thesis about the Americanizing power of the frontier and connecting the story of U.S. frontiers to globalization. Migration to an American frontier was one choice among many for European migrants, who also went in large numbers to other New World societies such as Brazil, Canada, and Argentina and within Europe. Immigrants who chose to settle in the American upper Midwest after the Civil War faced two frontiers: the retreating edge of settlement and life in a new country. How did the values and hopes brought from Europe help form the rural ethnic communities the newcomers established? And how were the newcomers reshaped by their new surroundings? In the afternoon we will focus on presenting this material to high school students and, in particular, using primary sources that illustrate immigrant experiences on Midwestern frontier zones.


Anita Talsma Gaul. "Living in Perfect Harmony."  Journal of Immigration and Ethnic History 30:1 (Fall 2010): 37-71.

Jane Marie Pederson. Between Memory and Reality: Family and Community in Rural Wisconsin, 1870-1970. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992. 116-138, 157-185, 205-224.

Primary sources: selections of immigrant letters, excerpts from the census, and items from immigrant and local newspapers.


Wednesday, July 4 

College Closed for July 4 Holiday


Thursday, July 5 Native American settlers

Native Peoples as Settlers: Carol Higham 

This session examines the idea that the Five Civilized Tribes viewed themselves as settlers of the West just as immigrants did. The presentation will provide background information to help explore these comparisons, including theories about immigrants as applied to Indians. The afternoon session will use primary documents from the Gilcrease to teach documentary study skills and comparison. Small group discussions will focus on what makes a frontier versus a borderland. The afternoon will be individual research time for institute participants.


Theda Perdue. “Cherokee Women and the Trail of Tears.” Journal of Women's History 1:1 (Spring 1989): 14-30.

Patricia Cleland Tracy. “Cherokee Reconstruction in Indian Territory.” Journal of the West 35:3 (July 1996): 81-85.

Patricia Cleland Tracy. “Cherokee Gold in Georgia and California.”Journal of the West 39:1 (January 2000): 49-54.

Primary documents from the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa Oklahoma.

Alan Taylor, Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006), Epilogue.


Battle of IsandlwanaFriday, July 6 

“Indian Wars” in Comparative Contexts: Carol Higham

The morning presentations and discussion will compare the Indian wars in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, and compare these conflicts to the British conquest of South Africa and New Zealand. We also will compare the outcomes of the Indian wars, notably reservations and reserves in North America. And we will compare the ideology of “savagery” and “civilization” that shaped such conflicts. The afternoon discussion will examine sources that can be used in the classroom, focusing on accounts of famous battles by participants, notably the Battle of Isandlwana in 1879 in South Africa and the Little Big Horn in Montana in 1876, using excerpts of letters and memoirs of U.S. Army and Native participants and images of the time that mythologized these battles.


James O. Gump. "A Spirit of Resistance:  Sioux, Xhosa, and Maori Responses to Western Dominance, 1840-1920.” Pacific Historical Review 66:1 (Feb. 1997): 21-52.

James O. Gump. “Civil Wars in South Dakota and South Africa: The Role of the "Third Force." Western Historical Quarterly 34:4 (Winter 2003): 427-444.

James O. Gump. “The Subjugation of the Zulus and the Sioux: A Comparative Study.” Western Historical Quarterly 19:1 (Spring 1988): 21-36.

Bruce Vandervort. Indian Wars of Mexico, Canada and the United States, 1812-1900. New York: Routledge, 2006. Exceprts.

In-class (divided between groups)
Andrew Greaves and Brian Best, eds. The Curling letters of the Zulu War: “There Was an Awful Slaughter.” Bamsley, South Yorkshire, UK: Pen & Sword, 2002. Selections.

Thomas B. Marquis. Wooden Leg: A Warrior Who Fought Custer. Midwest Company, 1931. Excerpts.

Charles Windolph. I Fought With Custer: The Story of Sergeant Windolph, Last Survivor of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Bison Books, 1987. Excerpts.

Benteen-Goldin papers, Gilcrease Institute, selections on Little Bighorn.




Monday, July 9 vaquero

Cowboys and the Frontier West: Richard Slatta

The cowboy, rounding up cattle while riding a bronco, is often seen as the quintessential and distinct American figure, symbolic of American freedom, life under its wide open skies. But figures like the cowboy can be found from Argentina to the Canadian West, and much of the culture of the U.S. cowboy came from the Mexican vaquero. The cowboy was, in practical terms, a migrant worker. This session will examine the enduring appeal of the American cowboy and set that iconic figure in the contexts of work in the cattle industry and comparisons throughout the Americas.


Buckaroos in Paradise: Ranching Culture in Northern Nevada, 1945-1982

Richard Slatta. "Long Hours and Low Pay: Cowboy Life on the Northern Plains.” South Dakota History 32:3 (Fall 2002): 194-216.
Richard Slatta, Cowboys of the Americas (selections).

"'Just a Continual Rumble and Roar':  A Texas Cowboy Remembers an 1884 Cattle Drive." Southwestern Historical Quarterly, 94:2 (October 2010):  172-79.

Molly Kruckenberg and Richard W. Slatta. "'$30 a month for all summer and don't have to work Sundays.':  Letters from Cowboy Earl J. Martin." South Dakota History, 38:2 (Summer 2008):  125-47.

American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 Choosing specific states, participants will do searches of terms like cowboy, ranch, buckaroo, vaquero, trail drive, cattle drive, roundup, cattle, ranch hand, rancher, etc. and read the corresponding  interviews.


Panning for goldTuesday, July 10 

Gold Rushes: From California to Australia: Will Katerberg

The California Gold Rush, and subsequent gold rushes in Colorado and other parts of the U.S. West, are often seen as quintessentially American stories of entrepreneurial opportunity and individualism. But this story can easily be set in international comparative contexts with similar rushes in British Columbia and the Yukon in Canada and in South Africa and Australia. Did gold rush frontiers share essentially similar characteristics, or did different cultural and political sensibilities shape their course? Did such events play the same role in other societies as in the U.S.? Gold rushes provide fascinating laboratories in which to examine both the nature of frontiers and the distinctiveness of the U.S. nineteenth- and early twentieth-century world history. In the morning we will focus on comparing gold rushes; in the afternoon we will examine primary sources that can be used in the classroom, such as guidebooks published to lure prospective miners and help them in their quest to find quick riches.


Douglas Fetherling. The Gold Crusades: A Social History of Gold Rushes, 1849-1929, Revised Edition. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997. Selections on California, Canada, South Africa, and Australia.

Primary Sources: excerpts from guidebooks to gold rushes in California and British Columbia.

Wednesday, July 11 American empire cartoon

Frontiers and Empires: Carol Higham 

The morning session will examine the relationship between frontiers and overseas empires, comparing them as forms of expansion and in terms of various kinds of settlement. Presentations and discussion will examine two cases: 1) patterns of colonial settlement, including relations between settlers and indigenous peoples in the American West and Africa (Kenya and South Africa) beyond wars of conquest; and 2) the transition from U.S. expansion in the West to expansion overseas in Hawaii, the Pacific more generally, and in the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico in the wake of the Spanish-American War of 1898-1899. The readings will include two kinds of primary sources: 1) the debate over empire in the U.S. and over how the war against Filipino insurgents seeking independence was fought in 1899 and early 1900s, using editorials, editorial cartoons, and excerpts from statements by proponents and opponents; and 2) excerpts from diaries and letters by settlers in the U.S. West and in Kenya and South Africa. The afternoon session will be dedicated to institute participants presenting their lesson plans.


Howard Lamar and Leornard Thompson. North America and Southern Africa Compared. Excerpts from chapters 7-8.

Walter Nugent. Habits of Empire: A History of American Expansion. New York: Knopf, 2008. Chapter 9.

Glenda Riley. Taking Land, Breaking Land: Women Colonizing the American West and Kenya, 1840-1940. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2003. Excerpts from chapters 3-5.

Primary sources: Magazine images and editorials about the Filipino Insurrection and letters from settlers in the U.S. West and in Kenya and South Africa.


Thursday, July 12 

Land, Law, and Frontiers: James SkillenHoover Dam

The focus in the morning will be on the enduring legacies of the frontier era and legislation associated with it into the present, examining post-World War II homesteading schemes, the evolution of policies in the Bureau of Land Management, and conflicts over regulation of public lands known as the Sagebrush Rebellion. We also will discuss conflicts in the Clinton and Bush eras over federal regulation of public lands and water resources. This topic will be well suited for social studies classes that focus on recent history and contemporary politics. The afternoon session will be dedicated to institute participants presenting their lesson plans.


Brian Q. Cannon. Reopening the Frontier: Homesteading in the Modern West. Lawrence: Kansas University Press, 2009. Chapter 1.

Robert Nelson. “The New Range Wars:  Environmentalists vs. Cattlemen for the Public Rangelands.” Draft document: Economics Staff, Office of Policy Analysis, Department of the Interior, 1980, excerpts.

James R. Skillen. “Closing the Public Lands Frontier: The Bureau of Land Management, 1961-1969.” Journal of Policy History 20:3 (2008): 417-443.

Political cartoons and editorials related to the Sagebrush Rebellion in the 1970s and conflict in the 1990s and 2000s over federal regulation of public lands and water resources.

James R. Skillen. The Nation's Largest Landlord: The Bureau of Land Management in the American West. Lawrence: Kansas University Press, 2009. Excerpts from chapters 5 and 7.


Friday, July 13 

Frontiers, American or Global?

The morning session will be dedicated to the last group of institute participants presenting their lesson plans to the group. The discussion in the afternoon will return to the larger questions that the institute began with -- about defining frontiers and American exceptionalism -- addressing how participant views have evolved over the course of the institute and how their approach to teaching specific topics and U.S. and world history more generally will change.


Michael Adas. “From Settler Colony to Global Hegemon: Integrating the Exceptionalist Narrative of the American Experience into World History.” American Historical Review 106:5 (Dec., 2001): 1692-1720.

Richard Etulain, ed. Does the Frontier Experience Make America Exceptional? Bedford/St. Martin's, 1999. Selections.

David M. Wrobel. “Global West, American Frontier.” Pacific Historical Review 78:1 (Feb. 2009): 1-26.



Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.