The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 84, July 1980 - April, 1981

Book Reviews

cultural life of Texas communes and their influence. The best studies
of American experiments emphasize the communes' ability to develop
lasting commitment mechanisms and viable social and economic insti-
tutions. A thoughtful monograph of the Lone Star State's flirtation
with utopian socialism remains to be written.
Texas Tech University JAYME A. SOKOLOW
Comparative Frontiers: A Proposal for Studying the American West.
By Jerome O. Steffen. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press,
1980. Pp. xix+ 39. Preface, epilogue, bibliography, index.
$10.95.)
The study of comparative frontier history has received only limited
attention, not because it is unimportant-its significance to the Ameri-
cas, Africa, Russia, China, Australia, and New Zealand has been
stressed repeatedly for the last sixty years-but, rather, because it is an
unusually complex discipline. Jerome Steffen of the University of
Oklahoma has been urging us to take up the challenge and, in this
brief speculative monograph, proposes a model for reevaluating our
American frontiers, a model that he hopes will "generate a larger ap-
proach to western history" (p. ix) and open up the nearly closed com-
munity of western scholars.
Steffen suggests that we examine two variables present on every fron-
tier: the natural environment (a force for change) and the prefrontier
experience of frontier people (a force for continuity). He believes that
settlers on frontiers where environmental demands are strong have
shown a greater degree of adjustment to their insularity than have
those living on frontiers linked closely to the outside world. By care-
fully balancing change against continuity we should see which force
was the greater influence on any given frontier.
Steffen devotes a chapter each to our fur-trading, ranching, mining,
and trans-Appalachian agricultural frontiers, and an epilogue to the
Great Plains farming frontier. He emphasizes that, of those five fron-
tiers, only the trans-Appalachian agricultural frontier was a truly
insular one where change overcame continuity. In comparison he
argues that, although the Indian made fundamental cultural adapta-
tions to plains living, non-Indian plains settlement, contrary to Walter
Prescott Webb's interpretation, has shown more continuity than
uniqueness. After examining the careers of selected leading fur traders,

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 84, July 1980 - April, 1981. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101225/. Accessed August 29, 2014.