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Dreams of the wild frontier: Imaginary geographies and the American West

Aaron Boyd Walker, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation traces the development of the relationship between the American West and the western frontier over the past century, and examines four key areas of the interaction between the West and the frontier: the trajectory of Western American History, which began the twentieth century with Frederick Jackson Turner's “frontier thesis” as its dominant paradigm, and ended the same century with the so-called New Western history; the migration of aspects of the frontier thesis to film and television westerns, and the revisionist and postfrontier responses within the genre that emerged late in the twentieth century; the increasing urbanization of the American West, the postwar suburbanization of much of the United States, and the tendency, evident in many Eastern cities by the 1980s, to attempt to reinscribe urban spaces as wilderness or new frontiers; finally, the description of networked computers, the Internet, and cyberspace in general as an electronic frontier. Both the American West and the western frontier are introduced and analyzed in the context of the production of space, and recognized as the products of spatial discourse and social practice, informed by a plethora of media and disciplines. While the frontier is clearly “imaginary” space, composed from fantasies, projections, stories, and visual representations, its relationship to the American West is neither artificial nor arbitrary. Ultimately, the distinction between the West and the frontier is not similar to the one between history and myth, or between reality and fiction.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|Motion Pictures|American studies

Recommended Citation

Walker, Aaron Boyd, "Dreams of the wild frontier: Imaginary geographies and the American West" (2001). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3027267.