Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

May 1997


Published in Great Plains Research 7:1 (Spring 1997). Copyright © 1997 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Used by permission.


In his paradigm-shifting essay, Frederick Jackson Turner conceptualized a frontier West in which freedom and opportunity inexorably invested millions of European immigrants with a universal American identity. Revisiting the same phenomenon a century later, Jon Gjerde demonstrates convincingly that "the juxtaposition of cultural patterns-the minds-and environmental possibilities in a region diverse in cultural traditions and rich in resources-the West-... was replete with tension, conflict, even paradox." Moreover, he challenges the simplistic notion of undifferentiated "Americanization" with the brilliantly nuanced concepts of "ethnicization," "complementary identity," and "layered allegiances." Although briefly acknowledging that these complex interactions between cultural patterns and economic opportunities and constraints are fundamental to U.S. history, Gjerde carefully confines his paradigm-building to the interplay between Yankee and European "minds" in the upper Midwest during the nineteenth century, both because such activities were "magnified and isolated there" and because that region has served as a "metaphor for opportunity in the white American mind," a place, he argues "where cultural differences were muted and where the concept of the American people was forged." It is that intensive focus that is simultaneously the book's greatest strength and the source of its one significant shortcoming.