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Home arrow Geography arrow The Myths That Made America : An Introduction to American Studies

Study Questions

  • 1. Identify and discuss the different meanings of the American West. How can they be contrasted, and what do they have in common?
  • 2. Why may mapping the West in geographical terms be difficult? What kind of maps can you think of that capture the (myth of the) American West?
  • 3. Give a brief definition of what Frederick Jackson Turner refers to as “the significance of the frontier in American history.”
  • 4. Interpret Frances Flora Bond Palmer’s Across the Continent: "Westward the Course of Empire Makes Its Way" (1868). How does it represent the West and westward expansion?

Illustration 8: Westward Expansion

Frances Flora Bond Palmer, Across the Continent: “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way" (1868). (Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gift of Kathy and Ted Fern- berger, 2009).

  • 5. Read Stephen Crane’s short stories “The Blue Hotel” and “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” and discuss how Crane’s representations of the West undermine prevailing stereotypes of his (and our) time.
  • 6. Watch and discuss commercials that use the myth of the West. A good place to start would be the “So God Made a Farmer” Ram Trucks commercial from Super Bowl 2013 with Paul Harvey, which is available on the internet.
  • 7. Choose a Western movie and discuss its representation of the West and the frontier.
  • 8. Discuss the implications of the myth of the West with regard to different ethnic groups in the US (Native Americans, Asian Americans, Mexican Americans, African Americans).
  • 9. Give reasons for the success of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in Europe. Can you draw analogies to other, perhaps more recent phenomena?
  • 10. The opening sequence of the television series Star Trek begins with a voiceover declaring “space” to be “the final frontier.” Discuss this opening in the context of the frontier myth.
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