I decided to publish my write-ups from my comprehensive exam reading fields. I am publishing them *as is.* Thus they represent my thoughts as a new PhD student. They were written between September 2011 and July 2012. The full collection is accessible here.

The Eastern Establishment and the Western Experience: The West of Frederick Remington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Owen Wister

Edward White

  • G. Edward White, The Eastern Establishment and the Western Experience: The West of Frederic Remington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Owen (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968).

The West, G. Edward White postures, is distinctive in comparison to other regions of the United States, namely the East and the South, because it is the only region that has educed the imaginative fancy of the American public, particularly outside of the region. In The Eastern Establishment and the Western Experience: The West of Frederick Remington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Owen Wister, White examines this imaginative impulse from the perspective of three, well-to-do Eastern men, Remington, Roosevelt, and Wister, who grew into adulthood during an exceptionally tumultuous period of American history. A time period during with the country was making the transition from an agrarian to an industrial society. The West represented the last vestiges of old America, although it too was threatened by the turn of the century, as noted by Frederick Jackson Turner. In The Eastern Establishment and the Western Experience, White shows the way in which these three men used the West to initially cope with trials of adolescence and then to shape their careers.

At the heart of White’s analysis is a conviction that the duality model of investigation serves to best flesh out the intricacies of Western history. At the midpoint of the nineteenth century, “the most observable duality in…American experience was that of eastern civilization and western space,” (5) White writes. By the end of the century, the American experience was changing quickly, and the West was emerging as a distinct region, which was, paradoxically, associated with both the future of the country and the embodiment of its purer past, an embracement of industrialism and a distrustful abhorrence of it. White argues that the most important factor to consider when looking at the West and the East in the late nineteenth century is the character of the civilizations that each region developed. One of the most efficient ways to explore the relationship between East and West is to examine the reactions of specific individuals. Remington, Roosevelt, and Wister, who blossomed at the same time at the country’s industrial economy, provide privileged Eastern viewpoints on the West, and show the manner in which the West was invoked to celebrate the country’s supposed romantically rugged and individualistic origins. They provide a portrait of the intersection of two civilizations, the destinies of which were in inherently intertwined.

White’s examination of the importance of boarding schools as an indoctrinization process into the upper echelons of Eastern elite establishment is revealing. The connection he makes to these boarding schools and anxiety on the part of the landed elite over the intrusion of nouveau riche industrialists is enlightening and serves as an interesting comparison to Gail Bedermann and Robert D. Dean’s assertion that elite boarding schools were the result, not of socio-economic anxiety, but instead of a masculinity crisis amongst the middle and upper-class men. However, perhaps these anxieties are just different manifestations of the same beast of insecurity. White’s focus on the Eastern establishment’s economic, political, and personal meddling spirit, which radiated from Eastern urban centers of influence, in the West further suggests that the Metropolitan Thesis is more applicable to American West history than Careless seems to think.

Feature Image: “Arizona cow-boy” by Frederic Remington. Lithograph. 1901.

Published by Jessica M. DeWitt

Dr. Jessica M. DeWitt is an environmental historian of Canada and the United States. She is passionate about the use of digital technologies to bridge the gap between the public and researchers. In addition to her community and professional work, she offers various editing and social media consultancy services.

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