Westward Expansion

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Westward Expansion: A History of the American Frontier, by Ray Allen Billington, with the collaboration of James Blaine Hedges (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1949, Fourth Edition, 1974, 840 pp., maps, tables, bibliography, index.)

As the preface to the first edition states, Westward Expansion attempts to follow the pattern that Frederick Jackson Turner might have used had he ever compressed his researches on the American frontier within one volume. Dr. Billington makes no pretense of original scholarship except in limited instances. Instead a synthesis of the voluminous writings inspired by Turner's original essays is presented. In that respect, the book is highly successful. Dr. Billington masterfully weaves these monographs, essays, texts, and learned journals, into a readable yet pedantic overview of the history of the American West.

Subsequent editions incorporate and appraise the newer viewpoints on the frontier advanced from the date of original publication in 1949 through 1981, the year of Dr. Billington's death. The fifth and final edition was published in 1982. Textual revisions from the fourth to the fifth edition were slight. Certain changes were made to rid the text of sexism, as masculine nouns and pronouns gave way to neutral words. Thus, "frontiersmen" became "pioneers" or "Westerners."

All editions share an outstanding bibliography. The fourth edition bibliography is nearly 150 pages long. As in previous editions, Dr. Billington followed the practice of briefly summarizing each new entry, suggesting its significance in the historiography of the frontier. The book also provides a variety of maps and charts to aptly exemplify points.

Dr. Billington was a professor of history and senior research associate of the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, at Northwestern University when the book was written. He has been described as a disciple of Frederick Jackson Turner, of Harvard University, who first...
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