A note from Executive Director Peter Seibert
So, what does constitute the difference between a Western American and an Eastern American? Beyond obvious points of geography, I think there are some deeper cultural values that define the two regions.
The historian David Hackett Fischer, whose book Albion’s Seed is probably one of the greatest national historical narratives of the late 20th century, looks at the cultural roots of America as deriving from four distinctive British folk traditions. He notes that the Western American spirit derives from northern British and southern Scottish border communities who cherished ideas of rugged individualism, self-initiative, and the passionate desire to both own and control their land. Hmmm…. I think he might have a point having lived in different parts of the American West.
As an easterner who has always been described as more of a westerner by his friends, I find myself thinking about this often. Afterall, history is really about issues of personal and cultural identity. We are the product of the past in so many ways and that includes how we define our personal national identity. How have the historical events in Durham and Cumberland and the border counties of Scotland affected the saga of the American West?
While my family, until now, never lived in the American West, we did grow up in the heart of the back-country settlements along the Blue Mountains in central Pennsylvania that were settled by these same border folks that came to the West. That part of Pennsylvania was the frontier in the 18th century, with people coming there to seek land and opportunity while staying away from the larger urban centers. So perhaps that part of me that loves the West so much is ingrained in a set of cultural values that stretch back over generations.
As you think about the American West, I encourage you to give a thought as to what defines the people of this region. Spend some time, perhaps read Albion’s Seed, and draw your own conclusions about why you love this region so much.