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A restored pioneer house at the National Ranching Heritage Center in Lubbock, Texas, US. 1800s Texas House.JPG
A restored pioneer house at the National Ranching Heritage Center in Lubbock, Texas, US.

A frontier is the political and geographical area near or beyond a boundary. A frontier can also be referred to as a "front". The term came from French in the 15th century, with the meaning "borderland"—the region of a country that fronts on another country (see also marches). Unlike a border—a rigid and clear-cut form of state boundary [1] —in the most general sense a frontier can be fuzzy or diffuse. For example, the frontier between the Eastern United States and the Old West in the 1800s was an area where European American settlements gradually thinned out and gave way to Native American settlements or uninhabited land. The frontier was not always a single continuous area, as California and various large cities were populated before the land that connected those to the East.


Frontiers and borders also imply different geopolitical strategies. In Ancient Rome, the Roman Republic experienced a period of active expansion and creating new frontiers. From the reign of Augustus onward, the Roman borders turned into defensive boundaries that divided the Roman and non-Roman realms. [2] In the eleventh-century China, China's Song Dynasty defended its northern border with the nomadic Liao empire by building an extensive manmade forest. Later in the early twelfth century, Song Dynasty invaded the Liao and dismantled the northern forest, converting the former defensive border into an expanding frontier. [3]

In modern history, colonialism and imperialism has applied and produced elaborate use and concepts of frontier, especially in the settler colonial states of North America, expressed by the "Manifest Destiny" and "Frontier Thesis".


Under General Julio Argentino Roca, the Conquest of the Desert extended Argentine power into Patagonia.


Australian bushman with his dog and horse, c. 1910 StateLibQld 1 113072 Bushman with his dog and horse outside a humpy, Hughenden district^, 1910-1920.jpg
Australian bushman with his dog and horse, c. 1910

The term "frontier" was frequently[ quantify ] used[ by whom? ] in colonial Australia in the meaning of country that borders the unknown or uncivilised, the boundary, border country, the borders of civilisation, or as the land that forms the furthest extent of what was frequently termed "the inside" or "settled" districts. [4] The "outside" was another term frequently used in colonial Australia, this term seemingly[ original research? ] covered not only the frontier but the districts beyond. Settlers at the frontier thus frequently referred to themselves as "the outsiders" or "outside residents" and to the area in which they lived as "the outside districts". At times one might hear the "frontier" described as "the outside borders". [5] However the term "frontier districts" was seemingly[ original research? ] used predominantly in the early Australian colonial newspapers whenever dealing with skirmishes between black and white in northern New South Wales and Queensland, and in newspaper reports from South Africa, whereas it was seemingly not so commonly used when dealing with affairs in Victoria, South Australia and southern New South Wales. The use of the word "frontier" was thus frequently connected to descriptions of frontier violence, as in a letter printed in the Sydney Morning Herald in December 1850 which described murder and carnage at the northern frontier and calling for the protection of the settlers saying: "...nothing but a strong body of Native Police will restore and keep order in the frontier districts, and as the squatters are taxed for the purpose of such protection". [6]


Mapuche groups in Araucania around 1850. De facto Chilean territory in blue. Grupos Mapuches.JPG
Mapuche groups in Araucanía around 1850. De facto Chilean territory in blue.

The Destruction of the Seven Cities (1599–1604) led to the formation of a Spanish-Mapuche frontier called La Frontera. Within this frontier the city of Concepción assumed the role of "military capital" of Spanish-ruled Chile. [7] This informal role was given by the establishment of the Spanish Army of Arauco in the city which was financed by a payments of silver from Potosí called Real Situado. [7] Santiago located at some distance from the war zone remained the political capital since 1578. [7]

Following the Mapuche uprising of 1655 and abolition of Mapuche slavery in 1683 in the Spanish Empire trade across the frontier increased. [8] Mapuche-Spanish and later Mapuche-Chilean trade increased further in the second half of the 18th century as hostilities decreased. [9] Mapuches obtained goods from Chile and some dressed in "Spanish" clothing. [10] Despite close contacts Chileans and Mapuches remained socially, politically and economically distinct. [10]

North America

Colonial North America

Voyageurs passing a waterfall Voyageur canoe.jpg
Voyageurs passing a waterfall

The word "frontier" has often meant a region at the edge of a settled area, especially in North American development. It was a transition zone where explorers, pioneers and settlers were arriving. Frederick Jackson Turner said that "the significance of the frontier" was that as pioneers moved into the "frontier zone," they were changed by the encounter. For example, Turner argues in 1893 that in the United States, unlimited free land in this zone was available, and thus offered the psychological sense of unlimited opportunity. This, in turn, had many consequences such as optimism, future orientation, shedding the restraints of land scarcity, and the wastage of natural resources.

In the earliest days of European settlement of the Atlantic coast, the frontier was any part of the forested interior of the continent lying beyond the fringe of existing settlements along the coast and the great rivers, such as the St. Lawrence, Connecticut, Hudson, Delaware, Susquehanna River and James.

English, French, Spanish and Dutch patterns of expansion and settlement were quite different. Only a few thousand French migrated to Canada. These habitants settled in villages along the St. Lawrence river, building communities that remained stable for long stretches, rather than leapfrogging west the way the English and later Americans did. Although French fur traders ranged widely through the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds, as far as the Rocky Mountains, they did not usually settle down. French settlement in these areas was limited to a few very small villages on the lower Mississippi and in the Illinois Country. [11] The Dutch set up fur trading posts in the Hudson River valley, followed by large grants of land to patroons, who brought in tenant farmers that created compact, permanent villages. They did not push westward. [12]

In contrast, the English colonies generally pursued a more systematic policy of widespread settlement of the New World, for cultivation and exploitation of the land, which required the extension of European property rights to the new continent. The typical English settlements were quite compact and small—under 3 square kilometres (1 square mile). Conflict with the Native Americans arose out of political issues, i.e. who would rule. Early frontier areas east of the Appalachian Mountains included the Connecticut River valley. [13] The French and Indian Wars of the 1760s resulted in a complete victory for the British, who took over the French colonial territory west of the Appalachians to the Mississippi River. Americans began moving across the Appalachians into areas such the Ohio Country and the New River Valley.

Most of the frontier movement was east to west, but there were other directions as well. The frontier in New England lay to the north; in Nevada to the east; in Florida to the south. Throughout American history, the expansion of settlement was largely from the east to the west, and thus the frontier is often identified with "the west." On the Pacific Coast, settlement moved eastward.

Canadian frontier

A Canadian frontier thesis was developed by Canadian historians Harold Adams Innis and J. M. S. Careless. They emphasized the relationship between the center and periphery. Katerberg argues that "in Canada the imagined West must be understood in relation to the mythic power of the North." [Katerberg 2003] This is reflected in Canadian literature with the phrase "garrison mentality." In Innis's 1930 work The Fur Trade in Canada, he expounded on what became known as the Laurentian thesis: that the most creative and major developments in Canadian history occurred in the metropolitan centers of central Canada and that the civilization of North America is the civilization of Europe. Innis considered place as critical in the development of the Canadian West and wrote of the importance of metropolitan areas, settlements, and indigenous people in the creation of markets. Turner and Innis continue to exert influence over the historiography of the American and Canadian Wests. The Quebec frontier showed little of the individualism or democracy that Turner ascribed to the American zone to the south. The Nova Scotia and Ontario frontiers were rather more democratic than the rest of Canada, but whether that was caused by the need to be self-reliant at the frontier itself, or the presence of large numbers of American immigrants is debated.

Swiss immigrants camped on the shores of Lake Winnipeg in the autumn of 1821 Cold night camp on the inhospitable shores of Lake Winnipeg.jpg
Swiss immigrants camped on the shores of Lake Winnipeg in the autumn of 1821

The Canadian political thinker Charles Blattberg has argued that such events ought to be seen as part of a process in which Canadians advanced a "border" as distinct from a "frontier" — from east to west. According to Blattberg, a border assumes a significantly sharper contrast between the civilized and the uncivilized since, unlike a frontier process, the civilizing force is not supposed to be shaped by that which it is civilizing. Blattberg criticizes both the frontier and border "civilizing" processes.

Canadian prairies

The pattern of settlement of the Canadian prairies began in 1896, when the American prairie states had already achieved statehood. Like their American counterparts, the Prairie provinces supported populist and democratic movements in the early 20th century. [14]

United States

The first Fort Laramie as it looked prior to 1840. Painting from memory by Alfred Jacob Miller Alfred Jacob Miller - Fort Laramie - Walters 37194049.jpg
The first Fort Laramie as it looked prior to 1840. Painting from memory by Alfred Jacob Miller

Following the victory of the United States in the American Revolutionary War and the signing Treaty of Paris in 1783, the United States gained formal, if not actual, control of the British lands west of the Appalachians. Many thousands of settlers, typified by Daniel Boone, had already reached Kentucky, Tennessee, and adjacent areas. Some areas, such as the Virginia Military District and the Connecticut Western Reserve (both in Ohio), were used by the states as rewards to veterans of the war. How to formally include these new frontier areas into the nation was an important issue in the Continental Congress of the 1780s and was partly resolved by the Northwest Ordinance (1787). The Southwest Territory saw a similar pattern of settlement pressure.

For the next century, the expansion of the nation into these areas, as well as the subsequently acquired Louisiana Purchase, Oregon Country, and Mexican Cession, attracted hundreds of thousands of settlers. Whether the Kansas frontier would become "slave" or "free" kindled the American Civil War. In general before 1860, Northern Democrats promoted easy land ownership and Whigs and Southern Democrats resisted. The Southerners resisted Homestead Acts because it supported the growth of a free farmer population that might oppose slavery.

When the Republican Party came to power in 1860 it promoted a free land policy — notably the Homestead Act of 1862, coupled with railroad land grants that opened cheap (but not free) lands for settlers. In 1890, the frontier line had broken up (Census maps defined the frontier line as a line beyond which the population density was under 2 inhabitants per square mile or 0.8 inhabitants per square kilometre).

The effect of the frontier upon popular culture was enormous, in dime novels, Wild West shows, and, after 1910, Western movies set on the frontier.

The American frontier was generally the westernmost edge of a settlement and typically more free-spirited than in the East because of its lack of social and political institutions. The idea that the frontier provided the core defining quality of the United States was elaborated by the historian Frederick Jackson Turner, who built his Frontier Thesis in 1893 around this notion. Subsequently, the frontier has also been described as the point of contact between two cultures, where contact led to exchanges that affected both cultures. [15]

In popular culture, Alaska: The Last Frontier is an American reality cable television series about Alaskan pioneers, Yule and Ruth Kilcher, at their homestead 11 miles outside of Homer.


The expansion of Russia to the north, south (Wild Fields) and east (Siberia, the Russian Far East and Russian Alaska) exploited ever-changing frontier regions over several centuries and often involved the development and settlement of Cossack communities. [16]

See also


  1. Mura, Andrea (2016). "National Finitude and the Paranoid Style of the One". Contemporary Political Theory. 15: 58–79. doi:10.1057/cpt.2015.23.
  2. Luttwak, Edward (1976). The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire: From the First Century CE to the Third. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  3. Chen, Yuan Julian (July 2018). "FRONTIER, FORTIFICATION, AND FORESTATION: DEFENSIVE WOODLAND ON THE SONG–LIAO BORDER IN THE LONG ELEVENTH CENTURY". Journal of Chinese History. 2 (2): 313–334. doi: 10.1017/jch.2018.7 . ISSN   2059-1632.
  4. See e.g. Parliamentary Debate April 14 Legislative Assembly of NSW (Australian April 14, 1848, p.4 Robinson)
  5. see e.g. Sydney Morning Herald June 6, 1851 p.2g; South Australian Register, Moreton Bay Courier Feb 16, 1861, p2 and 2 April 1861, p.3 re 'The Native Police'; see Queensland Parliamentary Debate (Attorney-General Pring) (Brisbane Courier, July 27, 1861, p5); Queensland Parliamentary Debate 20 August 1863; Brisbane Courier, Aug 22, 1863 (Editorial).
  6. Sydney Morning Herald Dec 24, 1850, p.3s.
  7. 1 2 3 Enciclopedia regional del Bío Bío (in Spanish). Pehuén Editores. 2006. p. 44. ISBN   956-16-0404-3.
  8. "La Frontera araucana". Memoria Chilena (in Spanish). Biblioteca Nacional de Chile . Retrieved November 30, 2019.
  9. Bengoa 2000, pp. 45–46.
  10. 1 2 Bengoa 2000, p. 154.
  11. Clarence Walworth Alvord, The Illinois Country 1673-1818 (1918)
  12. Arthur G. Adams, The Hudson Through the Years (1996); Sung Bok Kim, Landlord and Tenant in Colonial New York: Manorial Society, 1664-1775 (1987)
  13. Allan Kulikoff, From British Peasants to Colonial American Farmers (2000)
  14. Laycock, David. Populism and Democratic Thought in the Canadian Prairies, 1910 to 1945. 1990; Seymour Martin Lipset, Agrarian Socialism (1950).
  15. Anzaldua, Gloria (1987). Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books.
  16. Richards, John F. (2003). "7: Frontier Settlement in Russia". The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World. California world history library. 1 (reprint ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 263. ISBN   9780520230750 . Retrieved 2016-08-15. Discharged and unemployed or deserting servicemen, younger sons and other dependents of men already in frontier service in older areas, fleeing criminals, sedentarized steppe Tatars, and cossacks took up residence in or near the new centers. Decade after decade, however, peasants fleeing to the frontier made up the largest category of migrants. [...] The more venturesome Russian migrants avoided the frontier towns and peasant villages in favor of life as cossacks (from the Turkic kazak, meaning 'free man').

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Settler colonialism is a form of colonialism that seeks to replace the original population of the colonized territory with a new society of settlers. As with all forms of colonialism, it is based on exogenous domination, typically organized or supported by an imperial authority. Settler colonialism is enacted by a variety of means ranging from violent depopulation of the previous inhabitants to more subtle, legal means such as assimilation or recognition of indigenous identity within a colonial framework.

The Mapuche uprising of 1881 was the last major rebellion of the indigenous Mapuches of Araucanía. The uprising took place during the last phase of the Occupation of Araucanía (1861–1883) by the Chilean state. The uprising was planned by Mapuche chiefs in March 1881 to be launched in November of the same year. Mapuche support for the uprising was not unanimous, some Mapuche factions sided with the Chileans and others declared themselves neutral. The organizers of the uprising did however succeed in involving Mapuche factions that had not previously been at war with Chile. The 1881 uprising can be considered the climax of the Chilean-Mapuche hostilities during the Occupation of Araucanía.

The Mapuche people of southern Chile and Argentina have a long history dating back as an archaeological culture to 600–500 BC. The Mapuche society had great transformations after Spanish contact in the mid–16th century. These changes included the adoption of Old World crops and animals and the onset of a rich Spanish–Mapuche trade in La Frontera and Valdivia. Despite these contacts Mapuche were never completely subjugated by the Spanish Empire. Between the 18th and 19th century Mapuche culture and people spread eastwards into the Pampas and the Patagonian plains. This vast new territory allowed Mapuche groups to control a substantial part of the salt and cattle trade in the Southern Cone.

Incas in Central Chile Inca rule in Chile lasting from the 1470s to the 1530s when the Inca Empire collapsed

Inca rule in Chile was brief; it lasted from the 1470s to the 1530s when the Inca Empire was absorbed by Spain. The main settlements of the Inca Empire in Chile lay along the Aconcagua, Mapocho and Maipo rivers. Quillota in Aconcagua Valley was likely the Incas' foremost settlement. The bulk of the people conquered by the Incas in Central Chile were Diaguitas and part of the Promaucae.

Coastal fortifications of colonial Chile

In Colonial times the Spanish Empire diverted significant resources to fortify the Chilean coast as consequence of Dutch and English raids. During the 16th century the Spanish strategy was to complement the fortification work in its Caribbean ports with forts in the Strait of Magellan. As attempts at settling and fortifying the Strait of Magellan were abandoned the Spanish began to fortify the Captaincy General of Chile and other parts of the west coast of the Americas. The coastal fortifications and defense system was at its peak in the mid-18th century.

The origin of the Mapuche has been a matter of research for over a century. The genetics of the Mapuche do not show overly clear affinities with any other known indigenous group in the Americas, the same goes for linguistics where Mapuche language is considered a language isolate. Archaeological evidence shows Mapuche culture has existed in Chile at least since 600 to 500 BC. Mapuches are late arrivals in their southernmost and easternmost (Pampas) areas of settlement, yet Mapuche history in the north towards Atacama Desert may be older than historic settlement suggest. The Mapuche has received significant influence from Pre-Incan (Tiwanaku?), Incan and Spanish peoples, but deep origins of the Mapuche predates these contacts. Contact and conflict with the Spanish empire are thought by scholars such as Tom Dillehay and José Bengoa to have had a profound impact on the shaping of the Mapuche ethnicity.


Chilean history

US history


Siberian frontier

Comparative Frontiers

Further reading