History 248 Reading Guide

Cultural Frontiers in the Rural Midwest and the West

  • Susan Sessions Rugh, “Civilizing the Countryside:  Class, Gender, and Crime in Nineteenth-Century Rural Illinois,” Agricultural History 76.1 (2002), 58-81. JSTOR or (e-reserve) 
  • Albert L. Hurtado, “When Strangers Met:  Sex and Gender on Three Frontiers,” Frontiers:  A Journal of Women Studies, 17.3 (1996), 52-75.  JSTOR

Further reading:

  • Allan Kulikoff, “The Transition to Capitalism in Rural America,” William and Mary Quarterly 3d. Ser., 46 (1989), 120-144.  JSTOR
  • David Jaffee, “Peddlers of Progress and the Transformation of the Rural North, 1760-1860,” Journal of American History 78.2 (1991), 511-535.  JSTOR


  • Rugh argues that “crime is a window through which to view broader changes transforming societies.”  She begins by describing the causes and consequences of a “family feud” in 1880 rural Illinois that provides evidence not only of “dramatic” transformations in rural society but of the tensions, struggles, and violence that accompanied those changes.  According to Rugh, what values, identities, and ideologies were at stake in the feud?
  • What kinds of “dramatic transformations” occurred in Hancock County from 1830-1890?
  • How does Rugh interpret the rising crime rate?  What might it suggest about changes in rural society?
  • What causes and changes led to the heightened fear of crime in Hancock County, and how was that heightened fear manifested?
  • How does she characterize the ideals and values of the two “sides” that emerged in these social conflicts?
  • What communal changes occurred in the countryside as a result of these struggles?
  • Hurtado examines the sexual and gendered dimension of the contact of cultures between Indians, Hispanos, and Anglos in the North American West to describe some of the challenges faced by Native American tribes in contact with new peoples and explain some of the results of the “colonization of Indian resources and society.”  What contrasts and similarities does he highlight about ideas, attitudes, and practices of sex, sexuality and gender between the three cultures?
  • How did those similarities and differences shape gender and sexual interactions on each of three cultural frontiers-- California’s Franciscan missions, the upper Missouri fur trade, and the California gold rush?
  • What conflicts over ideas and what cultural “misunderstandings” emerged in each context?
  • What consequences, both intentional and unintentional, resulted from interracial sexual relations?  What were the larger consequences for Indian women and Indian society of interracial sexuality?
  • How does Hurtado use Richard White’s metaphor of “a bridge to the middle ground” to characterize the possibilities and risks of interracial sex in the multiethnic American West?

Questions for the further reading:

  • Kulikoff analyzes the debate between “market historians” and “social historians” over definitions of capitalism, characterizations of economic conflict, and interpretations of the nature of exchange relations.
  • How does he describe market participation and economic exchanges between rural households during the long era of economic transformation (beginning in the third quarter of the eighteenth century and continuing through the nineteenth century)?
  • In his discussion of exchange in local communities during the “transition to capitalism,” why does he emphasize the importance of examining rural households as both cooperative units and as units where economic matters—especially as those related to capitalist exchange—could lead to conflicts and tensions in gender relations?
  • What were the characteristics of “yeomen” and “yeoman society” in rural America that Kulikoff describes?  How might the goals of yeoman have shaped the decisions of some rural families to move west?
  • According to Jaffee, what role did peddlers play in the “transformation” of the northern rural economy?
  • What does Jaffee’s study reveal about the meaning of capitalism, commercialization, and the culture of consumption for rural families?