Publication Date

July 26, 2010



Frontier to HeartlandThe Newberry Library in Chicago’s Frontier to Heartland site is an online collection of primary sources, many of which offer corresponding scholarly commentary. This collection teaches primarily through the visual element, integrating photographs and other images to show the transformation of central North American, or alternatively, “The Heartland.”

There are three ways you can delve into this collection, the first is Perspectives, which offers “essays with a point of view.” These essays include the following:

  • Four Centuries traces how the American Midwest has changed from its turbulent begins as a region of conflict between the Europeans and Indians through to a region of modern industrial agriculture. The region originally considered the “Frontier” has evolved to become “the ‘Heartland’ of America, the sentimental center of a culture that preferred to look away from its problems to a more pleasant, imagined past.”
  • Rethinking the Heartland dissects the term “Heartland,” from its origin in Europe to its escalating popularity in the American Midwest, including popular images and symbols that still surround it today.
  • Two Visions of the Frontier retells the stories from two legends at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair: “the historian Frederick Jackson Turner and the showman Buffalo Bill Cody.” These stories capture traditional images and the power they still have in the American Midwest. In fact, “the ideas Turner and Cody offered to audiences in Chicago reflected a fascination with the past, and a desire to use the past to explain how Americans could navigate the uncertain territory of the future.”
  • The World of the Dill Pickle Club explores the artsy hubbub of the Dill Pickle Club in the early part of the 20th century where people went to listen to speeches, dance, watch theater productions, and converse. To get to this quirky, lively club, “patrons were told to climb through a hole the wall at 859 N. State Street, and walk down Tooker Alley to a doorway under an orange light marked ‘Step High, Stoop Low, Leave Your Dignity Outside’.”
  • Making Sense of Historic Maps teaches the importance of maps and how to read them, not only for geographic purposes but also for historic ones as well. They show how the past has viewed the world and how this view has evolved, thereby opening a unique window to the past.

The second way to peruse the site’s resources is through six photo galleries organized into the following themes: Food, Farming, and Community; Waterways; Working on the Railroad; A Woman’s Place; Protest and Free Speech; and Performing Culture. Each gallery has eight pictures with captions that explain both the image and its historical context.

And finally, the site also has the option of exploring the library’s 255-image collection by title, date, and place.

This post first appeared on AHA Today.

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