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Sandra VanBurkleo


Using early Michigan as a test case, the dissertation expands the way historians view civic culture. Building on a foundation of traditional regard for political parties, laws, and election rituals, the work then goes on to examine activities not usually linked to public life, such as family governance, drunkenness, crime, gender and race. Analyzing such concerns required taking an inter-disciplinary approach that relied on fiction for much of its evidence and that employed ideas from anthropology, sociology, as well as from the new scholarship on the history of the American west. These sources cover the period between 1815 and the 1840s. During this era, settlers transformed Michigan from a sparsely populated frontier to a prosperous state and established its civic culture. Forming that culture involved stabilizing Michigan's cultural and physical boundaries. Michigan's elites came primarily from New England and western New York, and established boundaries to tame the wildness and barbarism of a seemingly uninhibited borderland where individuals of different races and backgrounds mingled freely and violated rules of polite Yankee culture. Local leaders also established boundaries to control power-hungry territorial officials, bankers and their neighbors in Ohio. This process involved establishing informal, customary boundaries that created a foundation on which formal legal boundaries could rest. Formal boundaries were crucial to Michigan's long and difficult quest for political independence, because they enabled Michiganians to ensure the rule of law and to curb the lawlessness of the territorial government, Ohio officials and cultural outsiders. After the Panic of 1837, Michiganians also emphasized the need for legal boundaries to control banks, and for cultural boundaries to tame the greed and acquisitiveness unleashed by commercialization. Michiganians constructed racial boundaries to curb the savagery of Indians and to prevent whites from emulating them. Additionally, they built cultural boundaries to improve family governance and stem the tide of drunkenness, vice and deadly cholera epidemics that swept through Michigan. Establishing these boundaries was not easy: Leaders often disagreed on how to tame wildness. Nor did they successfully recreate Yankee culture in Michigan. Rather, they produced a hybrid that combined eastern and western elements.

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