Exhibition curated by Judith Dartt, Special Collections Research Center Digital Projects Specialist.
Before the Wild West was imagined in popular literature and culture, there was another, earlier American west. Its promise drew soldiers, adventurers, speculators, and common folk from the eastern seaboard across the Appalachian Mountains into the rich lands of the Ohio River Valley and the Bluegrass region of Kentucky. This exhibition explores the fascinating history of this first American west from the beginning of European American settlement to the end of the frontier period. Items on display were selected from materials incorporated in The First American West: The Ohio River Valley, 1750-1820, a grant-funded digital project being developed by the University of Chicago Library in collaboration with the Library of Congress American Memory national digital library program. The organization of the exhibition is shaped by a series of interrelated themes: the contrast between native and European American attitudes toward the land, the encounters and confrontations of the pioneer migration era, the role of politics on the early frontier, and the shaping of Western cultural and social institutions. Books, pamphlets, newspapers, maps, broadsides, and manuscripts in the exhibition illustrate historical strengths of the Reuben T. Durret Collection on Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley and related print and manuscript holdings in the Special Collections Research Center and the General Collection of University of Chicago Library.