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The intellectual baggage that accompanied settlers as they populated the growing British Empire over the nineteenth century was tempered by the pragmatic dictates of survival and economic development. Examining the colonisation of the United States, Frederick Jackson Turner (1893, 1921) argued that settlers in frontier environments dispense with their inherited ideologies once they are confronted with the pressures of frontier living, and that American social and economic institutions were the product of pragmatic responses of settlers to frontier challenges rather than the inherited intellectual baggage they brought with them from their original homelands. He termed this the “Frontier Theory”. This historical tradition has also influenced Australian economic and social historians. However, while this is an idea that attracts a deal of sympathy, the reality is that we need to approach it with considerable nuance. For instance, while the earlier Western Australian settlers were largely driven by pragmatic responses to frontier problems—they could hardly be anything else given survival was, literally, at stake—the transferred ideologies were also initially recruited to the effort by leaders at the Imperial centre and locally in order to induce agents to support and justify pragmatically derived solutions. The ideologies were subsequently recruited to support or refute prospective policy positions as the imperative of survival gave way to longer-term economic and social development imperatives.
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- Imperial Demands, Local Imperatives
David J. Gilchrist
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