A hypothesis from the point of view of the encroacher
[Copyright 1978 by Robin Higham, Kansas State University, USA. The paper presented here is a condensed version of the introduction to the book, Frontiersmanship: the Colonial Military Experience which is ex- pected to be published in 1979.]
Dictionary definitions do not really clarify the meaning of frontier. In a military sense the frontier is a precursor, a province, a process and a perception which has different meanings in various times (stages of development) and places as well as for the opposing sides. Over a span of time a frontier is an evolving area which may eventually be reduced to a demarcation line. But even when it has been formalized on a map, it may not be defined on the ground so that the laws of war and might may still take precedence over international con- ventions and civilian direction. Moreover, one country may have several types of frontiers at the same time. It can be argued that the frontier involves as much a set of attitudes and mental sets or perceptions of what is permissible on the part of an encroaching force as it does a physical area. It is possible that at times and places where neither side had established a clear supremacy that both sides shared the same perceptions of the camaraderie of dangers faced and sur- mounted. And on other occasions both sides may have been invading.
This paper presents a hypothesis which appears valid to one with an An- glo-American background in order to provoke others to contribute to the discus- sion. It suggests that at various stages of historical development there were simi- larities in the ways in which the military acted, that eight types of frontier can be defined, and also that there appears to be a remarkable, but explicable, common- ality about those areas in which the military and others have glorified frontier service, whether or not they saw it as colonial.
In a military sense the fringe of the frontier was a precursor of coming force because no commander moved without scouting out or knowing the lie of the land. The extension of this necessity was often an exploring expedition, per- haps manned by the military, but small enough not to cause alarm or arouse hos- tilities amongst those being viewed. The frontier became a province, to use the term in the Roman sense, when the military assumed responsibility for a border area, whether it was called a march or a mark, and was granted absolute powers therein. The frontier was also a process because like most activities it underwent change as the sea-lanes, trails and streams brought settlers and soldiers, with the restraints of civilization, which limited the freedoms that made frontiers attrac-