Frederick Jackson Turner - Wikipedia

The historian Frederick Jackson Turner argued that the frontier was the key factor.

Frederick Jackson Turner, The Frontier Thesis (1893)

For an illustration of what's happened in the past generation, one probably can't do better than Robert V. Hine and John Mack Faragher's , a newly revised version of a college text (by Hine) first published in 1973, which got a rousing send-off from as "a stirring and enlightening reexamination of the American West." The new edition, says Faragher, who's done most of the revising, has "substantial new material with a steadier emphasis on Native Americans, the role of ethnicity, environmental issues, and the participation of women"--surely an understatement in a book that's grown from 371 pages to more than 600 pages largely because of the changes in emphasis. Native Americans as hero-victims, their extermination, and successive tales of plunder dominate this edition, followed closely by the eradication of the buffalo, the poisoning of land and water, the exploitation of workers, and the various episodes of racism that marked the history of the West. Turner, who was treated with considerable respect in the earlier edition, is cut to ribbons--his phrase about the frontier being the meeting point between civilization and savagery, says Faragher, "rang with the arrogance of the victors in the centuries-long campaign of colonial conquest." Go to any page of the book, and most likely you'll find vio-lence and abuse--lynchings in San Francisco, burial of the dead at Wounded Knee, Japanese Americans assembling for internment, a recruitment poster for Native-American fighters, slaves being driven to the Mississippi frontier. Of the last five pictures in the book, one is of the Alaska pipeline (associated with the Exxon Valdez oil spill, yet another illustration of how "development had indeed produced disaster"); one is of Forest Service officials conducting a tour of a clear-cut hillside; one is of a Korean merchant defending his property during a Los Angeles riot; and two have to do with the United Farm Workers. Says Faragher in the closing pages of the new edition:

Frederick Jackson Turner | American historian | …



But there was also a more general target, a Turnerian drama that, as expressed in a 1982 textbook edited by Ray Allen Billington and Martin Ridge, saw the history of the West as "almost by definition, a triumphal narrative, for it traces a virtually unbroken chain of successes in national expansion." To replace that triumphal procession to the West, the new western historians proclaim (in Donald Worster's words) "a new history, clear-eyed, de-mythologized and critical." In his 1985 book, , Worster put the control of water at the center of a story of exploitation and imperial power; he wrote of a "coercive, monolithic, and hierarchical system ruled by a power elite" that belies the myth of the West as a place of individualism and freedom. But most of his co-revisionists scrabble for cohesion. Their central narrative, if they have any, is the conflict of cultures--Indian, Spanish, Anglo, African, Asian--and the restoration of history's , the Indians especially, to their rightful places in a story in which the dark side often overshadows the glory. "The old frontier division into lands of nature and lands of culture," Richard White wrote in an essay called "Trashing the Trails," "made it very hard to see humans on the wrong side of the divide as anything but products of their own inability to cope with nature."



That unifying concept left out a lot, disconnected today's West from the West of the frontier, and reduced a rich and complex story to what was often not much more than jingoistic simplicity. "Turner was, to put it mildly, ethnocentric and nationalistic," Limerick wrote in , the book that helped set off the rush to revise back in the late 1980s. "English-speaking white men were the stars of his story; Indians, Hispanics, French Canadians, and Asians were at best supporting actors and at worst invisible. Nearly as invisible were women, of all ethnicities... ." Later she would say that much of Turner's work was also racist. And since Turner's perspective was largely midwestern--he taught at Wisconsin (and then later at Harvard)--he almost entirely neglected the arid West. "Deserts, mountains, mines, towns, cities, railroads, territorial government, and the institutions of commerce and finance never found much of a home in his model," Limerick wrote.


The Frontier Thesis - Homework Help

"The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward explain American development." With these words, Frederick Jackson Turner laid the foundation for modern historical study of the American West and presented a "frontier thesis" that continues to influence historical thinking even today.

In his thesis, Turner argued that ..

Three years before Turner's pronouncement of the frontier thesis, the U.S. Census Bureau had announced the disappearance of a contiguous frontier line. Turner took this "closing of the frontier" as an opportunity to reflect upon the influence it had exercised. He argued that the frontier had meant that every American generation returned "to primitive conditions on a continually advancing frontier line." Along this frontier -- which he also described as "the meeting point between savagery and civilization" -- Americans again and again recapitulated the developmental stages of the emerging industrial order of the 1890's. This development, in Turner's description of the frontier, "begins with the Indian and the hunter; it goes on with the disintegration of savagery by the entrance of the trader... the pastoral stage in ranch life; the exploitation of the soil by the raising of unrotated crops of corn and wheat in sparsely settled farm communities; the intensive culture of the denser farm settlement; and finally the manufacturing organization with the city and the factory system."

started with Frederick Jackson Turner ..

More than a century after he first delivered his frontier thesis, historians still hotly debate Turner's ideas and approach. His critics have denied everything from his basic assumptions to the small details of his argument. The mainstream of the profession has long since discarded Turner's assumption that the frontier is the key to American history as a whole; they point instead to the critical influence of such factors as slavery and the Civil War, immigration, and the development of industrial capitalism. But even within Western and frontier history, a growing body of historians has contested Turner's approach.