Essay Frontier History Thesis

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The originality of the nation’s institutions, according to Turner, lay in their adaptation to the new environment encountered by the pioneers.

Society is described as an organism in constant evolution, and the frontier being "the line of most rapid and effective Americanization" (Turner 3).

Not only does the frontier stand as the bedrock of the American nation, it also creates a new people, "a mixed race, English in neither nationality nor characteristics" (Turner 23).

The pioneer experiences a "rebirth", : "The wilderness masters the colonist.

Since its settlement was the last stage in the completion of the country, thus marking the closing of a crucial period in American history, the West has had a special place in the nation’s self-image, and it has always been considered as central in the construction of American identity.

Throughout the twentieth century, historians have tried to assess the significance of the West, regarded, by some critics, as "the most distinctively American part of America" (Bryce 315).The Turner thesis has had an extremely long-lasting impact, and may be considered as one of the main documents of American historiography.According to Turner, it was the frontier that shaped American institutions, society, and culture.Rejecting the notion of frontier altogether, New Historians suggested a rewriting of the Western past that focused on the West as a region, with geographical limits and specific characteristics distinguishing it from the other American regions.While Turner’s thesis was national in scope and glorified an American identity, the New Historians’ regionalism, stressing the uniqueness of the West, promoted a Western identity.It was a long time before historians started questioning Turner’s "frontier thesis", so strong was the appeal to Americans’ imagination generated by this justification of American exceptionalism.Criticism culminated in the emergence of "New Western History", in the late 1980s.Finally, as scholars have been quick in criticizing the regionalist perspective of New Western History, it will try and assess how historians have started giving Western history a new orientation over the last decade, one that aims at reconciling the concepts of region and frontier, thus giving back to the West its significance at the national level.Considered as the founding father of Western history, Frederick Jackson Turner is famous for a lecture he gave in 1893, entitled "The Significance of the Frontier in American History".First, Turner rejects the "germ theory", which claimed that American institutions and customs had been imported from Europe, therefore stressing the continuity of institutions and de-emphasizing the significance of American experience.Second, Turner’s explanation runs counter to the Eastern Establishment, and its colonial and Atlantic coastal emphasis.


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