Problems With Turner Thesis

The "process" at the heart of the frontier experience thus redefines the newcomers’ cultural and national identity, and integrates them into a new, specifically American society.Observing that three centuries of westward expansion bred national traits that distinguish Americans from Europeans, Turner claimed that "to the frontier the American intellect owes its striking characteristics" (Turner 37), such as individualism, energy, optimism and enthusiasm.

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Cette "exception américaine" ("exceptionalism") est mise à mal par les générations suivantes d’historiens.

Les études de la deuxième moitié du vingtième siècle insistent, notamment, sur la diversité du peuplement et de la population de l’Ouest, nourris de vagues successives d’immigration.

According to Turner, the westward movement Americanized the pioneer, shaped American institutions, and promoted democracy.

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.

Focusing, first, on Turner’s interpretation, with its justification of American exceptionalism, it will then analyse the regionalism of the New Western History, which has resulted in the isolation of the West from the rest of the nation.

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.

It takes him from the railroad car and puts him in the birch canoe.

It strips off the garments of civilization and arrays him in the hunting shirt and the moccasin" (Turner 4).

Turner famously asserted: "The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development" (Turner 1).

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


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