Frontier Thesis, Turner's

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FRONTIER THESIS, TURNER'S

FRONTIER THESIS, TURNER'S. Frederick Jackson Turner's "The Significance of the Frontier in American History" is arguably one of the most influential interpretations of the American past ever espoused. Delivered in Chicago before two hundred historians at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, a celebration of the four hundredth anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America, Turner's thesis discounted the then-dominant "germ theory" of American history, which argued that American political and social character evolved directly from European antecedents. Turner instead contended that Europeans had been transformed by the settlement of North America, a process that produced a distinct American mentality and culture far different from European precedents. Turner outlined progressive stages of settlement, dominated by the taming of the frontier from exploration through urban development, all the while maintaining that the experience of westward movement across the American continent was responsible for creating the independence and resourcefulness that comprised the heart of American character. The Turner thesis became the dominant interpretation of American history for the next century, although after the early 1980s "new western historians," who rejected Turner's grand theory for its lack of racial inclusiveness and overly triumphant paradigm, emphasized a more inclusive approach to frontier history. Nonetheless, the Turner thesis remained a popular albeit widely debated assessment of American development.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Billington, Ray Allen. The Genesis of the Frontier Thesis: A Study in Historical Creativity. San Marino, Calif.: Huntington Library, 1971.

Faragher, John Mack, ed. Rereading Frederick Jackson Turner: "The Significance of the Frontier in American History" and Other Essays. New York: Henry Holt, 1994.

Limerick, Patricia Nelson, Clyde A. Milner II, and Charles E. Rankin, eds. Trails: Toward a New Western History. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1991.

Daniel P.Barr

See alsoFrontier ; Historiography, American .

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