Frederick Jackson Turner, "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," address, 1893, excerpts|
In 1893 at a meeting of the American Historical Association, then only eight years old, held at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, University of Wisconsin history professor Frederick Jackson Turner articulated a theory that would dominate the interpretation of American history for half a century. Drawing upon notions of Manifest Destiny and the supposed Anglo-Saxon will to conquer, Turner argued that the American character and American institutions were definitively shaped by the recurrent necessity of having to subdue an ever-advancing western frontier. He delivered his lecture at a critical juncture in American history, for just three years earlier a report from the Superintendent of the Census had declared the United States could no longer be said to have a frontier. "[F]our centuries from the discovery of America, at the end of a hundred years of life under the Constitution," Turner proclaimed, "the frontier has gone, and with its going has closed the first period of American history." In reality, Turner's assertion that the frontier had closed was more metaphorical than accurate. He has been challenged on that point and many others by recent scholarship. Nonetheless, his powerful and provocative ideas will radiate in many directions and will illuminate a variety of texts in your seminar. 9 pages.
- Is Turner's West a place, a direction, or an idea?
- How does Turner define the American character?
- How valid is the idea of "an American character"?
- Are there other ways to account for what Turner sees as the American character?
- How does Turner's thesis and his definition of the American character relate to the social and economic conditions of 1893?
- In Turner's view how has the experience of the frontier manifested itself in the life of an urbanized America?
- How does Turner view Native Americans?
- How does he include slavery in his view of the nation's history?
- Why, in his view, is the American frontier experience unique?
- What implications does the "closing" of the frontier hold for the United States?