Frederick Jackson Turner Frontier Thesis Held That The Frontier

Frederick Jackson Turner Frontier Thesis Held That The Frontier-18
They emphasize, instead, the elaborate and highly developed civilizations (Native American, Hispanic, mixed-blood or "metis" and others) that already existed in the region.In their view, white English-speaking Americans did not so much settle the West as conquer it. Anglo-Americans in the West continue to share the region not only with the Indians who preceded them there, but also with the African-Americans, Asians, Latin Americans and others who flowed into the West at the same time they did.

They emphasize, instead, the elaborate and highly developed civilizations (Native American, Hispanic, mixed-blood or "metis" and others) that already existed in the region.In their view, white English-speaking Americans did not so much settle the West as conquer it. Anglo-Americans in the West continue to share the region not only with the Indians who preceded them there, but also with the African-Americans, Asians, Latin Americans and others who flowed into the West at the same time they did.

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The appearance within the last year of several important books by leaders of the self-proclaimed "new Western history" (university presses have played a major role in promoting these revisionist studies, publishing many of the most influential texts) provides an opportunity to assess both the bold claims those working in the field are now making and the harsh criticisms they have begun to receive.

FEW groups of scholars have been more energetic in explaining and promoting themselves than the new Western historians, as two recent anthologies, "Trails: Toward a New Western History," and "Under an Open Sky: Rethinking America's Western Past," suggest.

The West the new historians describe is a much less happy place -- a land in which bravery and success coexist with oppression, greed and failure; in which decaying ghost towns, bleak Indian reservations, impoverished barrios and ecologically devastated landscapes are as characteristic of Western development as great ranches, rich farms and prosperous cities.

TO Turner and his disciples, the 19th-century West was a place where rugged individualism flourished and replenished American democracy.

M., "none of us will ever be as influential as Turner." And so far, certainly, the revisionists have not produced a broad, forceful interpretation of the Western past in any way comparable to the "frontier thesis." Even so, the new Western history has succeeded in attracting a level of public attention (and criticism) unusual for academic scholarship.

The novelist Larry Mc Murtry, for example, published a long essay in The New Republic two years ago maintaining that by their emphasis on the many failures and tragedies that undoubtedly characterized the Western past, the new Western historians overlooked the bold dreams and romantic hopes that drove so many people to "go west" to start anew.He is, the revisionist historians believe, the idol who must be toppled if the field is to revive and grow.The new historians fault Turner (and his latter-day disciples) for many things, but most of all for what they consider his ethnocentrism, his triumphalism, his emphasis on individualism and his insistence that Western history as a distinct field of study ends in 1890.Western history, the new scholars maintain, is a process of cultural convergence, a constant competition and interaction -- economic, political, cultural, and linguistic -- among diverse peoples.The Turnerian West was a place of heroism, triumph and above all progress, a place where Anglo-Americans spread democracy and civilization into untamed lands.The essence of the new Western history lies in its effort to challenge the Turnerians on each of those points.Where Turner saw the 19th-century West as free land awaiting the expansion of Anglo-American settlement and American democracy, the new scholars reject the concept of a frontier altogether (and go to considerable lengths to avoid using the word).The West, he complained, was an unpromising and unrewarding field of study. How can he make a thick history out of such thin material?"What," he asked, "is the biographer going to do for a region that has so few men of distinction? " Webb's lament was evidence of how far Western American history had fallen in the 1950's from the position of eminence it had occupied just 20 years before.He tells the story of harsh battles over land, water, language and political power -- battles that were not confined to (and did not end with) the defeat of the Western tribes.He devotes nearly half his book to the 20th century (Billington's narrative essentially stopped in the 1890's).

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