The “Significance of the Frontier in American History” is a seminal essay written by historian Frederick Jackson Turner in 1893. This essay was presented at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois, during a time when the United States was experiencing rapid expansion and development.
Background on Frederick Jackson Turner
Frederick Jackson Turner was born in 1861 in Wisconsin. He received his education at the University of Wisconsin where he studied history. In 1890, he published a paper called “The Significance of History” which set out his philosophy of history.
The Thesis of “The Significance of the Frontier in American History”
Turner’s thesis is that the existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward explain American development. He argued that this frontier experience shaped Americans into a unique people with distinct values and institutions.
Impact on American historiography
“The Significance of the Frontier in American History” was an important turning point in American historiography. It challenged traditional interpretations which emphasized European influences on American history and argued that America was unique because it had a frontier experience that shaped its institutions and values.
Turner’s thesis influenced generations of historians who followed him. It became one of the most widely debated topics in American historiography and helped to shape how Americans thought about their history.
Despite its influence, Turner’s thesis has been subject to criticism over time. Some have argued that it overemphasizes the importance of western expansion while downplaying other factors like industrialization, immigration, and urbanization. Others have criticized Turner for presenting an overly optimistic view of America’s past which ignored issues like racism, inequality, and violence.
Regardless of its flaws, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” remains an important landmark in American historiography. It sparked a debate about the nature of American identity and helped to shape how Americans think about their history. Turner’s thesis may not be perfect, but it remains a powerful reminder of the importance of understanding America’s past in order to shape its future.