What Was The Frontier Thesis
Criticism culminated in the emergence of "New Western History", in the late 1980s.Rejecting the notion of frontier altogether, New Historians suggested a rewriting of the Western past that focused on the West as a region, with geographical limits and specific characteristics distinguishing it from the other American regions.Considered as the founding father of Western history, Frederick Jackson Turner is famous for a lecture he gave in 1893, entitled "The Significance of the Frontier in American History".The Turner thesis has had an extremely long-lasting impact, and may be considered as one of the main documents of American historiography.According to Turner, it was the frontier that shaped American institutions, society, and culture.The experience of the frontier, the westward march of pioneers from the Atlantic to the Pacific Coast, distinguishes Americans from Europeans, and gives the American nation its exceptional character.
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.
While Turner’s thesis was national in scope and glorified an American identity, the New Historians’ regionalism, stressing the uniqueness of the West, promoted a Western identity.
The aim of this article is to assess the significance given to the West at different periods.
Billington and Mood also add that the Frontier Thesis is meant to test a new approach to history that Turner had been developing since the beginning of his academic career.
We can fully understand it, then, only by setting it within the framework of the assumptions and goals of his 1891 essay, “The Significance of History,” Turner's only attempt to sketch a philosophy of history.