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Frederick Jackson Turner

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Turner, the Thesis, and Tracking history:
Frederick Jackson Turner’s journey to the thesis and his contribution to the way we study history today

History Today 290 Megan Houck
Professor Le Bar May 7, 2014

Over 120 years ago, Frederick Jackson Turner spoke in Chicago about his theory of the American West. This Statement made a bold case that the closing of the westward expansion was the end to a glorious and influential chapter in the history of the nation. Throughout the decades there is one thing for certain, the Frontier thesis has just as much impact today as when produced. It may be studied today for its purposefulness as well as its theories, but his work ultimately inspires one to open their mind for critique, discussion, and praise. He believed that westering American individuality helped assure our democracy. Turner has many influences during his career like his father, teachers, students, and other historians. He continued to be an avid student as well, always reading and educating himself. The center of his thesis was to state that the American character, including such traits as equality and acquisitiveness, and the “American character” derived from the frontier experience. His historical value was in understanding America’s inner workings. Looking at all aspects of the American life, their past, where their future was heading, their economic, political, and social belongings. It was this forward thinking that elevated Turner’s status in his profession and our teachings today. If you studied who Turner was you would come to find out that he lived as a frontiersman and experienced that America’s uniqueness of expansion first hand. History was around Turner as a child, his father was an historian and journalist. Andrew Jackson Turner, Frederick’s father, help inspire his scholarly attributes. In some of Turner’s letters he describes his father as a tough and tender character. This in turn would lay a good foundation for his career in teaching. His father worked for a newspaper, which Turner worked for as well. This gave him a familiarity with the people in his community. He also gained an appreciativeness of the power of the press. He came to acknowledge that the press connected the past and present and made them one. The way Frederick grew up made him more astute in his understanding of the American west. During his studies at John Hopkins he even wrote his college exposition on the Indian fur trade, this became influential for his instruction and works in the future. Turner’s journey already has begun into the deepness of America’s chronicles and ethnicity. One could hint that his immersion with frontier culture helped lay the foundation for his future teachings and understanding of the American west. His formal education would help carry his thinking into a professional light. Turner graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1889. He was easy to get along with, a pleasure to study from and work with and highly respected. He taught there for over 20 years and during that time he wrote “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” Turner taught at the University of Wisconsin until 1910, when he accepted promotion to a renowned chair of history at Harvard University. At these two universities he assisted in building two of the great history departments of the 20th century and trained many distinguished historians, including Carl Becker, Merle Curti, Herbert Bolton, and Frederick Merk, who became Turner’s successor at Harvard. He was an early leader of the American Historical Association, serving as its president in 1910 and on the editorial board of the association’s American Historical Review from 1910 to 1915. Poor health forced his early retirement from Harvard in 1924. Turner moved to the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, where he remained as senior research associate until his death. Which he knew first hand and anything he did not he researched in its entirety. His writing career was in full force. He was nominated for president at the American Historical Society and in 1906 he moved to Harvard University. He was a lifetime student. He continued his study to learning and remained an avid reader his entire life. Turner’s proclamations regularly reoccur to the subject that reason and ingenuity are needed to grasp the progression of society.
He made the insight that to study history as a whole one needed to comprehend the “common people.” This ingenious had not been in the forefront of historical study before. It may have been Turner who came up with this theory and engrossed its popularity, but he had many influences that encouraged his theories. Many of turner’s influences like Spencer, Emerson, and Darwin helped for his view of historical interconnection and the genuine significance of history. It is also stated that another guidance of Turner’s was the moderation of Unitarianism. This comes to life in his works on resourcefulness and individuality. His influences helped shape him as a historian, being versed in Germanic historical study techniques as well as research. He built on other philosophers, historians, and scholars to develop how he thought America and history should be studied. His study of the frontier was important but how he studied the frontier was everlasting.
The Frontier is labeled the point between savagery and civilization. With this brought interpretation. The societal summary on the American character campaign of unique egalitarianism was the most important effect of the frontier. It created a new persona of the past and a panoramic examination of American History. It stimulated analysis into almost every informative period of U.S. History; reaching farther than the frontier theory and into the densities of sectionalism and various theories and into the wide-ranging interconnections among history and the total intermingling string of sciences and humanities. This is the underlying everlasting importance that holds the frontier theory and Turner’s discoveries on how to study the past. The West was where characteristically American individualities appeared. The further and further citizens went west the more distant they became from their old ways of life, organizations and beliefs, and in its place discovered ways to improve their life on the frontier and solve their unique difficulties. The frontier proves over multiple generations produced characteristics of informality, violence, crudeness, democracy and initiative that the world recognized as "American."
This American way of thinking and living changed many aspects of life like economics, politics, religion, and social aspects are forever changing the way history is studied. It seemed the subject was changing into something completely different therefore needing a new way to study it. Even religion changed the way it “spoke” to the U.S. citizens. His was also persuasive historicist because he focused one people as a whole, not as a race, gender, or status. In Turner’s essay “The Significance of Sections in American History,” he dissected settlement configurations and came to the conclusion that certain cultural groups had their distinct configuration. Which in turn played a role in legislation, finances, and civilization. Though Turner had his own share of critics which are still present today, even critics can find and importance in his work because it made them think. Great works and studies get both admirers and faultfinders, this is what makes them so great. It allows and emphasizes further understanding and encouraging exploration. Over a generation he is still being studied and evaluated.
Mr. Turner’s childhood, career, and discoveries inspired his work on the frontier thesis as well as his many other essays and writings. It seemed everything that he experienced added to his innovations for studying history. From his father, his culturally immersed upbringing, his education, career, and peers help mold and fine tune his way of thinking about the American West as well as the American citizen. This was especially helpful since his studies were around his lifespan. Through his studies he showed that they way you study aspect of the regular person within its own context and from every angle of his living. He also wrote about the era that he grew up in so it helped his deeper understanding. He was a historical scientist and his understanding, appreciation, and use of other studies. “And to study this advance, the men who grew up under these conditions, and the political, economic, and social results of it, is to study the really American part of our history."
Turner offered a structure for examining the individuality of America through investigating the personality of America's founders. He thought that the influence of westward development created the American individuality. He understood that there was such a thing as an “American character”, and that it included individualistic, practicality, military tactics, and formed by financial expansions and social progress. He proved there was a different way to study history while learning the exclusive history of American Frontier.

Davis, Natalie A. “Movie or Monograph? A Historian/Filmmaker’s Perspective.”
The Public Historian vol. 25, #3 (Summer 2003): 45-48.

Conservapedia: The Trustworthy Encyclopedia. “Frederick Jackson Turner.” http://www.conservapedia.com/Frederick_Jackson. (accessed May 2, 2014).

Hofstadter, Richard, and Seymour Martin Lipset. Turner and the Sociology of the Frontier. New York: Basic, 1968.

John, Richard R. 2008. "Turner, Beard, Chandler: Progressive Historians." Business History Review 82, no. 2: 227-240. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed April 21, 2014). http://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=d40ea1bf-a52e-46c9-8d22-4d48ef47bc4a%40sessionmgr110&vid=4&hid=125 Taylor, George Rogers. The Turner Thesis concerning the Role of the Frontier in American History. 3rd ed. Boston: D.C. Heath, 1972.

Turner, Frederick Jackson, Max Farrand, and Avery Craven. The Significance of Sections in American History. New York: H. Holt, 1932.

Turner, Frederick Jackson. The significance of the frontier in American history. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1966.

Turner, Frederick Jackson., and Ray Allen. Billington. The Frontier in American History: Frederick Jackson Turner. Foreword by Ray Allen Billington. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962.

Turner, Frederick Jackson, and Wilbur R. Jacobs. America's Great Frontiers and Sections: Frederick Jackson Turner's Unpublished Essays. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Pr., 1965.

--------------------------------------------
[ 1 ]. Turner and Jackson, p.5
[ 2 ]. Turner, p. 8.
[ 3 ]. Brewer, p. 251-253
[ 4 ]. Turner, p 10.
[ 5 ]. Hofstader, p. 14
[ 6 ]. Turner, p.11.
[ 7 ]. Taylor
[ 8 ]. Brewer, 255.
[ 9 ]. Davis, p. 47
[ 10 ]. Conservapedia
[ 11 ]. Turner…...

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