Problems With Turner Thesis

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According to Turner, the westward movement Americanized the pioneer, shaped American institutions, and promoted democracy.

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.

The pioneer experiences a "rebirth", : "The wilderness masters the colonist.

It finds him a European in dress, industries, tools, modes of travel, and thought.

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.

The "process" at the heart of the frontier experience thus redefines the newcomers’ cultural and national identity, and integrates them into a new, specifically American society.

Observing that three centuries of westward expansion bred national traits that distinguish Americans from Europeans, Turner claimed that "to the frontier the American intellect owes its striking characteristics" (Turner 37), such as individualism, energy, optimism and enthusiasm.

La conception de l’Ouest en tant que région marque alors le passage à une histoire régionale, loin de la vision turnérienne, qui assimilait l’histoire de la nation à celle de l’Ouest.

Plus récemment, les spécialistes du domaine ont cherché à replacer l’Ouest dans un contexte international, en le présentant comme un carrefour où se sont croisés des peuples venus non seulement de l’Est, mais aussi du Sud, du Nord, et de l’Ouest.


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