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    Turner's thesis about American Frontier...

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    Rahma Sboui Gueddah

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    Turner's thesis about American Frontier...

    Post by Rahma Sboui Gueddah on Tue Feb 20, 2007 11:13 pm


    Frederick Jackson Turner
    1861-1932


    Frederick Jackson Turner was born in Portage, Wisconsin, on November 14, 1861, the oldest of three children born to a family whose lineage could be traced back to English Puritans from the seventeenth century. After early work as a newspaper editor, Turner entered the University of Wisconsin in 1880.
    Upon graduation four years later, Turner returned briefly to newspaper stints in Chicago and Milwaukee before accepting a university instructorship in oratory at the University of Wisconsin. He eventually earned his Masters of Arts in History at Wisconsin and went on to receive his doctorate at Johns Hopkins University in the same field. Turner then returned to Wisconsin, where he became Assistant Professor of History in 1889.It was only four years later, in 1893, that Turner delivered his most famous work, "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," at a meeting of the American Historical Association, as part of the 1893 World's Columbian Exibition in Chicago, also known as the Chicago World's Fair. Though not seen as particularly important when Turner delivered his paper in July of 1893 (Turner's own parents, in Chicago for the Fair, did not even bother to attend), the work eventually became recognized as a seminal work in understanding the importance of frontier ideology and its pervasiveness in American cultural thinking.
    The impetus of the frontier thesis was Turner's fervent belief that historians up to that time had not devoted sufficient research to what he termed in an earlier essay "the fundamental, dominating fact in United States history," the territorial expansion from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.
    Central to Turner's frontier thesis is the notion that the development of the American frontier helped to shape not only the character of the American people but also the nature of its institutions. More specifically, Turner claimed that traits and characteristics which developed during the Nineteenth-Century push from East to West -- individualism, nationalism, mobility, egalitarianism -- not only deviated from the perceived standard American cultural attitudes which prevailed at the time, but eventually came to dominate the formation of the American character.With his announcement of the "closing" of the frontier, moreover, Turner implied that the nation would be forced to undergo a painful transition, from a perception of America as a land of endless boundaries, to one which required Americans to accept that their nation was finally a closed-space world, replete with the limitations inherent therein.
    Turner's thesis was not especially well received initially; on the contrary, many of his contemporaries could not let go of the reified idea that America's various political and social institutions germinated in pre-colonial England and, before that, in medieval Germany. According to this view, American society was little more than an extension of European culture. Turner's thesis, then, struck many historians as heretical by arguing that the United States had evolved into a unique society.
    Turner's ideas finally began to take root over the period of perhaps a decade; since then, his theories have enjoyed periods of widespread acceptance and endured others of savage scholarly attack. Today, most scholars seem to tacitly acknowledge at least the general premise behind Turner's theories, and have become more interested in testing his hypothesis than in accepting or rejecting it.
    Ultimately, Turner was as much a student of culture as a teacher of history. Indeed, one might easily make the claim that he was among the first true American Culture scholars. Though always couched in the school history, Turner was just as concerned about the various relationships which exist in and among societies as he was about documenting actual historical facts, claiming that the study of history should be a study of "socialistic inquiry," and that "history is past literature, it is past politics, it is past religion, it is past economics." It is this inter-disciplinary approach to the study of history, in fact, along with the manifestation of that approach in his frontier thesis and other works, which constitutes Frederick Jackson Turner's greatest contribution to American scholarship.

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