Arguments against frontier thesis


Outline And Outline Of A Thesis Essay

The book would be dated for use in anything but graduate level classes, but would serve as an excellent conversation piece for a graduate level course.

Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, Thomas P. His early publication, From Frontier to Plantation in Tennessee , provides a detailed study of political development in Tennessee, an area that produced many significant leaders of the era.

The American Frontier as State of Nature

Analyzing the politics of Tennessee from the Revolutionary period to the Civil War, he captures the essence of several political leaders and describes how the different political parties interacted. Abernethy concludes that the political elites of Tennessee ruled the many during this time. He insists that only rarely did a truly democratic-minded leader gain political power.

Leaders such as William Carroll and Andrew Johnson backed constructive programs to aid the common people. Still, the elite few commonly remained in control of Tennessee until after the War of Secession. Abernethy finds Tennessee a unique case study, as the first area to transition from territory to a state of the Union. The colonization of Tennessee, he insists, began as land speculators, such as James Robertson, sought valuable frontier property in western North Carolina in the s.

By , the first settlement west of the Appalachians began operating. Soon after, the influential William Blount and other North Carolinian politicians opened this western land for sale. After securing large land warrants in western North Carolina, rich elites such as Blount and others wanted to cede the western lands to the government, which could safeguard the land from Indian and Spanish threats. The Act of ceded the land to the government, which upset western settlers, who felt the government usurped their rightful claims to the land and established their own government, the State of Franklin, in Blount, along with politicians Sevier and Caswell, privately supported the rebel government, which protected their own land claims.

He is, the revisionist historians believe, the idol who must be toppled if the field is to revive and grow.

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The new historians fault Turner and his latter-day disciples for many things, but most of all for what they consider his ethnocentrism, his triumphalism, his emphasis on individualism and his insistence that Western history as a distinct field of study ends in The essence of the new Western history lies in its effort to challenge the Turnerians on each of those points.

Where Turner saw the 19th-century West as free land awaiting the expansion of Anglo-American settlement and American democracy, the new scholars reject the concept of a frontier altogether and go to considerable lengths to avoid using the word. They emphasize, instead, the elaborate and highly developed civilizations Native American, Hispanic, mixed-blood or "metis" and others that already existed in the region.

In their view, white English-speaking Americans did not so much settle the West as conquer it. That conquest, moreover, was never complete.


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Anglo-Americans in the West continue to share the region not only with the Indians who preceded them there, but also with the African-Americans, Asians, Latin Americans and others who flowed into the West at the same time they did. Western history, the new scholars maintain, is a process of cultural convergence, a constant competition and interaction -- economic, political, cultural, and linguistic -- among diverse peoples.

The Turnerian West was a place of heroism, triumph and above all progress, a place where Anglo-Americans spread democracy and civilization into untamed lands. The West the new historians describe is a much less happy place -- a land in which bravery and success coexist with oppression, greed and failure; in which decaying ghost towns, bleak Indian reservations, impoverished barrios and ecologically devastated landscapes are as characteristic of Western development as great ranches, rich farms and prosperous cities.

TO Turner and his disciples, the 19th-century West was a place where rugged individualism flourished and replenished American democracy. To the new scholars, Western individualism is a self-serving myth. They argue that the region was always inextricably tied to a national and international capitalist economy; indeed, the only thing that sustained Anglo-American settlement of the West was the demand in other places for its natural resources. Western "pioneers" were never self-sufficient. They depended on Government-subsidized railroads for access to markets, Federal troops for protection from Indians, and later Government-funded dams and canals for irrigating their fields and sustaining their towns.

And while Turner defined the West as a process of settlement that came to an end with the "closing of the frontier " in the late 19th century, the new historians see the West as a region.

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criticism of the frontier thesis – American Disasters

Its history does not end in It continues into our own time. Anyone looking for a clear indication of what the new Western history actually looks like as opposed to how its champions define themselves theoretically would do well to begin with Richard White's " 'It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own,' " an excellent new synthesis of Western history designed for the textbook market. That market has been dominated for years by one of the monuments of the Turnerian West: "Westward Expansion," by Turner's biographer and indefatigable disciple Ray Allen Billington.

It was recently revised by Martin Ridge. White has launched a formidable challenge to it. He is a lively, graceful writer which by itself makes this an unusual textbook , and he tells a story very different from the traditional picture of the progress of Anglo-American civilization, but no less compelling. White emphasizes the complicated interactions among the many peoples of the West, not just the seemingly inevitable triumph of English-speaking whites.

He challenges the heavily masculine bias of traditional Western history and makes women and gender relations central to the story, illuminating the ways in which the harsh realities of frontier life provided opportunities for women to exert influence far beyond the home. He stresses the continual and decisive involvement of the Federal Government in almost every area of Western development.

He tells the story of harsh battles over land, water, language and political power -- battles that were not confined to and did not end with the defeat of the Western tribes. He devotes nearly half his book to the 20th century Billington's narrative essentially stopped in the 's. And he situates the development of the West solidly within the larger story of the advance of industrial capitalism.

His book suggests that the "new Western history," which proclaimed its own birth only a few years ago, is rapidly coming of age. White said recently, at a conference of new Western historians in Santa Fe, N. The novelist Larry McMurtry, for example, published a long essay in The New Republic two years ago maintaining that by their emphasis on the many failures and tragedies that undoubtedly characterized the Western past, the new Western historians overlooked the bold dreams and romantic hopes that drove so many people to "go west" to start anew.

The creators of what he called "Failure Studies" had themselves failed, he said, "because they so rarely do justice to the quality of imagination that constitutes part of the truth. AND in , the National Museum of American Art in Washington mounted "The West as America," a large, ambitious exhibition of 19th-century Western American art accompanied by an extensive commentary that reflected some of the assumptions of the new Western history.

The critical reaction was remarkably harsh. That was, in part, because of the condescending didacticism of some of the wall texts, burdened, Michael Kimmelman of The New York Times observed in an article on the controversy surrounding the exhibition, "with forced analyses and inflammatory observations.

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But in larger part, it seems clear, it was because the exhibit -- by calling attention to the propagandistic quality of the art -- debunked some of America's most cherished myths. It was, critics such as Robert Hughes and Benjamin Forgey charged, an exercise in simple-minded "political correctness. It refused to acknowledge that the Anglo-American presence in the West had contributed anything positive to the region.

The exhibition and the revisionist scholarship it reflected had left no place for the romantic, individualistic West of the Anglo-American imagination. In fact, the new Western historians are well aware of the role of myth and imagination in the history of their region, but they are wary of its influence. The first major work of revisionist scholarship in the field was Henry Nash Smith's "Virgin Land," published in --a brilliant exploration of the myths and symbols that shaped American images of the West.

Its influence is very much alive today in the work of the new revisionists, many of whom are centrally concerned with the role of myth and imagination in the Western past. What distinguishes them from most earlier historians and from their own present-day critics is their insistence on stripping Western myths of their spurious factual support -- of exposing them for the self-serving illusions they usually were. Shattering the myths of the American West is indeed startling to the millions of people around the world whose image of the region has been shaped by Hollywood and the rest of American popular culture.

But to academic historians in other fields, it is sometimes difficult to understand what all the shouting is about. For much of what is new in the history of the West is not new at all to American history generally, which has been preoccupied for years now with issues of racial diversity, class conflict and gender relations, and which rejected the progressive, triumphalist, ethnocentric assumptions of the Turner thesis two generations ago.

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Most of the new Western historians share a belief, as the editors of "Under an Open Sky" put it, "that one cannot understand the modern United States without coming to terms with its Western past. It requires considering not so much what is new as what is distinctively Western about the history they are attempting to explain. In fact, the emphasis of the new Western historians on their disagreements with Turner serves to disguise some of their most important achievements. For they have also developed an impressive body of scholarship that makes a strong case for the distinctiveness of the Western experience -- and for its relevance to the rest of American history -- that has little to do with Turner at all.

They develop the argument in at least three ways.

arguments against frontier thesis Arguments against frontier thesis
arguments against frontier thesis Arguments against frontier thesis
arguments against frontier thesis Arguments against frontier thesis
arguments against frontier thesis Arguments against frontier thesis
arguments against frontier thesis Arguments against frontier thesis

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