Frederick Jackson Turner’s The Frontier in American History dominated the historical profession for almost half a century after it was delivered in 1893. The “frontier thesis” offered a compelling interpretation of how the frontier played the decisive role in shaping a distinctly American identity. Traditionally, most historians argued that America’s important institutions derived from English and European sources, and when they did look for the origins of an “American” character, they focused on eastern groups, such as the Puritans of New England. Completely rejecting the reigning orthodoxy, Turner argued that the crucial element transforming Europeans into Americans was the process of settling the continent. Today his essay remains a profound influence on how Americans imagine themselves as individuals and as a nation.
About the Author
Frederick Jackson Turner was born in Portage, Wisconsin, in 1861, and this close proximity to frontier life clearly influenced his work. He received his B.A and M.A. from the University of Wisconsin and completed his doctorate at Johns Hopkins University in 1889. He returned that year to teach at the University of Wisconsin and later moved to Harvard University in 1910. He played a leading role in 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.
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