New West Reader Essays On An Ever-Evolving Frontier


by Laurie Kovacovic

The Frontier has long been a prominent symbol of American culture. But what exactly does it say about our culture, and what precisely is/was the frontier? These questions, along with the mystique of the frontier, sparked my interest in the subject of the frontier. The works gathered in this bibliography will hopefully aid other students interested in the history and present condition of the frontier, and its affects on American culture.

Frontier scholarship began in 1893, when Frederick Jackson Turner gave his landmark speech "The Significance of the Frontier in American History". This speech laid the foundation for future discussion about the frontier, and one hundred years later is still the piece of comparison for new theories. Turner's work was followed by several other famous frontier theories throughout the first three quarters of the twentieth century. I have joined these together to represent the classic statements of frontier theory. The first part of the bibliography focuses on these works by the likes of Turner, Ray Allen Billington, Herbert Eugene Bolton, and Walter Prescott Webb.

Turner's thesis emphasized the significance the frontier had in shaping the American character. The second part of the bibliography continues to address the questions of national identity and shared characteristics which can be attributed to the frontier. These essays and books explore both how the frontier experience can and can not account for the immensely ambiguous American character.

The third part of the bibliography concentrates on the "new" school of frontier theory, commonly referred to as history of the "New West". The majority of this scholarship has developed over the last twenty five years. These articles and books emphasize the previously invisible and/or misrepresented participants of the American Frontier such as women, African-Americans, Chinese-Americans, and Hispanic-Americans. There is much discussion concerning the complexity and diversity of frontier experiences. "New West" scholarship takes a microscopic view of the variety of lands and peoples involved in what had previously been described as a very general and uniform frontier. The historians of the "New West" critically review prior and present Western/frontier history in an attempt to write the most inclusive, accurate, and sensitive stories possible.

The fourth part of the bibliography deals with how the frontier can be seen in pop culture, the West, mythic dimensions, and altogether unexpected ways, and how it continues to hold influence over the American people. From space exploration, to movies, to advertisements, the frontier is a powerful and alluring symbol. Also, the frontier has become a mythical time and place, to the point where it is difficult to distinguish history from myth. This last section will hopefully provide the reader with some quirky, and well written essays which will not only expand the horizons of the frontier, but entertain and amuse as well.

In order to simplify research, I have included the UMD library call number for every book listed here. This bibliography is not exhaustive; there is far too much information about the frontier to review much less record it all, but hopefully the entries here will facilitate some rewarding excursions into the frontier.

PART I - the classic statements

Bannon, John Francis., ed. Bolton and the Spanish Borderlands. Norman: Oklahoma UP, 1968. E123.B69

This book is a collection of many of Herbert Eugene Bolton's writings. He was one of the first historians to go beyond the Anglo frontier studied by Turner, and specialized in the "Borderlands" region (the areas of Spanish occupation, where another frontier movement had already occurred). These essays expanded on the frontier being studied at the time and opened up an entirely new set of variables that shaped the American frontier.

Billington, Ray Allen. America's Frontier Heritage. Albuquerque: New Mexico UP, 1974. E179.5 B62

Billington re-examines Turner's thesis which claims American identity is born from its frontier heritage. He asserts that the frontier experience remains a major contributor to national identity, although less so than in the past.

Bolton, Herbert E. Wider Horizons of American History. Notre Dame: Notre Dame UP, 1939. E18.B75 1967.

As a student of Frederick Jackson Turner, Herbert Bolton went on to study the frontier, adding the dimension of the Spanish conquest to the previously Anglo-American based history of the frontier. The essays in this book address Spanish influence in the borderlands of the American frontier.

Jacobs, Wilbur R., John W. Caughey, and Joe B. Franz. Turner, Bolton, and Webb: Three Historians of the American Frontier. Seattle: Washington UP, 1965. E175.45 .J3

This book offers a nice introduction to the differing theories of Turner, Bolton, and Webb. While largely biographical, the short essays reveal much about the theories and the mindsets which promoted them.

Taylor, George Rogers., ed. The Turner Thesis: Concerning the Role of the Frontier in American History. Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath and Company, 1972. E169.1 .P897

A collection of essays, by major frontier scholars, debating Turner's thesis and its impact on twentieth-century America.

Turner, Frederick Jackson. "The Significance of the Frontier in American History." American Historical Association. Chicago Worlds Fair. Chicago, 12 July 1893. E 179.5.T958 1966

Turner's landmark speech which laid the foundation for future scholarship concerning the frontier. Also known as the "Turner thesis."

Webb, Walter Prescott. The Great Frontier. Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1952. CB 245.W4

Webb views the American frontier as a four hundred year experience, which not only shaped the American, but also influenced the whole of Western civilization through the land and capitol it provided. He claims the now closed frontier "changed the destiny of mankind".

PART II- the frontier and national identity


Bassin, Mark. "Turner, Solov'ev, and the 'Frontier Hypothesis': The Nationalist Signification of Open Spaces." Journal of Modern History. 65.3 (1993): 473-511.

While Turner is the father of U.S. frontier inquiry, Bassin compares his work with Solov'ev, Turner's unrecognized Russian counterpart. The ways and reasons in which Turner and Solov'ev used frontier lands and experience to explain national development are explored.

Gabriel, Ralph H. "History and the America Past." American Perspectives: The National Self Image in the Twentieth Century. Eds. Spillar, Robert E., and Eric Larrabee. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1961.

Gabriel attributes the uniqueness of American character to not only the frontier, but the notion of plenty, which includes urban areas in addition to frontier lands.

Riley, Glenda. "Airbrushing Western History (Eliminating the notion of 'frontier' in Western History)." Journal of the West. 31.4 (1992): 3-5.

A short essay that claims the notion of frontier is useful and important in understanding our history and ourselves. To add the missing stories of the frontier would be more productive than eliminating the use of frontier theory.


Lipset, Seymour Martin. Continental Divide: The Values and Institutions of the United States and Canada. New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc., 1990. E169.1 L545 1991x

Lipset recognizes the differences in each country's frontier history, and how the symbols and values from their respective frontiers have uniquely influenced each culture.

Merck, Frederick. Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History: A Reinterpretation. New York: Knopf, 1963. E179.5.M4

An investigation into the American ideologies of Manifest Destiny and Mission, and their significance in American expansionism. Merck claims that a sense of mission was "truer expression of national spirit" than Manifest Destiny.

Nash, Roderick. Wilderness and the American Mind. New Haven: Yale UP, 1967. E169.1 .N37 1982

A history of wilderness in the United States and its importance in shaping the American. Wilderness and frontier are closely linked, at times overlapping.

Potter, David, M. People of Plenty: Economic Abundance and the American Character. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1954. E169.1.P6

Of special interest is chapter VII, "Abundance and the Frontier". Potter writes about how the frontier did and did not attribute to national characteristics like individualism, social mobility, democracy, and industrialization.

Slotkin, Richard. Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier In Twentieth-Century America. New York: HarperCollins, 1992. E169.12.S57 1992b

A very thorough examination into the myth of the American frontier and how it has perpetuated itself in twentieth-century United States culture. The book traces the presence and impact of the mythical frontier "in shaping the life, thought, and politics of the nation".

Susman, Warren I. Culture as History: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century. New York: Pantheon Books, 1973. E169.1.S9733 1984

Discusses the debatable impact the frontier had on developing twentieth-century culture. Frontier symbols represent both good and bad characteristics. Claims that Turner's thesis has become useless as have many subsequent theses.

Taylor, George Rogers., ed. The Turner Thesis: Concerning the Role of the Frontier in American History. E169.1 .P897

A collection of essays, by major frontier scholars, debating Turner's thesis and its impact on twentieth-century America.

Terrie, Philip G. "Wilderness: Ambiguous Symbol of the American Past." Dominant Symbols in Popular Culture. eds. Browne, Fishwick, and Browne. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1990. E169.12 .D59 1990

Terrie observes the duality in American perspectives towards wilderness and frontier space. The divergence in opinions about the wilderness suggests confusion in society about who we are.

PART III - history of the "New West"


American Quarterly. ed. Johnson, David A. "Special Issue: American Culture and the American Frontier." 33.5 (1981).

This issue is dedicated to exploring the cultural affects of the American Frontier. Articles include: "Savage, Sinner, and Saved: Davy Crockett, Camp Meetings, and the Wild Frontier" by Catherine L. Albanese, "The Cherokee Nation: Mirror of the Republic" by Mary Young, "Economic Development and Native American Women in the Early Nineteenth Century" by Mary C. Wright, "History from the Inside-Out: Writing the History of Women in Rural America" by John Mack Faragher, "Vigilance and the Law: The Moral Authority of Popular Justice in the Far West" by David A. Johnson, "The Trans-Mississippian International Exposition: 'To Work Out the Problem of Universal Civilization'", by Robert Rydell, and "Nostalgia and Progress: Theodore Roosevelt's Myth of the Frontier" by Richard Slotkin.

Armitage, Susan. "Women and Men in Western History: A Stereoptical Vision." Western Historical Quarterly. 16.4 (1985): 380-395.

In an effort to contribute to new western history, Armitage argues that western history should be looked at through the eyes of both women and men. The general image of the West would change, becoming less sensational, and more concerned with adaptation.

Aron, Stephan. "Lessons in Conquest: Towards a Greater Western History." Pacific Historical Review. 63.2 (1994): 125-47.

New Western historians seem only to be concerned with rewriting frontier history for the plains and westward. However, the frontier once included the trans-Appalachian West, and other Eastern regions. Their development is crucial in understanding subsequent frontier progress. A new frontier history that applies to all Americans, not just those living in the ever-ambiguous West, needs to be written.

Horn, Miriam. "How the West Was Really Won." U.S. News & World Report. 21 May 1990: 56-65.

A general look at the development of Western history. New historians and their new theories are contrasted with Turner's thesis.

Kolodny, Annette. "Letting Go Our Grand Obsessions: Notes Towards a New Literary History of the American Frontiers." American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism and Bibliography. 64.1 (1992): 1-18.

Kolodny asserts that in order to understand our culture, all texts dealing with first contact should be included as frontier literature. Norse sagas to Tex-mex writings make up the multilingual, multiplicite stories of the frontier, which includes "'wilderness', agricultural, urban, and industrial" settings.

Limerick, Patricia Nelson. "Turnerians All: The Dream of a Helpful History in an Intelligible world." American Historical Review. 100.3 (1995) 697-717.

A critique of Turner's frontier thesis noting the contradictions within itself and the absence of Indian contributions. Limerick recognizes the current popularity of Turner's thesis, but also proposes the emergence of a new urban/industrial, diverse, frontier thesis.

Malone, Michael P. "Beyond the Last Frontier: Toward a New Approach to Western American History." Western Historical Quarterly. 20.4 (1989): 409-27.

Malone argues that a new paradigm should be developed to study "the West." It should be based on regional features such as aridity, reliance on federal government, aura of the frontier experience,dependency on extractive industries, and surge in multi-ethnic population. The frontier did not simply "close", and that must be understood.

Nobles, Gregory H. "Straight Lines and Stability: Mapping the Political Order of the Anglo-American Frontier." Journal of American History. 80.1 (1993): 9-36.

Nobles shows how mapping was a tool for shaping the early frontier. Euro-American maps, which simply ignored the existence of many people and presumed ownership of already occupied lands, were saved as documents and which portrayed a popular, but flawed image of the frontier.

Person, Leland S. Jr. "The American Eve: Miscegenation and a Feminist Frontier Fiction." American Quarterly. 37.5 (1985): 668-685.

Examines literature of the early frontier written by women. The writings illustrate different attitudes towards the frontier which were overshadowed by the predominance of fiction written by men.

Robbins, William G. "Western History: A Dialectic on the Modern Condition." The Western Historical Quarterly. 20.4 (1989): 429-449.

While much of the article dwells on then recent debates among Western historians, Robbins also proposes to study the West "as a prototype for modern capitalism".

Szasz, Ferenc M. "The Clergy and the Myth of the American West." Church History. 59.4 (1990): 497-506.

While clergy played an important role in the progress of the frontier and settlement of the West, they are largely left out of the "mythical" West and frontier heritage. Szasz primarily attributes this to the variety of different denominations present on the frontier. This emphasized a division amongst people rather than a shared story.

Underwood, June O. "Western Women and True Womanhood: Culture and Symbol in History and Literature." Great Plains Quarterly. 5.2 (1985): 93-106.

Underwood addresses the absence of women from western history and literature. She demonstrates some of the roles and responsibilities pioneer women had, and advises that the black-out on complete depictions of women end.

Weber, David J. "Turner, the Boltonians, and the Borderlands." American Historical Review. 91.1 (1986): 66-81.

Many historians have tried to apply Turner's thesis to the Borderlands (Southwest U.S., Northern Mexico), but it does not apply to Mexican culture as it does to American. The American frontier heritage is distinct from the frontier heritage of Mexico which unites with the U.S. in the borderlands region.

Worster, Donald. "New West, True West: Interpreting the Region's History." Western Historical Quarterly. 18.2 (1987): 140-58.

In his essay, Worster claims the main characteristic of the West is aridity. He views the West as a settled, developed area influenced primarily by lack of water resources.

Wunder, John R. "What's Old About the New Western History: Race and Gender Part I." Pacific Northwest Quarterly. 85.2 (1994): 50-58.

While "New Western History" attempts to be more inclusive than older historical approaches, especially Turner's, Wunder claims that it is only in a transitional phase. The new histories are still exclusionary, and many of them use old models. There are many good examples given.


Duetsh, Sarah. No Separate Refuge: Culture, Class, and Gender on the Anglo-Hispanic Frontier in the American Southwest, 1880-1940. New York: Oxford UP, 1987. F785.M5 D48 1987

No Separate Refuge closely observes regional Chicano communities in Colorado and New Mexico and the Hispanic and Anglo influences on their intra and inter-cultural dynamics. Special attention is paid to the changing roles of women in these communities.

Kolodny, Annette. The Land Before Her: Fantasy and Experience of the American Frontiers, 1630-1860. Chapel Hill: North Carolina UP, 1984. E179.5.K64 1984

An examination of white, women pioneers and their response to the land. The frontier, for many, became a place to cultivate gardens and domesticity.

Malone, Michael P., and Richard W. Etulain. The American West: A Twentieth-Century History. Lincoln: Nebraska UP, 1989. F595.M3 1989

A modern history of the West (West of the ninety-eighth meridian) which compares and contrasts its similarities and differences with the rest of the country. Shows the West as a continually changing, dynamic, and diverse place. Does not rely solely on the frontier or wilderness to characterize the region.

White, Richard. It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own: A New History of the American West. Norman: Oklahoma UP, 1991. F591.W69 1993.

White's book is a comprehensive look at the frontier and the West from a modern perspective. It is a key work for "New West" historian. It's Your Own Misfortune is well organized with many maps, pictures, and figures. It is a very useful reference.

Worster, Donald. An Unsettled Country: Changing Landscapes of the American West. Albuquerque: New Mexico UP, 1994. F591.W876

Worster explores the effects the varied and changing nature of the West had upon its inhabitants. He claims the West, as a cultural area, is not just the product of political, economic, and cultural influence, but most importantly of the natural environment. Since the West of today and the past is looked upon as a synonym for, or the closest reflection of, our frontier history, we can better understand the frontier through studying the West and its many landscapes.

PART IV - popular culture, myth and the miscellaneous


Baltensperger, Bradley H. "Plains Boomers and the Creation of the Great American Desert Myth." Journal of Historical Geography. 18.1 (1992) 59-73.

Even though the Great Plains were not a desert region, settlers embraced the characterization of the Plains as desert. This accentuated the heroism and wisdom in settling the frontier.

Black, Brian. "The Legacy of the Lands: Linking the Frontier to Contemporary America Through Film." Journal of the West. 31.1 1992): 100-108.

Black links American capitalism to frontier films, especially The Red River and Giant. The films chronicle the development of frontier capitalism and the transition from Old West to New West, from generation to generation.

Blake, Kevin S. "Zane Grey and Images of the American West." The Geographical Review. 85.2 (1995): 202-17.

Blake shows how Zane Grey wrote fiction of the mythical western frontier (land of hero cowboys, noble Indians, etc.) set in the first third of the twentieth century. This aided popular belief that the mythical frontier was not only real, but that is was contemporary as well.

Cho, Erin. "Lincoln Logs: Toying with the Frontier Myth." History Today. Apr. 1993: 31-34.

A British view of Lincoln Logs, and how they represented Americans' urge to recapture the frontier in times of growing urbanization.

Daly, David, and Joel Persky. "The West and the Western." Journal of the West. 29.2 (1990): 3-64.

An in depth look at the role myth and mythical figures play in the popularity of the West in general, and western movies in particular. Discusses why the west is continuously celebrated, despite periodic slumps and surges in the popularity of western film.

Ellis, Reuben J. "The American Frontier and the Contemporary Real Estate Advertising Magazine." Journal of Popular Culture. 27.3 (1993): 119-33.

Contrary to Turner's assertion, the frontier has never been closed, completely. Real Estate ad magazines are a perfect example of how the occupation of the frontier is an on-going process.

Martin, Susan K. "Go (Further) West, Young Man: The New (True Blue) Frontier of the American Imagination." North Dakota Quarterly. 60.1 (1992):180-98.

The American notion of frontier has been imposed on Australia because of its appropriate environmental and geographical location (dry, sparsely populated, and offering an "open" West). Examines the Australian/American frontier in advertisements.

Savage, William W. Jr. "Jazz and the American Frontier Experience: Turner, Webb, and the Oklahoma City Blue Devils." Journal of the West. 28.3 (1989): 32-35.

Shows how an Oklahoma jazz band during the 1920's and 1930's can provide valuable insight into the realm of the American Frontier.

Schechter, Harold, and Jonna G. Semeiks. "Leatherstocking in 'Nam: Rambo, Platoon, and the American Frontier Myth." Journal of Popular Culture. 24.4 (1991): 17-25.

Examines how the frontier myth has been played out in popular late twentieth-century films such as Rambo and Platoon.

Shively, JoEllen. "Cowboys and Indians: Perceptions of Western Films among American Indians and Anglos." American Sociological Review. 57.6 (1992): 725-34.

A sociological study of Native American and Anglo men, and their perceptions of western film. Explores the different reasons each group enjoys westerns.


Carpenter, Ronald H. "America's Tragic Metaphor: Our Twentieth-Century Combatants As Frontiersmen." Quarterly Journal of Speech. 76.1 (1990): 1-22.

An anthropological look at the use of the U.S. frontier experience as a metaphor for U.S. soldiers in foreign wars.

Klein, Kerwin. "Frontier Tales: The Narrative Construction of Cultural Borders in Twentieth-Century California." Comparative Studies in Society and History 34.3 (1992): 464-90.

An essay which specifically examines the relationship between Cauhilla Indians and the newcomer Anglo settlers in the Palm Springs area. The Indians became an attraction for tourists who wished to see them before their culture would disappear as predicted.

"Frontier Products: Tourism, Consumerism, and the Southwestern Public Lands, 1890-1990." Pacific Historical Review. 62.1 (1993): 39-71.

An excellent essay which traces the transformation of the West (specifically Arizona) from "real" frontier to a "frontier playground" through the preservation of public wilderness lands. References to Zane Grey, Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey, and of course, Frederick Jackson Turner.

Sanderson, Jim. "The Twentieth Century Frontier in Odessa, Texas: Bar Stools and Pulpits." Journal of American Culture. 10.4 (1987): 31-31.

A well written essay about West Texas and it's conflicting traits of frontierism and fundamentalism.

Stoeltje, Beverly J. "Making the Frontier Myth: Folklore Process in a Modern Nation." Western Folklore. 46.4 (1987) 235-253.

Stoeltje looks at the frontier from the eyes of a folklorist. The myth that is represented in the frontier has been adapted to the new frontier of outer space. She does a nice job explaining that the myth of the frontier is based on real people and places, but mythologized by people from the East, like Teddy Roosevelt, Owen Wister, and Frederick Remington.

Weiss, Harold J., Jr. "Western Lawmen: Image and Reality." Journal of the West. 24.1 (1985): 23-32.

Weiss explores the fact and fiction which cloud the reality of violence in the west, and the character of law enforcement officers.


Nash, Gerald D. The American West Transformed. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1985. HC107.A17 N37 1985

Nash examines the impact of World War II on the American West. He views changes in economics, population, diversity, etc. in the West as a continuation of frontier forces influenced by the war.

The Frontier Thesis or Turner Thesis, is the argument advanced by historian Frederick Jackson Turner in 1893 that American democracy was formed by the American frontier. He stressed the process—the moving frontier line—and the impact it had on pioneers going through the process. He also stressed results; especially that American democracy was the primary result, along with egalitarianism, a lack of interest in high culture, and violence. "American democracy was born of no theorist's dream; it was not carried in the Susan Constant to Virginia, nor in the Mayflower to Plymouth. It came out of the American forest, and it gained new strength each time it touched a new frontier," said Turner.[1]

In the thesis, the American frontier established liberty by releasing Americans from European mindsets and eroding old, dysfunctional customs. The frontier had no need for standing armies, established churches, aristocrats or nobles, nor for landed gentry who controlled most of the land and charged heavy rents. Frontier land was free for the taking. Turner first announced his thesis in a paper entitled "The Significance of the Frontier in American History", delivered to the American Historical Association in 1893 in Chicago. He won wide acclaim among historians and intellectuals. Turner elaborated on the theme in his advanced history lectures and in a series of essays published over the next 25 years, published along with his initial paper as The Frontier in American History.[2]

Turner's emphasis on the importance of the frontier in shaping American character influenced the interpretation found in thousands of scholarly histories. By the time Turner died in 1932, 60% of the leading history departments in the U.S. were teaching courses in frontier history along Turnerian lines.[3]


Turner set up an evolutionary model (he had studied evolution with a leading geologist, Thomas Chrowder Chamberlin), using the time dimension of American history, and the geographical space of the land that became the United States.[4][5] The first settlers who arrived on the east coast in the 17th century acted and thought like Europeans. They adapted to the new physical, economic and political environment in certain ways—the cumulative effect of these adaptations was Americanization.

Successive generations moved further inland, shifting the lines of settlement and wilderness, but preserving the essential tension between the two. European characteristics fell by the wayside and the old country's institutions (e.g., established churches, established aristocracies, standing armies, intrusive government, and highly unequal land distribution) were increasingly out of place. Every generation moved further west and became more American, more democratic, and more intolerant of hierarchy. They also became more violent, more individualistic, more distrustful of authority, less artistic, less scientific, and more dependent on ad-hoc organizations they formed themselves. In broad terms, the further west, the more American the community.[6]

Closed frontier[edit]

Turner saw the land frontier was ending, since the U.S. Census of 1890 had officially stated that the American frontier had broken up. He sounded an alarming note, speculating as to what this meant for the continued dynamism of American society as the source of U.S. innovation and democratic ideals was disappearing.[citation needed]

Comparative frontiers[edit]

Historians, geographers, and social scientists have studied frontier-like conditions in other countries, with an eye on the Turnerian model. South Africa, Canada, Russia, Brazil, Argentina and Australia—and even ancient Rome—had long frontiers that were also settled by pioneers.[7] However these other frontier societies operated in a very difficult political and economic environment that made democracy and individualism much less likely to appear and it was much more difficult to throw off a powerful royalty, standing armies, established churches and an aristocracy that owned most of the land. The question is whether their frontiers were powerful enough to overcome conservative central forces based in the metropolis.[8] Each nation had quite different frontier experiences. For example, the Dutch Boers in South Africa were defeated in war by Britain. In Australia, "mateship" and working together was valued more than individualism was in the United States.[9]

Impact and influence[edit]

Other historians in the 1890s had begun to explore the meaning of the frontier, such as Theodore Roosevelt, who had a different theory. Roosevelt argued that the battles between the trans-Appalachian pioneers and the Indians in the "Winning of the West" had forged a new people, the American race.[10] It was the Turner version that became standard.

Turner's thesis quickly became popular among intellectuals. It explained why the American people and American government were so different from their European counterparts. It was popular among New Dealers—Franklin Roosevelt and his top aides[11] thought in terms of finding new frontiers.[12] FDR, in celebrating the third anniversary of Social Security in 1938, advised, "There is still today a frontier that remains unconquered—an America unreclaimed. This is the great, the nation-wide frontier of insecurity, of human want and fear. This is the frontier—the America—we have set ourselves to reclaim."[13] Historians adopted it, especially in studies of the west,[14] but also in other areas, such as the influential work of Alfred D. Chandler, Jr. (1918–2007) in business history.[15]

Many believed that the end of the frontier represented the beginning of a new stage in American life and that the United States must expand overseas. However, others viewed this interpretation as the impetus for a new wave in the history of United States imperialism. William Appleman Williams led the "Wisconsin School" of diplomatic historians by arguing that the frontier thesis encouraged American overseas expansion, especially in Asia, during the 20th century. Williams viewed the frontier concept as a tool to promote democracy through both world wars, to endorse spending on foreign aid, and motivate action against totalitarianism.[16] However, Turner's work, in contrast to Roosevelt's work The Winning of the West, places greater emphasis on the development of American republicanism than on territorial conquest. Other historians, who wanted to focus scholarship on minorities, especially Native Americans and Hispanics, started in the 1970s to criticize the frontier thesis because it did not attempt to explain the evolution of those groups.[17] Indeed, their approach was to reject the frontier as an important process and to study the West as a region, ignoring the frontier experience east of the Mississippi River.[18]

Turner never published a major book on the frontier for which he did 40 years of research.[19] However his ideas presented in his graduate seminars at Wisconsin and Harvard influenced many areas of historiography. In the history of religion, for example, Boles (1993) notes that William Warren Sweet at the University of Chicago Divinity School as well as Peter G. Mode (in 1930), argued that churches adapted to the characteristics of the frontier, creating new denominations such as the Mormons, the Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ, and the Cumberland Presbyterians. The frontier, they argued, shaped uniquely American institutions such as revivals, camp meetings, and itinerant preaching. This view dominated religious historiography for decades.[20] Moos (2002) shows that the 1910s to 1940s black filmmaker and novelist Oscar Micheaux incorporated Turner's frontier thesis into his work. Micheaux promoted the West as a place where blacks could transcend race and earn economic success through hard work and perseverance.[21]

Slatta (2001) argues that the widespread popularization of Turner's frontier thesis influenced popular histories, motion pictures, and novels, which characterize the West in terms of individualism, frontier violence, and rough justice. Disneyland's Frontierland of the late 20th century reflected the myth of rugged individualism that celebrated what was perceived to be the American heritage. The public has ignored academic historians' anti-Turnerian models, largely because they conflict with and often destroy the icons of Western heritage. However, the work of historians during the 1980s–1990s, some of whom sought to bury Turner's conception of the frontier, and others who sought to spare the concept but with nuance, have done much to place Western myths in context and rescue Western history from them.[22]

New frontiers[edit]

Subsequent critics, historians, and politicians have suggested that other 'frontiers,' such as scientific innovation, could serve similar functions in American development. Historians have noted that John F. Kennedy in the early 1960s explicitly called upon the ideas of the frontier.[23] At his acceptance speech on July 15, 1960, Kennedy called out to the American people, "I am asking each of you to be new pioneers on that New Frontier. My call is to the young in heart, regardless of age—to the stout in spirit, regardless of party."[24] Mathiopoulos notes that he "cultivated this resurrection of frontier ideology as a motto of progress ('getting America moving') throughout his term of office."[25] He promoted his political platform as the "New Frontier," with a particular emphasis on space exploration and technology. Limerick points out that Kennedy assumed that "the campaigns of the Old Frontier had been successful, and morally justified."[26] The "frontier" metaphor thus maintained its rhetorical ties to American social progress. The frontier thesis is one of the most influential documents on the American west today.


Kolb and Hoddeson argue that during the heyday of Kennedy's "New Frontier," the physicists who built the Fermi Labs explicitly sought to recapture the excitement of the old frontier. They argue that, "Frontier imagery motivates Fermilab physicists, and a rhetoric remarkably similar to that of Turner helped them secure support for their research." Rejecting the East and West coast life styles that most scientists preferred, they selected a Chicago suburb on the prairie as the location of the lab. A small herd of American bison was started at the lab's founding to symbolize Fermilab's presence on the frontier of physics and its connection to the American prairie. The bison herd still lives on the grounds of Fermilab.[27] Architecturally, The lab's designers rejected the militaristic design of Los Alamos and Brookhaven as well as the academic architecture of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Instead Fermilab's planners sought to return to Turnerian themes. They emphasized the values of individualism, empiricism, simplicity, equality, courage, discovery, independence, and naturalism in the service of democratic access, human rights, ecological balance, and the resolution of social, economic, and political issues. Milton Stanley Livingston, the lab's associate director, said in 1968, "The frontier of high energy and the infinitesimally small is a challenge to the mind of man. If we can reach and cross this frontier, our generations will have furnished a significant milestone in human history."[28]

Electronic frontier[edit]

The Internet and the World Wide Web are often seen as part of a new "electronic frontier," with profound implications for the future of communications, the society and the economy. The slogan "the Internet is free" echoes the "free land" mantra of the Turner thesis. Indeed, opposition to pay walls and subscription services resembles the pioneer quest for free land unencumbered by ownership claims. Scholars analyzing the Internet have often cited Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier model.[29][30][31] Of special concern is the question whether the electronic frontier will replicate the stages of development of the American land frontier. Wikipedia is a major presence on the electronic frontier, and the Wikipedia editors have been explicitly compared to the pioneers of Turner's American frontier in terms of their youth, aggressiveness, boldness, equalitarianism and rejection of limitations.[32]

See also[edit]

Further reading: Scholarly studies[edit]

  • The Frontier In American History the original 1893 essay by Turner
  • Ray Allen Billington. The American Frontier (1958) 35 page essay on the historiography
  • Billington, Ray Allen. Frederick Jackson Turner: historian, scholar, teacher. (1973), highly detailed scholarly biography.
  • Billington, Ray Allen, ed,. The Frontier Thesis: Valid Interpretation of American History? (1966); the major attacks and defenses of Turner.
  • Billington, Ray Allen. America's Frontier Heritage (1984), an analysis of Turner's theories in relation to social sciences and historiography
  • Billington, Ray Allen. Land of Savagery / Land of Promise: The European Image of the American Frontier in the Nineteenth Century (1981)
  • Bogue, Allan G. . Frederick Jackson Turner: Strange Roads Going Down. (1988), highly detailed scholarly biography.
  • Brown, David S. Beyond the Frontier: Midwestern Historians in the American Century. (2009).
  • Coleman, William, "Science and Symbol in the Turner Frontier Hypothesis," American Historical Review (1966) 72#1 pp. 22–49 in JSTOR
  • Etulain, Richard W. Does the Frontier Experience Make America Exceptional? (1999)
  • Etulain, Richard W. Writing Western History: Essays on Major Western Historians (2002)
  • Etulain, Richard W. and Gerald D. Nash, eds. Researching Western History: Topics in the Twentieth Century (1997) online
  • Faragher, John Mack ed. Rereading Frederick Jackson Turner: "The Significance of the Frontier in American History". (1999)
  • Hine, Robert V. and John Mack Faragher. The American West: A New Interpretive History (2000), deals with events, not historiography; concise edition is Frontiers: A Short History of the American West (2008)
  • Hofstadter, Richard. The Progressive Historians—Turner, Beard, Parrington. (1979). interpretation of the historiography
  • Hofstadter, Richard, and Seymour Martin Lipset, eds. Turner and the Sociology of the Frontier (1968) 12 essays by scholars in different fields
  • Jensen, Richard. "On Modernizing Frederick Jackson Turner," Western Historical Quarterly 11 (1980), 307-20. in JSTOR
  • Lamar, Howard R. ed. The New Encyclopedia of the American West (1998), 1000+ pages of articles by scholars
  • Milner, Clyde A., ed. Major Problems in the History of the American West 2nd ed (1997), primary sources and essays by scholars
  • Milner, Clyde A. et al. Trails: Toward a New Western History (1991)
  • Nichols, Roger L. ed. American Frontier and Western Issues: An Historiographical Review (1986) essays by 14 scholars
  • Richard Slotkin, Regeneration through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860 (1973), complex literary reinterpretation of the frontier myth from its origins in Europe to Daniel Boone
  • Smith, Henry Nash. Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth (1950)


Frederick Jackson Turner, c. 1890
John F. Kennedy, White House photo portrait, looking up
  1. ^Turner, Frederick Jackson (1920). "The Significance of the Frontier in American History". The Frontier in American History. p. 293. 
  2. ^Turner, The Frontier in American History (1920) chapter 1
  3. ^Allan G. Bogue, "Frederick Jackson Turner Reconsidered," The History Teacher, (1994) 27#2 pp. 195–221 at p 195 in JSTOR
  4. ^Sharon E. Kingsland, The Evolution of American Ecology, 1890–2000 (2005) p. 133
  5. ^William Coleman, "Science and Symbol in the Turner Frontier Hypothesis," American Historical Review (1966) 72#1 pp. 22–49 in JSTOR
  6. ^Ray Allen Billington, America's frontier heritage (1974)
  7. ^Walker D. Wyman and Clifton B. Kroeber, eds. Frontier in Perspective (1957)
  8. ^Marvin K. Mikesell, "Comparative Studies in Frontier History," in Richard Hofstadter and Seymour Martin Lipset, eds., Turner and the Sociology of the Frontier (1968) pp. 152–72
  9. ^Carroll, Dennis (1982). "Mateship and Individualism in Modern Australian Drama". Theatre Journal. 34 (4): 467–80. JSTOR 3206809. 
  10. ^Richard Slotkin, "Nostalgia and Progress: Theodore Roosevelt's Myth of the Frontier," American Quarterly (1981) 33#5 pp. 608–37 in JSTOR
  11. ^Henry A. Wallace, New Frontiers (1934)
  12. ^Gerald D. Nash, "The frontier thesis: A historical perspective," Journal of the West (Oct 1995) 34#4 pp. 7–15
  13. ^Franklin D. Roosevelt, Rendezvous with Destiny: Addresses and Opinions of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (2005) p. 130
  14. ^Ann Fabian, "The ragged edge of history: Intellectuals and the American West," Reviews in American History (Sept 1998), 26#3 pp. 575–80
  15. ^Richard R. John, " Turner, Beard, Chandler: Progressive Historians," Business History Review (Summer 2008) 82#2 pp. 227–40
  16. ^William Appleman Williams, "The Frontier Thesis and American Foreign Policy," Pacific Historical Review (1955) 24#4 pp. 379–95. in JSTOR
  17. ^Nichols (1986)
  18. ^Milner (1991)
  19. ^Ray Allen Billington, "Why Some Historians Rarely Write History: A Case Study of Frederick Jackson Turner," The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 50, No. 1. (Jun., 1963), pp. 3–27. in JSTOR
  20. ^John B. Boles, "Turner, the frontier, and the study of religion in America," Journal of the Early Republic (1993) 13#2 pp. 205–16
  21. ^Dan Moosd, "Reclaiming the Frontier: Oscar Micheaux as Black Turnerian," African American Review (2002) 36#3 pp. 357–81
  22. ^Richard W. Slatta, "Taking Our Myths Seriously." Journal of the West 2001 40(3): 3–5.
  23. ^Max J. Skidmore, Presidential Performance: A Comprehensive Review (2004) p. 270
  24. ^John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Theodore Sorensen, Let the Word Go Forth: The Speeches, Statements, and Writings of John F. Kennedy 1947 to 1963 (1991) p. 101
  25. ^Margarita Mathiopoulos, History and Progress: In Search of the European and American mind (1989) pp. 311–12
  26. ^Richard White, Patricia Nelson Limerick, and James R. Grossman, The Frontier in American Culture (1994) p. 81
  27. ^Fermilab (30 December 2005). "Safety and the Environment at Fermilab". Retrieved 2006-01-06. 
  28. ^Adrienne Kolb and Lillian Hoddeson, "A New Frontier in the Chicago Suburbs: Settling Fermilab, 1963–1972," Illinois Historical Journal (1995) 88#1 pp. 2–18, quotes on p. 5 and 2
  29. ^Rod Carveth, and J. Metz, "Frederick Jackson Turner and the democratization of the electronic frontier.," American Sociologist (1996) 27#1 pp. 72–100. online
  30. ^A.C. Yen, "Western Frontier or Feudal Society: Metaphors and Perceptions of Cyberspace," Berkeley Technology Law Journal (2002) 17#4 pp. 1207–64
  31. ^E. Brent, "Electronic communication and sociology: Looking backward, thinking ahead, careening toward the next millennium," American Sociologist 1996, 27#1 pp. 4–10
  32. ^Richard Jensen, "Military History on the Electronic Frontier: Wikipedia Fights the War of 1812," Journal of Military History (2012) 76#4 pp. 1165–82 online

0 thoughts on “New West Reader Essays On An Ever-Evolving Frontier

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *