Frederick Jackson Turner was a historian. Someone like me who teaches and does historical research/writing for a living. In 1893 he attended the annual American historians’ conference at the American Historical Association and presented a paper on the end of the American frontier which had just been declared officially closed by the federal government (through the Census Bureau) just two years earlier (in 1891). The frontier was declared closed after the US Army had literally rounded up the last of the independent Indian tribes in 1890 and herded them on to reservations and there was no more “free” land to disperse.
This paper on the closing of the frontier, of which you are reading an excerpt (document 9), was later developed in to a longer book entitled, “The Last American Frontier.” It was obviously a secondary source in 1893 but today we can use it as a primary source to understand the anxieties that were permeating American society at the turn of that century. There was no more “free” land to serve as a safety valve–what was to become of the (free) American spirit and Americans ability to manifest their destiny?
Here are the questions, include the differences of opinion/interpretation in your answers for each question. Each question should be a robust paragraph (5-10 sentences). You may write in the first person, (“we” in this case).
1. What is the Turner thesis and how does it help us understand the American notion of freedom?
2. How has the “West” contributed to the American character and American exceptionalism according to Turner? (That is how does he define it?)
3. How were (are?) Native Americans portrayed in mainstream American society? What role does the “master narrative” play in this depiction?
4. Why has the closing of the “frontier” led to such anxiety in American society according to Turner? Do you see any connections between Turner’s definition of “civilization” and the dichotomy between “civilization” and “savagery” to how Ronald Takaki describes it in “A different mirror” throughout his book (but especially chapter 2)?
5. What problems do you see (or critique can you offer) of this thesis? (Hint: Look back to chapter 1 in “A Different Mirror” by Ronald Takaki).