Frontier Thesis And American Exceptionalism

Frontier Thesis And American Exceptionalism-8
The frontier experience, Turner maintained, explains America's departure from its European roots. The second essay, Richard White's "When Frederick Jackson Turner and Buffalo Bill Cody Both Played Chicago in 1893," carries the introductory question, "How has the idea of the frontier shaped our imagination?" White's intriguing and insightful analysis compares Cody and Turner as chief architects of frontier iconography. Zeman (Humanities Department, New Mexico Tech (New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology)) Published on H-Survey (January, 2000) In Richard Etulain's fine introduction to this volume, the editor relates how once when he was speaking to a group of students in the Philippines, a student in the audience pointedly asked him, "Why do you Americans think you're so successful? Are they in fact "special" compared to other nations?

Unfortunately, the essays included (except for Turner's) fail to adequately address the central question posed by the volume, or engage the debate in any but the most oblique ways.

One problem is that all of the historians included in the volume are specialists in the American West and their works have a different historiographical focus.

The next essay in the volume is Donald Worster's oft-reproduced, and oft-quoted, "New West, True West: Interpreting the Region's History." Worster raises the now well-worn debate among western historians: Should the West be considered as a place, more or less definable on a map (region), or as a process (frontier)?

Worster opts for a regional model loosely based on Walter Prescott Webb's pioneering work.

Each essay in the series is introduced by one central question and a useful list of "Questions for a Closer Reading." In this volume, for example, the first essay, Frederick Jackson Turner's "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," is paired with the question: "How was the idea of the 'frontier' born?

" No single historian has been so closely associated with the affirmative response to the exceptionalism question as Frederick Jackson Turner.

Should it be abandoned, or is it valuable in understanding American society and culture?

" Very good questions, but students will have to look elsewhere for answers.

In the most memorable part of his essay, Worster admits, and many westerners no doubt agree, that "I know in my bones, if not always through my education, that Webb was right" (93).

By looking at the larger historical forces at play in the region, Worster's essay verges on addressing the exceptionalism question, but his purpose lies elsewhere.


Comments Frontier Thesis And American Exceptionalism

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