As a professor of history at Wisconsin (1890–1910) and Harvard(1910–1922), Turner trained scores of disciples who in turndominated programs throughout the country. Hisemphasis on the importance of the frontier in shaping Americancharacter influenced the interpretation found in thousands ofscholarly histories. His model of sectionalism as a composite ofsocial forces, such as ethnicity and land ownership, gave historiansthe tools to use social history as the foundation of all social,economic and political developments in American history. At the , he collaborated with J. FranklinJameson on numerous major projects.
Annoyed by the university regents who demanded less research and moreteaching and state service, Turner sought out an environment thatwould support research. Declining offers from California, he accepteda call to Harvard in 1910 and remained a professor there until 1922,being succeeded in 1924 by . In 1911 he waselected a fellow of the . Turner was never comfortable at Harvard; when he retired in 1922 hebecame a visiting scholar at the in Los Angeles,where his note cards and files continued to pile up, although fewmonographs got published. His _The Frontier in American History_(1920) was a collection of older essays.
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Slatta (2001) argues that the widespread popularization of Turner'sfrontier thesis influenced popular histories, motion pictures, andnovels, which characterize the West in terms of individualism,frontier violence, and rough justice. 's ofthe late 20th century reflected the myth of rugged individualism thatcelebrated what was perceived to be the American heritage. The publichas ignored academic historians' anti-Turnerian models, largelybecause they conflict with and often destroy the icons of Westernheritage. However, the work of historians during the 1980s–1990s,some of whom sought to bury Turner's conception of the frontier andothers who have sought to spare the concept while presenting a morebalanced and nuanced view, have done much to place Western myths incontext and rescue Western history from them.
Turner's ideas influenced many areas of historiography . In thehistory of religion, for example, Boles (1993) notes that WilliamWarren Sweet at the , arguedthat churches adapted to the characteristics of the frontier, creatingnew denominations such as the LDS Church , the Church of Christ , theDisciples of Christ , and the . The frontier,they argued, shaped uniquely American institutions such as revivals,camp meetings, and itinerant preaching. This view dominated religioushistoriography for decades. Moos (2002) shows that the 1910s to 1940sblack filmmaker and novelist incorporated Turner'sfrontier thesis into his work. Micheaux promoted the West as a placewhere blacks could transcend race and earn economic success throughhard work and perseverance.
He earned his in history from in 1890with a thesis on the Wisconsin fur trade, titled "The Character andInfluence of the Indian Trade in Wisconsin", directed by HerbertBaxter Adams . As a professor of history at Wisconsin (1890–1910),and later Harvard (1910–1922), Turner trained scores of students,who in turn dominated programs throughout thecountry. Turner did not publish extensively; his influence came fromtersely expressed interpretive theories (published in articles), whichinfluenced his hundreds of disciples. Two theories in particular wereinfluential, the "Frontier " and the "Sectional Hypothesis".
FREDERICK JACKSON TURNER (November 14, 1861 – March 14, 1932) wasan American historian in the early 20th century, based at theUniversity of Wisconsin until 1910, and then at Harvard. He trainedmany PhDs who came to occupy prominent places in the historyprofession. He promoted interdisciplinary and quantitative methods,often with a focus on the Midwest. He is best known for his essay "TheSignificance of the Frontier in American History ", whose ideas formedthe Frontier . He argued that the moving western frontiershaped American democracy and the American character from the colonialera until 1890. He is also known for his theories of geographicalsectionalism. In recent years historians and academics have arguedstrenuously over Turner's work; all agree that the Frontier hashad an enormous impact on historical scholarship and the Americanmind.
Although he published little, he did more research than almost anyoneand had an encyclopedic knowledge of American history, earning areputation by 1910 as one of the two or three most influentialhistorians in the country. He proved adept at promoting his ideas andhis students, whom he systematically placed in leading universities,including and . He circulated copies ofhis essays and lectures to important scholars and literary figures,published extensively in highbrow magazines, recycled favoritematerial, attaining the largest possible audience for key concepts,and wielded considerable influence within the American HistoricalAssociation as an officer and advisor for the _American HistoricalReview_. His emphasis on the importance of the frontier in shapingAmerican character influenced the interpretation found in thousands ofscholarly histories. By the time Turner died in 1932, 60% of theleading history departments in the U.S. were teaching courses infrontier history along Turnerian lines.
Turner's theories slipped out of fashion in the 1960s, as criticscomplained that he neglected regionalism. They complained that hecelebrated too much the egalitarianism and democracy of a frontierthat was rough on women and minorities. After Turner's death hisformer colleague Isaiah Bowman had this to say of his work: "Turner'sideas were curiously wanting in evidence from field studies...Herepresents a type of historian who rests his case on documents andgeneral impression rather than a scientist who goes out for to see." His ideas never disappeared; indeed they influenced the new field ofenvironmental history . Turner gave a strong impetus to quantitativemethods, and scholars using new statistical techniques and data setshave, for example, confirmed many of Turner's suggestions aboutpopulation movements. Turner believed that because of his own biasesand the amount of conflicting historical evidence surrounding topicswas so vast that any one approach to historical interpretation wouldbe insufficient, that an interdisciplinary approach was the mostaccurate way to write history.
Turner's "Frontier ", was put forth in a scholarly paper in1893, " ", readbefore the in Chicago during the (Chicago World's Fair ). He believed thespirit and success of the was directly tied to thecountry's westward expansion. Turner expounded an evolutionary model;he had been influenced by work with geologists at Wisconsin. The West,not the East, was where distinctively American characteristicsemerged. The forging of the unique and rugged American identityoccurred at the juncture between the civilization of settlement andthe savagery of wilderness. This produced a new type of citizen –one with the power to tame the wild and one upon whom the wild hadconferred strength and individuality. As each generation of pioneersmoved 50 to 100 miles west, they abandoned useless European practices,institutions and ideas, and instead found new solutions to newproblems created by their new environment. Over multiple generations,the frontier produced characteristics of informality, violence,crudeness, democracy and initiative that the world recognized as"American".
Turner ignored gender and race, downplayed class, and left no roomfor victims. Historians of the 1960s and later stressed that race,class and gender were powerful explanatory tools. The new generationstressed gender, ethnicity, professional categorization, and thecontrasting victor and victim legacies of manifest destiny andimperialist expansion. Some criticized Turner's frontier thesis andthe theme of . The disunity of the concept ofthe West, the similarity of American expansion to European colonialismand imperialism in the 19th century, and the realities of minoritygroup oppression revealed the limits of Turnerian and exceptionalistparadigms.