Frederick Jackson Turner’s Reliance on the Myth of an Unoccupied American Wilderness

Frederick Jackson Turner’s Reliance on the Myth of an Unoccupied American Wilderness

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The Frontier Thesis has been very influential in people’s understanding of American values, government and culture until fairly recently. Frederick Jackson Turner outlines the frontier thesis in his essay “The Significance of the Frontier in American History”. He argues that expansion of society at the frontier is what explains America’s individuality and ruggedness. Furthermore, he argues that the communitarian values experienced on the frontier carry over to America’s unique perspective on democracy. This idea has been pervasive in studies of American History until fairly recently when it has come under scrutiny for numerous reasons. In his essay “The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature”, William Cronon argues that many scholars, Turner included, fall victim to the false notion that a pristine, untouched wilderness existed before European intervention. Turner’s argument does indeed rely on the idea of pristine wilderness, especially because he fails to notice the serious impact that Native Americans had on the landscape of the Americas before Europeans set foot in America.

Turner fails to realize the extent to which Native Americans existed in the ‘Wilderness’ of the Americas before the frontier began to advance. Turner’s thesis relies on the idea that “easterners … in moving to the wild unsettled lands of the frontier, shed the trappings of civilization … and by reinfused themselves with a vigor, an independence, and a creativity that the source of American democracy and national character.” (Cronon) While this idea seems like a satisfying theory of why Americans are unique, it relies on the notion that the Frontier was “an area of free land,” which is not the case, undermining the the...

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...icans lived in and tamed the land around them millennia before European settlers arrived.

Works Cited

Cronon, William “The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature” ed., Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1995, 69-90

Denevan, William M. "The Pristine Myth: The Landscape of the Americas in 1492." The Pristine Myth: The Landscape of the. Northern Arizona University, Web. 25 Mar. 2014.

Krech, Shepard. The Ecological Indian: Myth and History. New York: W.W. Norton &, 1999.

Solnit, Rebecca. "Spectators." Savage Dreams: A Journey into the Hidden Wars of the American West. San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1994. 228-47. Print.

Turner, Frederick Jackson. "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," Learner: Primary Sources. Annenberg Learner, Web. 25 Mar. 2014.

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