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Hist 190: Questions on Turner and "the Frontier"

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  • There are 24 students in our class and 25 questions below. I have answered Question 1 as an example.
  • Each student will answer one of the remaining, unanswered questions: i.e., you will answer a question that no one has answered yet. Answering particular questions is first come, first serve.
  • The page numbers in parentheses in the questions correspond to the page numbers of the respective essays, NOT to the Coursepack page numbers. Likewise, when citing quotations in your answers, please cite the essay page numbers, NOT Coursepack page numbers.
  • Due date: Submit and revise your answer anytime before class, Wed. June 25.

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Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History”

For Questions 1-5. One of Turner’s central claims is that, in colonial America and the United States, “a recurrence of the process of [social] evolution” transpired on a “continually advancing frontier line” (1).

1. Briefly summarize and explain how Turner described “the process of evolution” that he referred to, beginning with the “return to primitive conditions” (1), where “the wilderness masters the colonist” (2). To develop your answer, also see the passage where Turner compared U.S. history to “the course of universal history” and “the record of social evolution” (4).

Turner suggested that there was a universal pattern of “evolution” for human societies, a “progress out of… primitive economic and political conditions… into the complexity of city life” (1). Turner depicted Europeans and Americans migrating westward from the “civilization” of “city life” to “the wilderness” of “the frontier,” and he portrayed this move as a “return” to “primitive conditions,” as if these migrants were going back in time, returning to the beginnings of human history. When “wilderness masters the colonist,” the colonist becomes, by Turner’s account, like an Indian: traveling by “birch canoe,” wearing “the moccasin,” living in “the log cabin of the Cherokee and the Iroquois,” “planting Indian corn,” and “shouting the war cry and taking the scalp in orthodox Indian fashion” (2). According to Turner, the process of “social evolution” on “the frontier” “begins with the Indian and the hunter,” followed by “the trader” and “the disintegration of savagery,” the rise of “farming communities,” and, finally, manufacturing, factories, and the city (4), with each “stage” evolving into the subsequent, “higher stage” (5). Bart Wisialowski

2. Explain why, according to Turner, “a recurrence of the process of [social] evolution” made “the case of the United States” different than “the case of most nations” (1). How did it explain “the peculiarity [i.e., uniqueness] of American institutions” (1)?

According to Fredrick Jackson Turner the fact that the United States in it's expansion into the "Great West" had to continually, "return to primitive conditions"(1). That is, in contrast to "the case of most nations",the development of Americans institutions did not develop progressively forward, "along a single line", but instead had to build from "primitive conditions" as it pushed ever further westward(1). Turner considers this a uniquely American phenomenon and it's existence helps to explain "the peculiarity of American institutions"(1). In particular, Turner contrasts the development of the American character with that of Europe where the frontier was, "a fortified boundary line running through dense population" (2). In vast contrasts to this Turner characterizes America as wild and untamed where, "the wilderness masters the colonist"(2). In the American frontier, the colonists, "strips off the garments of civilization", and must return to a primitive state, in which they often adopt the dress, methods, and even lifestyle of the "primitive", native population. It is the combination, according to Turner, of this scarcity of settlement and it's "primitive conditions", in the West that results in the unique characteristics of American institutions and by extension, the American people. According to Turner, the fact that the American colonists of the frontier had to first adapt to, then "little by little he transforms the wilderness"(2). From this the a particularly American outcome results and as the colonists moved further westward there was, "a steady movement away from the influence of Europe"(2) and the result was "the peculiarity of American institutions"(1. Victor Xu

3. Explain how Turner defined “the frontier” in terms of “settlement,” “settled areas,” “unsettled areas,” and “free land” (1-2), using the census reports as his guide? How did Turner define “the frontier” in terms of “civilization” (1-2)? What did Turner include in “the whole frontier belt” (2)?

In his essay, Turner largely defines the idea of “the frontier” in terms of isolation from civilized society, or in other words, a border that separates land “between savagery and civilization” (1). In this way, Turner makes an assumption that any land unsettled by civilized Americans is to be considered “free land”. He then uses census reports of average population densities of civilized settlements located on or near this frontier border. Should the frontier reach a sufficient level of average population density (over two people per square mile), then that area is to be considered “settled” and ceases to be the frontier boundary. In addition, Turner considers the frontier belt to include “Indian country and the outer margin of the ‘settled area’”(2). Here, Turner shows his bias against Indians, by implying that they any area they occupy isn’t “settled”. John Buckingham

4. Explain why, according to Turner, “the frontier” was a place of “perennial rebirth” (1) for “America social development” (1). On the other hand, explain why, according to Turner, “the frontier” was “not [a] tabula rasa” (15; “tabula rasa” is a Latin phrase meaning “blank slate”). Instead of characterizing “the frontier” as a tabula rasa, how did Turner characterize “the frontier” in the previous and subsequent sentences (15)?

In his essay Turner claims that “the frontier” was a place of “perennial rebirth” for “American social development”(1). He explains by stating that “the frontier” was first and foremost the Atlantic coast, but then there was a “process of expansion” (1). Furthermore, he states that “American social development has been continually beginning over again on the frontier” (1). In other words, he says that colonists move on in “European dress” to new regions within “the frontier” and use the technology and knowledge of the Native Americans to their advantage, thus eventually creating something American. Therefore, “the frontier” is constantly a place of rebirth since there is constant movement, and it is a place for American social development because it signifies a “steady movement away from the influence of Europe” and a “steady growth of independence on American lines” (2). On the other hand, Turner does not characterize “the frontier” as a tabula rasa (or blank slate). Turner characterizes "the frontier" as an old idea applied to a new area. The expansion into "the frontier" was just a continuation of what had been European colonization on the East Coast. Danielle Moncure

5. Explain Turner’s claim that “The true point of view in the history of this nation is not the Atlantic coast but the Great West” (1), and explain Turner’s argument for this claim. To develop your answer, also see the passages referenced in Question 2. Turner also used “the Great West” in the first paragraph of the essay (1). What did Turner mean by “the Great West”? To develop your answer, also see the passages referenced in Question 6.

6. Using a quote from “Peck’s New Guide to the West” from 1837, Turner characterizes the recurring social evolution on “the frontier” as a westward-moving “series of waves” (8-9). How did Turner and the quote he used describe and explain the westward-moving frontier? To develop your answer, also see Turner’s paragraph following the block quote (9).

Each successive wave of migration represents the constant pushing forward of settlement, first with the pioneer who "lacks elbow room" (8), then the next wave who purchases the pioneer's old land, creating the "picture and forms of plain, frugal, civilized life" (8), and finally the "men of capital and enterprise" (8), who transform the once virgin land into a modern, industrialized world. The process is both a push and pull, society pushing pioneers onward and the pull of "the real Eldorado" (8) drawing them to greener pastures. The pioneer looks for new land to tame, while the following wave purchases those "cheap lands of the frontier" (9) to provide more land for their "growing families" (9). Finally, seeing the oppurtunity in newly developed lands, capitalists move in to set up manufacturing, thus showing the progression of American's 'reevolution' from 'primitive' to modern society, according to Turner's thesis. Daniel Kenji Fukunaga

7. According to Turner, what were the “natural boundary lines” (4) that served as “successive frontiers” (4) in the successive centuries of expansion by the British empire and the United States? Briefly explain how Turner characterized the similarities and differences between these “successive frontiers” (4)?

According to Turner, the “natural boundary lines” (4) were major geographical features in the landscape of America, The first frontier would be the crossing of the Atlantic, which would mark the change from “the complex European life” (4) to “the simplicity of primitive conditions” (4) found in America. The successive frontiers following the seventeenth-century would be placed in the boundaries of: the Alleghenies, the Mississippi, the Missouri, and the belt of the Rocky Mountains. The similarities in each of these frontiers were based on the “germs of process” (4) in which lessons learned from the first frontier were applied to “successive frontier.”(4) Differences attributed to the frontiers were based on geographical conditions, such as in the “farming frontier of the Mississippi Valley” compared to the “ mining frontier of the Rocky Mountains.”(4) Imani White

8. In your own words, explain Turner’s three-fold argument that: “Our early history is the study of European germs developing in an American environment” (2); “From the time the [Alleghany] mountains rose between the pioneer and the seaboard, a new order of Americanism arose” (7); and “Moving westward, the frontier became more and more American” (7).

Turner claims that the environment of America modified the Germanic peoples who came to settle there and this modification was likened unto a germ evolving in a new environment. He emphasizes the submersion into the Indian culture and how after that integration a whole new form of germ is formed that can no longer be called Germanic and so must be labeled American. Turner also emphasizes the importance of the physical distance not purely miles but also such formidable barriers as the Alleghany Mountains. He supports this idea further with the idea of the farther West that pioneers went the more they had to evolve and therefore the farther away from European influence they went the more Americanized they became. -Nicholas Marlin

9. According to Turner, why was it necessary to “distinguish the frontier into the trader’s frontier, the rancher’s frontier, or the miner’s frontier, and the farmer’s frontier” (5)? According to Turner, how did “the trading frontier” simultaneously “undermine Indian power” and “[give] to the Indian increased power of resistance to the farming frontier” (5)? What role did “the frontier army post” (7) and “government military and exploratory expeditions” (7) play in relation to these other frontiers?

Turner argues that different categories for the frontier were necessary because the frontier for the trader, miner and farmer developed separately. The frontier line for the trader and the trapper advanced westward more rapidly than the rancher and the miner because of the nature of the work. The trading frontier took power away from the Indians while also allowing the Indians to resist the farming frontier because the Indians were forced to purchase guns from European traders to protect themselves from other Indian tribes but with those guns, Indians were able to defend their territory from farmers. The “frontier army post”(7) and “government military and exploratory expeditions” (7) were crucial in allowing other frontiers to expand westward because both the army post and the expeditions provided protection for the settlers as well as an established path to develop settlement. –Jennifer Kim

10. According to Turner, how did “the frontier” promote “individualism” (12) and “antipathy to control” (12)? How did Turner describe “frontier individualism” (12-13)?

The conditions of “the frontier” promoted “individualism” and “antipathy to control” (12). According to Turner, “Complex society is precipitated by the wilderness” (12) and according to the “representative from western Virginia” quoted by Turner, “the mountain breeze and western habits” (13) make frontier statesmen individualists, independent of slaves, and different from other statesmen. Turner described “frontier individualism” as key to “promoting democracy” but also causal to problems that result “from the lack of a highly developed civic spirit” like “lax business honor, inflated paper currency and wild-cat banking” (13). According to Turner, “frontier individualism” (13) was implemental in promoting both the positive and negative aspects of American democracy. Aubrey Brown

11. According to Turner, how did “the frontier” promote “democracy” (12-13)? Who was included in, and who was excluded from, “frontier democracy” (13)?

According to Turner, “Frontier individualism” and equality, which was prevalent in the colonies and based on free land, helped promote democracy in the United States and in Europe. “Complex society” may have been included in “frontier democracy,” and “tax gatherers” may have been excluded from “frontier democracy.” Arpy Barseghian =)

12. According to Turner, why did “the democracy born of free land… [have] its dangers as well as its benefits” (13)? What were the benefits, and what were the dangers? (13-14)

The "democracy born of free land" had its dangers as well as its benefits because the rise of democracy itself meant triumph of the frontier because it brought along many good and evil elements affecting many people within the states. One of the dangers born from this democracy was “individualism” because it gave way for carelessness in governmental affairs which in turn, has creates the spoils system ( an informal practice of any political party which gives government jobs to voters as compensation for working for that particular political party). Other dangers were economic distraught such as wild-cat banking, inflated paper currency and sloppy business nobility. On the other hand, the benefit born from this democracy would be assistance given to the people through grants which would in turn, would allow those "savages to enjoy their deserts (14)" and would not give them reason to leave with their flock to other deserted areas. Also, by allowing the grants and eventually increasing and multiplying them, would allow for the people to continue trusting in their government.

Brittany Streets

13. According to Turner, what was the “effect of the Indian frontier as a consolidating agent in our history” (6)? How did “the frontier” promote “the formation of a composite nationality for the American people” (9)? Using a quote from 1835, who did Turner include in and exclude from “the population of the West” (14-15)?

Turner perceives the Indian frontier as a consolidating agent. (6) He describes the colonists as seeing the Indian tribes as “… a common danger, demanding united action”. He notes a number of pre-revolutionary conferences, especially the Albany Congress of 1754 which were about common measures of the defense of the frontier, as the beginning of cooperation. “It is evidence that the unifying tendencies of the Revolutionary period were facilitated by the previous cooperation in the regulation of the frontier.”

Turner believes that the formation of a composite American nationality came from the development of the frontier (9). The dominant settlers were from German or Scotch-Irish descent. Many of them were freed indented servants on non-English stock. “In the crucible of the frontier the immigrants were Americanized, liberated and fused into a mixed race…” He states that this is often overlooked in the belief that the common stock of America is of English descent.

Turner used the quotation from Dr. Lyman Beecher (14-15) to enforce the view that the Western states population comes “…from all the States of the Union and from all the nations of Europe”. This excludes the Native American population, any Asian workers, the African American population, chicanos and women. Faith Vogel

14. According to Turner, how did “the frontier work against the sectionalism of the coast” (11) and how did it promote “national republicanism” (12)? Why didn’t “the fierce struggle of the sections over slavery on the western frontier… diminish the truth of” these claims about sectionalism and nationalism (12)?

15. According to Turner, how did “the frontier” promote “the powers of the national government” (10)? Briefly explain the roles that public lands, internal improvements, and railroads played in this process (10-12).

As the pioneers had continued to push the frontier further inland, and further from coastal resources, the national government began to impose legislations as a means to sustain contact and support as a means to maintain control over the West. The Ordinance of 1787 and the Louisiana Purchase of 1802 were both an indirect result of “frontier needs and demands” (10) The distribution of these public lands gave recognition to Clay’s American System, the “legislation with regard to land, tariff, and internal improvements “(11) As new states acquired sovereignty within the federal government, the “national power grew” both in size and economically. (10) More importantly though, characteristics of the frontier acted “against the sectionalism of the coast” and in turn promoted a unified national identity and strengthened the influence of government. “Loose construction increased as the nation marched westward” (0) but because pioneers had little or no desire to bring industry into their social realm, “protective tariffs were passed” to impose industry upon the West. However, in terms of infrastructure, the pioneers need for resources led to the “series of internal improvements and railroad legislation” (10) The railroads, “fostered by land grants”(3), were not only built to send immigrants West, but to deliver “goods of the coast” to the pioneers. - Antoni K

16. Why did Turner claim, at the beginning and end of his essay, that he was writing about “the closing of a great historic movement” (1) and the closing of “the first period of American history” (16)? Turner rejected the assertion “that the expansive character of American life has now entirely ceased” (15). What exactly had ceased, according to Turner?

Cronon, “Revisiting the Vanishing Frontier”

17. What are the “two quite different components of the Turnerian legacy”? (168) Why is there a “tension between these two poles of Turner’s thought?” (169) Explain what Cronon means when he writes: “Without the frontier, western history… [becomes] the history of a region that was not really a region.” (169)

The two quite different components of the Turnerian legacy is that on one hand, there is the frontier West that “explains much of American history” (169), but on the other hand, there is nothing that can be claimed as exceptional. There is tension between these two because the first component teaches a history that may not depict all aspects of the frontier. One group of proposals revealed that biases exist in Turner’s frontier. Aspects of it were "invisible" in Turner's studies. Therefore, while the Turnerian legacy is to teach of Western American history, the question of accuracy becomes an issue. For this very reason, western history was only an idea of the frontier and not the history of the entire region in actuality. -Janet Lee

For Questions 18-21. Cronon writes: “The years since World War II have seen proposals from a number of historians for new ways of researching and thinking about western history.” (169) Cronon differentiates these proposals into three groups.

18. Explain, in your own words, the first group of proposals. (169)

The first group of propsals has required building on the lack of th Turner School by concentrating on individual characteristics of the West. To the ealier generation those aspects continued to be indistinguishable. The outcome has been to expose the masculine prejudice of the Turner's frontier. Cronon explains that as a result, exploring the lives western women to almost experience again the cultural or national identity which did not fairly alleviate into Turner's effectiveness in "Americanization," but rather to present a more appropriate depiction of the Inidan peoples who were apart of Turner's vision. ---Masoumeh Malakoutian (Shab)

19. Explain, in your own words, the second group of proposals. (169-170)

20. Explain, in your own words, the third group of proposals. (170)

The third group of proposals is used, "More often broader definitions of the frontier have been offered to replace Turner's, (Cronon 170). Basically the third group of proposals as the piece states can use Turner's words directly or use them more loosely, much like that of a person who reads the constitution strictly or uses its ideas. The proposal itself would describe the "Frontier" as a place of much instability and turmoil. Brent Testan

21. According to Cronon, what do all of these proposals have in common? (170 and 160)

Limerick, “What on Earth is New Western History?”

22. How does Limerick define “the West”? According to Limerick, how is “the frontier” a nationalistic and ethnocentric term? How does Limerick characterize “the process that shaped the region” that she calls “the West”?

Limerick had defined "the West" as "a place the trans-Mississippi region in the broadest terms or the region west of the hundredth meridian" (23) with unclear boundary lines. According to Limerick, "the frontier" was nationalistic (in area where white people get scarce) "and often racist" and ethnocentric "the term loses an exact definition" (23). Limerick had characterized "the process that shaped the region" that she called "the West" by coining terms, such as "invasion, conquest, colonization, exploration, development, expansion of the world market" (23) to paint a broader picture by including ", Indians, Europeans, Latin Americans, Asians, Afro-Americans" (23). Katie To

Aron, “Lessons in Conquest”

23. How does Aron define “the Great West” (127-128)? In what ways does Aron agree with Turner (127)? How does Aron attempt to redefine the term “frontier” (128)? In what ways does Aron disagree with Turner (126-128)? Aron defines the “Great West” as “ that vast domain stretching from the Appalachians to the Pacific (127).” However, he make it clear that this is what 19th century Americans would consider the “Great West.” Aaron agrees with Turner’s claim that the western part of the United States today is a result of the regions that were once the western part of the United States. In other words since the United States was expanding west it was inevitable to reach the western most boundary- Pacific coast. Aron disagrees with Turners idea that the fortier was merely a "one-way road to the west traveled by white men, a tunnel visioned process of exploration, settlement and progress (128)." Aron argues if that were the case that western historians are better off without the frontier. Aron goes on to argue that " the frontier unfolds the history of the Great West in ways Turner never imagined. And thus it still holds the key to a "Greater Western History." - Jose Larios

24. How do Aron’s claims about “the Great West” and “the frontier” “dispute the way regionalists [i.e., New Western Historians like Patricia Limerick] have delimited their vision” (127-128)?

Limerick, “Turnerians All”

25. According to Limerick, what are the main characteristics of “The Frontier Thesis” (699-700)? Briefly summarize the main characteristics of Turner-Limerick’s “Frontier Antithesis” (700-701).

Limerick argues that the main characteristics of “The Frontier Thesis” are biased in that its sole focus is founded on the “forming of American character and democracy” (699), yet fails to acknowledge key historical features that pose contradictions. In his Thesis, there is a clear emphasis on the individualism and self-reliance of the pioneers from the particular region of the Middle West. Most importantly, it “provided support for models of American exceptionalism by emphasizing the uniqueness of the American frontier experience” (699). Despite these claims, Limerick indicates that an Antithesis exists, which argues that “the 1893 essay paid little attention to Indians” (699), failed to mention federal aid to expansion, and neglected “the arid West beyond the 100th meridian” (699). Limerick provides scattered quotations to support the Antithesis, and argues that although the 1893 essay did not reference Indians, Jackson cites in other works that, “There is needed a study of our relations to the American Indians” (700). Additionally, he states that in areas of the Far West, pioneers were actually dependent, rather than the advocated state of independence. This is illustrated through notions of a reliance on federal aid, and the use of irrigation. In contradiction to his advocacy of individualism, Turner states that the pioneer “must be both a capitalist” and “the protégé of the government” (700). -Christopher Sithi-Amnuai