Academic journal article The Historian

Virginia and the Westward Movement

Academic journal article The Historian

Virginia and the Westward Movement

Article excerpt

Migration is a central theme of U.S. history. The nation has been shaped by movement - whether the overseas journeys of immigrants, the overland trek of those who settled the frontier, or the constant flow of the population from country to city to suburb. Historians have produced various interpretive schemes to explain the effect of abundant land, and the peopling of that land, on U.S. culture. Perhaps the most famous is Frederick Jackson Turner's "frontier thesis," unveiled in 1893. Turner held that free land engendered free institutions, broke the "bonds of custom," and gave rise to new cultural structures. Competing theories, however, have argued that tradition is stronger than environment, and that free land leads not to freedom but to exploitative labor systems.(1)

Last fall the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond, Virginia, marked the hundredth anniversary of the Turner thesis with its exhibition, "Away, I'm Bound Away: Virginia and the Westward Movement" Using migration in Virginia through the mid 1800s as a case study, the exhibition seeks to answer which, if any, historical model best explains the relationship between the frontier, migration, and the American character. …

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