Understanding the American Past: American History and Its Interpretation

By Edward N. Saveth | Go to book overview

The Impact of the Revolutions of 1848 on American Thought

by MERLE CURTI

[From Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society,
XCIII ( June 1949), 209-215. Reprinted by permission.]

Granted, said Carlton J. H. Hayesbefore the American Historical Associationin December 1945, "that the frontier has been a major factor in the historical conditioning and development of what is distinctive in the United States, a large and now, I believe, most pertinent question remains about the American frontier. It is a frontier of what?"

To Professor Hayes, the advancing frontier in North America, like similar frontiers in South America, Australasia, and South Africa, is a frontier of Europe. Our historians, by concentrating too much upon American themes, according to Hayes, have failed to give proper recognition to this fact, and have contributed as well to what Hayes characterized as a "growing intellectual isolationism in the United States."1

As Professor Hayessuggests, the transit of civilization from Europeto America, from the Eastern part of the United Statesto the West -- and the reverse of this process -- are all of fundamental importance to an understanding of American historical development. It is true that this field has been little studied; but it has not been entirely neglected either. Inevitably, the historians of European immigration to Americalike Marcus L. Hansen, G. W. Stephenson, T. C. Blegen, Oscar Handlin, and Carl Wittkehave touched upon

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