Understanding the American Past: American History and Its Interpretation

By Edward N. Saveth | Go to book overview

Toward a Reorientation of Western History: Continuity and Environment

by EARL POMEROY

[From Mississippi Valley Historical Review XLI ( March 1955), 579-600.]

The defense of the theories of Frederick Jackson Turner has gone rather badly. This subject has been discussed in the Introduction. Perhaps the best case for Turner has been argued by Avery Craven, who asserted that Turner has been taken too literally by his opponents; that Turner was interested in "general effects" rather than in specific applications. Turner, in speaking of "democracy and nationalism" on the frontier, according to Craven, "had reference not to sharp, well-defined, all-inclusive qualities but rather to general tendencies which stood out amid contradictions and variation but which were, nevertheless, easily distinguished and universally recognized."1

This kind of argument enters into the attempt by Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick to find a new meaning for Turner's thesis by placing Turnerian conclusions in a context that is not Turner's.2

There is a bibliography of articles about Turner and the Turner thesis in Ray A. Billington, Westward Expansion ( 1959)and in The American Frontier ( Service Center for Teachers of History pamphlet, American Historical Association, 1958). There is also an interesting biographical article offering sidelights about Turner by Ray A. Billington.3

The article reprinted below, by Professor Earl Pomeroy of the

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