Turner Thesis Arguments

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The first is a series of essays on Turner by Richard Hofstadler, published in 1968.7 What makes this assessment of the thesis significant, as it is rather favorable, is the fact that Hofstadter had been one of the leaders in the assault on Turner in the 1930s and 1940s.However, the authors of several of these essays not only criticize Turner for his failure to mention such features or influences but also hold him responsible for their continued neglect during the more than a half century since he published his frontier essays. Myres suggests that, because Turner's frontiers were as devoid of women as the Great Plains were devoid of trees,'' since his ''essay appeared, American high school and college students have read about the 'winning of the West' in a series of well-written and often exciting texts . Etulain, in his essay, discusses several ways in which ''Turner's attitudes toward frontier societies retarded interest in western cultural history."24 Although this collection of essays certainly reveals the "continuing towering presence'' and ''decisive impact'' of Turner, it is most difficult to believe that his influence has been quite as towering and decisive as suggested by Spence, Myres, and Etulain.To attribute to him such great and continuing influence is, in one sense quite flattering, but it also strikes one as rather exaggerated and even unfair.Malone, for example, states that `'no interpretation of American history has ever had a more lasting or decisive impact." As had Billington and Putnam, he then goes on briefly to describe the changing assessments of the thesis since its initial appearance.In doing so, he reports that after being rejected by many historians in the 1930s and 1940s, it "enjoyed a resurgence after World War 11, and it lives on, especially among historians of the West who have modified it, refined it, and placed it in a credible context of a multiplicity of historical factors that shaped American civilization." 20 Although Malone mentions only Ray Allen Billington as an example of the historians of the West who have modified and refined the thesis, Putnam and the authors of several of the essays in this volume are also obvious examples.Then, in the 1930s, "a full-scale assault'' was launched by critics, and "for the next two decades historical journals bristled with articles hopefully designed to bury the frontier hypothesis forever.'' However, it not only survived this assault but also, according to Billington, in the 1950s began to regain much of its former prestige and influence among scholars.6.though at that time even those who were the most friendly rejected at least some part of the thesis and made substantial revisions of others.In one of the essays they attempt to illustrate not only the use of a ' grand theory" as a form of historical detection or interpretation but also the fact that historians frequently apply very different general theories or ''propositions'' to an historical topic, and, thus, may present quite different perceptions of that topic.As is revealed by the title of this essay, ''Jackson's Frontier-and Turner's: History and Grand Theory,'' They have selected Turner's frontier thesis to illustrate the application of a ''grand theory" to American history, and the ''topic'' they have selected to illustrate how much disagreement there may be in historians' perceptions is Andrew Jackson.Just a few months prior to the publication of Malone's Historians and the American West, two young American historians, James W. Lytle, published a collection of essays that also includes evidence that the Turner Thesis "lives on."25 However, although both books are collections of essays, they are, in several ways, quite different.A second difference is that the essays in the Malone volume concentrate exclusively on the American West whereas those of Davidson and Lytle concern American history in general.


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