Turner Thesis Arguments

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8 But, as Hofstadter acknowledged, by 1968 he had changed his mind.

In contrast to his earlier blanket criticism of the thesis, which he labeled one of his ''parricidal forays'' and admitted had been destructive,9 he now based his assessment of the thesis ''on the assumption that there is indeed something of substantial merit at the core of Turner's views.'' Rather than trying "to have sport with his marginal failings''' Hofstadter suggested that the ''most valid procedure" was "to rescue whatever is viable by cutting out what is proved wrong, tempering what is overstated, tightening what is too loosely put. The great merit of Turnerism, for all its elliptical and exasperating vagueness, was to be open-ended.

IN less than ten years, American historians undoubtedly will be observing in an appropriate manner the centennial of the "Turner Thesis." It was on 12 luly 1893, at an annual meeting of the American Historical Association, that Frederick Jackson Turner first presented his frontier thesis in the now-famous paper on "The Significance of the Frontier in American History.'' During the following two decades, in a series of articles, papers, and addresses, he elaborated on and refined the thesis, and in 1920 selected thirteen of these essays for republication in one volume.'1.

During the 90 years since Turner first proposed the thesis, it has generated a variety of responses that have become quite astonishing in number.

The most recent of the two books is a collection of 17 bibliographical essays on the history of the American West with a Foreword by Rodman W.

Malone.17 According to Malone, the purpose of the essays "is to describe what has been done. and what needs to be done" in Western history'18 and not only in such traditional fields as exploration, the fur trade, Indians, mining, Mormons, agriculture, transportation, violence, and politics but also in less traditional ones such as urbanization, women. Significantly, as Rodman Paul points out in his Foreword, among the characteristics of this superb collection of essays that ''deserve special comment" is "the continuing towering presence of Frederick Jackson Turner" (as well as Herbert Eugene Bolton and Walter Prescott Webb).'19 What Paul is referring to is the fact that, of the 18 essays, including Malone's Introduction, at least 10 discuss the Turner Thesis, several in considerable detail.

To accomplish the latter, they have selected four historians including Turner and one of his students, Thomas Perkins Abernethy.'27 Davidson's and Lytle's summary of Turner's thesis and perceptions of Jackson is a classic illustration of a major problem that has plagued the thesis since the 1930s-the frequent tendency of scholars, especially critics, to oversimplify or distort it.

As Jackson Putnam has pointed out, there has been a ''propensity" by critics ''to misrepresent Turner's complex concepts by simplifying them and then attacking the misrepresentations."28 Although the primary purpose of Davidson and Lytle in this essay is to describe or summarize the thesis, not to criticize it, the degree to which they have oversimplified and, thus.

and setting the whole in its proper place among the usable perspectives on our past.'""10 This was the procedure that he attempted to follow in these essays. Boatright,"11 and he concluded his assessment in part as follows: . The frontier idea, though dissected at one point and minimized at another, keeps popping up in new forms. the inquiry propagated among critics and friendly revisionists has now reached a volume that overmatches the work of his disciples.

However, he still agreed with several of Turner's sharpest critics such as Ceorge W. posing new questions to its questioners, always prodding investigation into new areas . This mountain of Turner criticism is his most certain monument.12 This final assessment by Hotstadter came close to ''damning" the thesis "with faint praise." If he was somewhat less critical than he had been in the 1940s, he certainly continued to be more critical than the neo Turnerians, those whom he referred to as the ''friendly revisionists." More representative of this group is Jackson Putnam.


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