Page Links: | The Frontier Hypothesis or the Turner Thesis | Selected Bibliography 2000-2005 | Selected Bibliography 2006-2010 | Selected Bibliography 2011-Present | MLA Style Citation of this Web Page |

Related Authors: | Davy Crockett | Richard Henry Dana, Jr. | Frederick Law Olmsted |

Site Links: | Appendices: Index | Alphabetical List | Table Of Contents | Home Page |


The Frontier Hypothesis or the Turner Thesis:

 A Wisconsin historian, Frederick Jackson Turner, gave his frontier statement in a paper on "The Significance of the Frontier in American History" read before the American Historical Association at the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. According to Henry Nash Smith (listed below), Turner's statement revolutionized American histriography and eventually made itself felt in economics and sociology, in literary criticism, and even in politics.

Turner's central contention was that "the existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward explain American development." Turner maintained that the West, not the proslavery South or the antislavery North, was the most important among American sections, and that the novel attitudes and institutions produced by the frontier, especially through its encouragement of democracy, had been more significant than the imported European heritage in shaping American society.

Turner's most important debt to his intellectual traditions is the ideas of savagery and civilization that he uses to define the central factor of the frontier. His frontier is explicitly "the meeting point between savagery and civilization." From the standpoint of economic theory the wilderness beyond the frontier, the realm of savagery, is a constant receding area of free land. Free land tended to relieve poverty and fostered economic equality. Both these tendencies made for an increase of democracy. Turner was convinced that democracy, the rise of the common man, was one of the great movements of modern history.

In 1893 Turner said that "democracy (is) born of free land," as well as in his celebrated pronouncement made twenty years later: "American democracy was born of no theorist's dream; it was not carried in the Susan Constant to Virginia, nor in the Mayflower to Plymouth. It came stark and strong and full of life out of the American forest, and it gained new strength each time it touched a new frontier." - Henry Nash Smith

| Top | Selected Bibliography 2000-2005  

Allmendinger, Blake. Imagining the African American West. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2005.

Daehnke, Joel. In the Work of Their Hands Is Their Prayer: Cultural Narrative and Redemption on the American Frontiers, 1830-1930. Athens: Ohio UP, 2003.

Fresonke, Kris. West of Emerson: The Design of Manifest Destiny. Berkeley: U of California P, 2003.

Goldman, Anne E. Continental Divides: Revisioning American Literature. NY: Palgrave, 2000.

Hallock, Thomas. From the Fallen Tree: Frontier Narratives, Environmental Politics, and the Roots of a National Pastoral, 1749-1826. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2003.

Johnson, Michael K. Black Masculinity and the Frontier Myth in American Literature. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 2002.

Kollin, Susan. Nature's State: Imagining Alaska as the Last Frontier. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2001.

LeMenager, Stephanie. Manifest and Other Destinies: Territorial Fictions of the Nineteenth-Century United States. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2004.

Lewis, Nathaniel. Unsettling the Literary West: Authenticity and Authorship. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2003.

Miller, Susan C. ed. A Sweet Separate Intimacy: Women Writers of the American Frontier, 1800-1922. Salt Lake City: U of Utah P, 2000.

Moos, Dan. Outside America: Race, Ethnicity, and the Role of the American West in National Belonging. Hanover, NH: UP of New England, 2005,

Packard, Chris. Queer Cowboys and Other Erotic Male Friendships in Nineteenth-Century American Literature. NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Paes de Barros, Deborah. Fast Cars and Bad Girls: Nomadic Subjects and Women's Road Stories. NY: Peter Lang, 2004.

Philippon, Daniel J. Conserving Words: How American Nature Writers Shaped the Environmental Movement. Athens: U of Georgia P, 2004.

Smith, Carlton. Coyote Kills John Wayne: Postmodernism and Contemporary Fictions of the Transcultural Frontier. Hanover, NH: UP of New England, 2000.

Stevens, J. David. The Word Rides Again: Rereading the Frontier in American. Athens: Ohio UP, 2002.

Vila, Pablo. Crossing Borders, Reinforcing Borders: Social Categories, Metaphors, and Narrative Identities on the U.S.-Mexico Frontier. Austin: U of Texas P, 2000.

| Top | Selected Bibliography 2006-2010

Berkove, Lawrence I. ed. Insider Stories of the Comstock Lode and Nevada's Mining Frontier 1859-1909: Primary Sources in American Social History. Lewiston, NY: Mellen, 2007.

Cella, Matthew J. Bad Land Pastoralism in Great Plains Fiction. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2010.

Cloud, Barbara and Simpson, Alan K. The Coming of the Frontier Press: How the West Was Really Won. Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 2008.

Imbarrato, Susan C. Traveling Women: Narrative Visions of Early America. Athens: Ohio UP, 2006.

Inge, M. Thomas. ed. Southern Frontier Humor: An Anthology. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 2010.

Lawrence, Deborah. Writing the Trail: Five Women's Frontier Narratives. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2006.

Londré, Felicia H. The Enchanted Years of the Stage: Kansas City at the Crossroads of American Theater, 1870-1930. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 2007.

Martin, Gretchen. The Frontier Roots of American Realism: Southwest Humor and the Loophole of Literary Propriety. NY: Peter Lang, 2007.

McGilchrist, Megan R. The Western Landscape in Cormac McCarthy and Wallace Stegner: Myths of the Frontier. NY: Routledge, 2010.

Muthyala, John. Reworlding America: Myth, History, and Narrative. Athens: Ohio UP, 2006.

Smith, Thomas R. River of Dreams: Imagining the Mississippi before Mark Twain. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2007.

Tawil, Ezra F. The Making of Racial Sentiment: Slavery and the Birth of the Frontier Romance. NY: Cambridge UP, 2006.

Watts, Edward. In This Remote Country: French Colonial Culture in the Anglo-American Imagination, 1780-1860. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2006.

| Top | Selected Bibliography 2011-Present

Friesen, Victor C. Zane Grey's Wild West: A Study of 31 Novels. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014.

Halverson, Cathryn. Playing House in the American West: Western Women's Life Narrative, 1839-1987. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 2013.

Knott, John. Imagining the Forest: Narratives of Michigan and the Upper Midwest. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2012.

Ladino, Jennifer K. Reclaiming Nostalgia: Longing for Nature in American Literature. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 2012.

López, Marissa K. Chicano Nations: The Hemispheric Origins of Mexican American Literature. NY: New York UP, 2011.

Mitchell, Jonathan. Revisions of the American Adam: Innocence, Identity and Masculinity in Twentieth-Century America. NY: Continuum, 2011.

Rebhorn, Matthew. Pioneer Performances: Staging the Frontier. NY: Oxford UP, 2012.

Rico, Monica. Nature's Noblemen: Transatlantic Masculinities and the Nineteenth-Century American West. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2013.

Stephenson, William. Gonzo Republic: Hunter S. Thompson's America. NY: Continuum, 2012.

Thompson, Bob. Born on a Mountaintop: On the Road with Davy Crockett and the Ghosts of the Wild Frontier. NY: Crown Trade, 2012.

Tricomi, Albert H. Missionary Positions: Evangelicalism and Empire in American Fiction. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 2011.

MLA Style Citation of this Web Page

Reuben, Paul P. "PAL: Appendix L: The Frontier in American Literature." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. URL: (provide page date or date of your login).

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