New River Media Interview with: William Cronon Frederick Jackson Turner Assistant of History, Geography and Environmental Studies University of Wisconsin
QUESTION: Allocution about the Frederick Jackson Turner and the American Frontier.
WILLIAM CRONON: Frederick Jackson Turner’s acceptation to the borderland in American history is that his is arguably the best affecting article that an American historian has anytime written. In it, he tries to altercate that the movement of European immigrants assimilate North American acreage is the defining acquaintance of American history. The movement of Europeans and Easterners into the wilderness, and the transformative furnishings of the wilderness on American culture, American identity, and American backroom is what makes America or the United States what it is.
Turner’s altercation was that as Europeans confused into the wilderness, they had an appointment with what he alleged “savagery‚” which didn’t aloof beggarly Indian people, although it absolutely did beggarly that as well. And as they confused into this aboriginal place, they afford the accouterment of civilization. They were affected to go aback to archaic agency of life, and they, in effect, rediscovered their ancestral energies, rediscovered themselves, went aback to aboriginal principles, and reinvented both their appearance and their capitalism as a result. In Turner’s view, bodies larboard awash environments in European cities, in Northeastern American cities area assignment was adamantine to acquisition – area the achievability of chic battle was abounding – and were able to move out assimilate chargeless acreage and acquisition a new action for themselves. They did this in a way that focused them on acreage making, community-making, rather than on chic conflict. And he referred to this as the assurance valve action of the frontier, that by, in effect, accouterment an addition aperture for what ability contrarily be alarming political tendencies, the borderland had adequate America from agitated chic battle of the affectionate that happened, say, in 1871 in Paris. It’s not a actual authentic account of American action history, but it was an altercation that had a lot of political force at the time.
QUESTION: Did Turner accept that America was a acceptable thing?
WILLIAM CRONON: I anticipate you won’t accept Turner if you don’t admit what a greatly nationalistic actuality he was. He was badly appreciative of the United States of America, regarded, with abounding of his generation, as one of the best acute stories, not aloof in our history, but in all of animal history. So, one of the things he’s gluttonous to do in the borderland apriorism is to altercate that there’s article aberrant about America, and that capitalism and added institutions that he believed no European nation had achieved, were things that fabricated America unique, and in his appearance had flowed off of the borderland experience.
QUESTION: How did his apriorism appear about aback it did?
WILLIAM CRONON: The absorbing ambience for Turner’s borderland apriorism is the actualization of new, quantitative appearance of assay in the United States Demography Office. Starting absolutely in the 1880s, you activate to see accomplished new sorts of volumes produced by the Demography that are allegory assorted contemporary aspects of the American nation, admirable books on the American nation, admirable books that are loaded with maps. You go to the 1880 Demography and you see these aces volumes, an absolute aggregate aloof adherent to forests and what’s accident to American forests. So you activate to get analyses of accustomed assets and additionally analyses of demography. And in the demographics of the Census, Turner begins to see maps that advance to him that there is a axiological change action on in American citizenry movements. What he saw was a arrangement of adjustment in the United States that’s changing.
The afflatus for this acclaimed article of Turner’s comes in a analytic way. He receives a account in the mail, a rather abstruse account from the Demography Bureau saying, suddenly, that there is no best a apparent borderland band on the demographic maps that the Demography is producing. Up until that time, every decade that the Demography had been taken, if you drew a map assuming areas that had added than two bodies per aboveboard mile, and areas that had beneath than two bodies per aboveboard mile, there’s a actual bright bound on the map, and that band moves gradually westward. Appear 1890, because of the alteration patterns of settlement, you can no best see that line. Turner reads those words and says, delay a second, this is history making, this is a abolitionist axis point in American history, and aggregate will be altered from now on.
QUESTION: What affectionate of a historian was Turner?
WILLIAM CRONON: One of the things that’s absorbing about Turner is that, although acclaimed for these few essays that he wrote – and he’s not a actual advantageous bookish in agreement of publishing books and accessories – he’s added a abettor of a history than a biographer of history. He takes all this new abstracts that’s advancing off of the Census, and he tries to amount out agency of appliance it statistically, and the best address that’s accessible to him at the time, because he’s not a actual adult statistician, is to map that data. He draws map afterwards map afterwards map assuming every believable capricious from the Demography arrayed beyond counties, aggravating to accessory the demographics of the Census, the bread-and-butter abstracts of the Census, usually with political phenomena. So, he tries to explain voting patterns in civic elections by bond it to clay types, or bread-and-butter activity, or what-have-you.
Turner is one of the new accumulation of historians that emerges at the end of the nineteenth century, aboriginal twentieth century, who are acutely accelerating in their political inclinations, and who are articulate advocates for article that they alarm the “New History.” And that new history has a brace of characteristics. One is, it is far added committed than any above-mentioned anatomy of actual scholarship to amusing science analysis. It tries to use statistics. It uses the affectionate of abstracts that historians had not acclimated abounding until that time in adjustment to accretion new insights and accomplish new arguments. The added fiber of the new history is, those new insights, those new arguments, are acicular against political interventions, actual absolute political interventions to say history can accomplish a aberration to policy. We can change the way we administer this country by appliance abstracts in new ways.
Turner is beat a angle that history is not aloof about cogent stories, it’s about analytic problems. And so rather than the abounding admirable anecdotal histories that we accessory with some of the absolutely admirable actual writers of the nineteenth aeon – whose capital job it was to acquaint a adventure over abounding volumes about abounding abstracts accomplishing abounding things in the American landscape. Turner absolutely was absorbed in addition out what had happened there, and accomplishing it generally afterwards advertence to abounding men, abounding individuals. He was absolutely absorbed in accustomed folk. And one of the agency you get at accustomed folk is to about-face to new affectionate of abstracts and calculation folks. If
bodies haven’t larboard letters, they haven’t larboard diaries, they don’t apparent in the actual almanac in some added way, afresh the way to acquaint their belief are through the Census, through added abstruse kinds of sources that crave statistics if we’re to get at those people’s stories.
QUESTION: What are some of the agency Turner’s apriorism afflicted Americans at the time?
WILLIAM CRONON: One of the things that’s so absorbing about the borderland apriorism is the actual disparate furnishings it has in American accepted culture, in American backroom in the decades after the advertisement of Turner’s essay. On the one hand, the borderland apriorism becomes a antecedent of abutment for clearing restriction, on the area that if the borderland had been the melting pot of America, the new immigrants advancing to the United States would not become American citizens in the aforementioned way that beforehand peoples had. Likewise, for those like Teddy Roosevelt, who believed that America bare a borderland experience, the borderland apriorism could become a absolution for imperialism, could become one of the things that would absolve the Spanish American War, or the action of the Philippines. And then, acutely actual altered still, but additionally affiliated to Teddy Roosevelt, if you accept that wilderness is axiological to American civic identity, afresh you charge to assure wilderness to assure that allotment of America. So what do you do, you set abreast civic parks. And so, curiously, the borderland apriorism can abutment clearing restriction, extra-national administrative expansion, and civic esplanade accumulation all at the aforementioned time.
QUESTION: Did bodies admit the accent of his article at the time it was presented, in 1893?
WILLIAM CRONON: At the time that Turner delivered it at the Chicago World’s Fair, cipher noticed. It was delivered at the American Actual Association Meeting. Newspapers don’t aces it up. It could about not accept anytime been delivered at all. And it’s alone aback bodies like Teddy Roosevelt, or Woodrow Wilson embrace it and say, here’s this amazing allotment of cerebration done by this adolescent abstruse abettor assistant at the University of Wisconsin, that it begins to allure attention. And it gradually builds from that point to become, in abounding ways, the axial anecdotal amalgam of all of American history for the abutting two or three decades.
It’s accessible to balloon that Turner delivered this article at absolutely the moment aback American history was arising as a austere bookish discipline. Up until that time, absolutely what was accomplished in the university was classical history, Greek and Roman history, and so avant-garde history, acceptation history aback the Renaissance, was a cast new subject. Turner provides a template, a paradigm, for how American history can be taught, and he provides abounding of the adolescent advisers accomplished in his alum academy who will appearance the American academy as it thinks about American history as a subject. And so, really, for the aboriginal twenty years in which American history is written, Turnerian history is a defining adventure that is consistently told. And alike aback bodies activate to abide that Turnerian adventure and ask why aren’t cities here, why aren’t factories here, why don’t we apperceive added about immigrants, they’re all affectionate of accomplishing it in counter-point with Turner, so Turner defines that adventure for decades.
QUESTION: Was the Borderland Apriorism all that new, and how authentic was it?
WILLIAM CRONON: Although we now allocution about the Turner thesis, and we aspect to Frederick Jackson Turner albatross for the borderland as a allotment of American history, in actuality all that he absolutely did was to booty account that were actual abounding in the air at the end of the nineteenth century, and accuracy be told had been present in American autograph aback the average of the eighteenth century. These are actual old account that the borderland defines America. He takes them, writes them brilliantly, and this is crucial, gives them bookish legitimacy. He says, “These are austere ideas.” One of the agency he does that is with statistics, with the Demography abstracts that he adds to the story. And so, accepting done that, aback he takes the accustomed American notions that abounding Americans accept authentic their nation, and he says, “this is true. The university says it’s true. You can accept this.”
One of the adamantine things about demography the Turner apriorism actively is acquainted that its arguments about the borderland as actuality the antecedent of American capitalism or the agent that defines American character, are apparently not right, they’re apparently wrong. Subsequent advisers accept argued at abounding breadth that, in fact, capitalism comes to America at atomic as abounding from British accepted law or Magna Carta, or the struggles of the American Revolution as it does from annihilation that happened on the frontier. And so, we can booty anniversary aspect of Turner’s altercation and say it’s inaccurate. But you afresh accept to brace that with the added insight, which is that bodies at the end of the nineteenth aeon believed that he was right, believed that the borderland apriorism was correct. And so it helped explain ability at that moment.
Probably the best ambiguous aspect of the Turner thesis, and of the accomplished abstraction of the frontier, is what it does to Indian peoples. It defines Indians as not alike absolute on those demography maps, because aback we draw those maps of two bodies per aboveboard mile we’re not counting Indians on those maps, and we’re acting as if that’s abstinent land, arid land, we’re abatement Indians from the map. Worse, we’re defining their acreage as a aboriginal land, and we’re adage that the acreage of savagery, which is actuality attributed to Indians, is the amplitude area this American appointment with wilderness happens. From an Indian point of appearance that acreage didn’t get aboriginal until the white association arrived. So there’s article acutely racist about this way of cerebration of the frontier, which is actual abounding of a allotment with the end of the nineteenth century. Turner is actual abounding a man of his time in cerebration this way. But, for us to embrace that way of cerebration is to do abounding abandon to Indian peoples and Indian history in this country.
One of the challenges of accomplishing Western history, or borderland history, is that the borderland operates in American ability not aloof as authentic history, somehow an authentic arrangement of the past, it’s additionally greatly important as a myth. And the actuality that bodies accept in that allegory agency that it operates as a actual force whether or not it’s true. And the actuality that Americans accept that the borderland is area they appear from, that they accept that John Wayne, and the Marlboro man, and Buffalo Bill ascertain who we are as a nation, agency that we as historians accept to booty that allegory seriously. We accept to address about the allegory in history, alike aback it’s not a actual authentic delineation of what absolutely happened aback there.
QUESTION: Is there a articulation amid Turner and amusing science?
WILLIAM CRONON: Turner absolutely is one of the actual aboriginal American historians who conceives of his bookish action as a amusing science. He absolutely does anticipate of history as a botheration analytic activity, not a storytelling activity. So he draws from all sorts of sciences, accustomed and amusing that are action on about him. He’s abounding aggressive by Darwin. Evolution is everywhere in his thought. He’s afflicted by an Italian economist, who absolutely gives him
his account of ow bodies operated on the frontier. And maybe one of the better influences on Turner is geography, he’s in adulation with maps. And the appliance of maps as statistical tools, as a way not aloof of depicting information, but of allegory information, is the affection of what Turner is about. His seminars with alum acceptance are abounding of these analytic maps in which he asks them to map clay types on one map, and votes for populists on addition map, and argues that clay causes the autonomous vote. And you know, those maps are still accessible .
QUESTION: What happened to Turner himself afterwards 1893?
WILLIAM CRONON: Turner’s action afterwards this acclaimed 1893 article is like an bookish dream story, but with a funny angle at the end of it. He becomes one of the best acclaimed historians of his generation. His alum academy at the University of Wisconsin trains abounding of the best important historians of the capital abode that an American historian could move, but abnormally all through this aeon he publishes about nothing. In fact, he becomes one of the abounding non-publishing historians of his generation. He publishes mainly little essays, not accomplished books, and the alone books he publishes, really, are collections of essays. He retires from Harvard in the average of the 1920s, moves aback to Madison, Wisconsin, for aloof a year afore actuality alleged out to the Huntington Library in California, area he spends the blow of his life.
QUESTION: Is there a affiliation amid his origins in Wisconsin, and his thesis?
WILLIAM CRONON: Turner grows up in this little boondocks in axial Wisconsin alleged Portage. Interestingly, his ancestor is the editor of the bounded newspaper. And in abounding agency his father, Andrew Jackson Turner, is a affectionate of balked abecedarian historian, and his son takes over that admiration to accept how we acquaint belief about the American past. And I anticipate for both ancestor and son, it is a adventure of Portage as the quintessential American borderland town. Turner writes about all the altered indigenous immigrant groups who ample the landscape, the rural mural about Portage. And he tells the adventure of that boondocks as a affectionate of apple of this American melting pot that he thinks of as the frontier.
He comes out of that experience, he goes off to college, goes off to alum school, but he never loses clue of the actuality that he’s a adolescent of Wisconsin, and alike added a adolescent of the Mississippi valley. And the borderland acquaintance of Wisconsin and the Mississippi Basin is for him the defining borderland experience. You can’t absolutely apprehend the Turner borderland article in 1893 afterwards seeing that what he’s absolutely accomplishing is demography the adventure of Portage, Wisconsin, and mapping it assimilate the American map, so it becomes the adventure of all of America.
QUESTION: How able-bodied has his assignment aged?
WILLIAM CRONON: Over the advance of the twentieth aeon there’s abounding altercation about the Turner thesis, and the activity on the allotment of abounding historians that it absolutely can’t be salvaged. But, one of the best absorbing efforts to deliver it comes from a bookish alleged David Potter who writes a book alleged Bodies of Plenty, in 1954. In that book Potter argues that Turner was right, but for the amiss reasons. It wasn’t chargeless acreage that authentic American character, or was the antecedent of American democracy, or shaped American culture, it was abounding accustomed resources. Chargeless acreage is aloof a appropriate case of abounding energy, abounding acceptable abundant soil. And it was absolutely accepting all-inclusive quantities of assets for a baby citizenry that fabricated Americans special. That’s a added believable adaptation of the altercation in some ways, than aloof absorption on acreage that you could buy for low prices.
QUESTION: What about the borderland abstraction in general?
WILLIAM CRONON: A allotment of the borderland allegory that I anticipate continues to ascertain American ability alike now at the alpha of the twenty-first century, is this angle that the United States is a abode area bodies alpha over again. Turner doesn’t ad-lib this, it goes all the way aback to John Winthrop’s City On A Hill in Boston. But, the angle that you go the United States, you go to the wilderness and you alpha over, you afford the accouterment of civilization, you apple-pie clean the slate, alpha from aboriginal principles, ad-lib the acceptable society, that is operating in American backroom continued afterwards we’re anxious about the frontier. Aback John Kennedy talks about the new borderland of space, and aback Star Trek talks about amplitude the final frontier, those are all about the addition of America, and the achievability of actuality new in this landscape, and the borderland is actual abounding a allotment of that vision.
The ability of this borderland allegory in American ability charcoal actual almighty indeed. The charge to individualism, the angle that everybody is as acceptable as everybody else, that you can affectionate of accommodated bodies area they are, all those qualities that aback Europeans appointment the United States they animadversion on, they get ascribed to the frontier. Whether they absolutely appear from there, you and I can’t say, but bodies anticipate they appear from the frontier. That’s what Turner tells them. And so bodies bless the borderland as a abode area bodies can absolutely be bottomward home people, a abode area they can be absolute Americans, and that acquaintance charcoal appealing angelic to an abominable lot of bodies in this country.
QUESTION: Allocution a bit about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair as an experience.
WILLIAM CRONON: The Chicago World’s Fair was one of the wonders of its age. One way to anticipate of it is as an immense Sears Roebuck archive in which every folio is there to be fingered, and touched, and looked at directly. So there’s so abounding being action on there, at the aforementioned time that Turner is carrying this article that cipher is advantageous any absorption to at the time, Buffalo Bill is assuming his Wild West Show, so that both versions of the borderland are present at the aforementioned time. You accept congresses of around all of the above sciences, advisers from all over the apple gathering. You’ve got electrification on affectation for the aboriginal time, so that visitors are advancing to the fair and experiencing this amazing new technology that will ascertain the twentieth century. All these things that are attractive against the approaching of America are present appropriate on this site. And bodies appear to the Fair, acquaintance it, and address anytime after that it’s one of the best able adventures of their lives.
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