Turner, Frederick Jackson

Turner, Frederick Jackson, 1861–1932, American historian, b. Portage, Wis. He taught at the Univ. of Wisconsin from 1885 to 1910 except for a year spent in graduate study at Johns Hopkins. From 1910 to 1924 he taught at Harvard, and later he was research associate at the Henry E. Huntington Library. At first he taught rhetoric and oratory but turned to U.S. history, soon focusing on Western history. His doctoral dissertation, The Character and Influence of the Indian Trade in Wisconsin (1891; an enlargement of his master's essay), showed the trend of his interest. In 1893, at the meeting of the American Historical Association in Chicago, he delivered an address, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” which outlined brilliantly the history of the receding frontier and its effect in creating American democracy. Little noticed at the time, it was to prove epoch-making in American history writing. It supplied a large part of a generation of historians with a theme to investigate. Turner's ideas are now generally incorporated in some form in most American history texts; although a historical controversy has raged for decades over the validity of his frontier thesis, few critics reject it entirely. The address and various short papers were reprinted in The Frontier in American History (1920). He collaborated with Edward Channing and Albert Bushnell Hart in the revision of Guide to the Study and Reading of American History (1912). Though he produced few books—The Rise of the New West (“American Nation” series, 1906) and two studies in sectionalism, The Significance of Sections in American History (1932) and the posthumously published The United States, 1830–1850 (1935)—his influence as a teacher and proponent of a new and important theory made him one of the most renowned of all American historians.

See The Early Writings of Frederick Jackson Turner (1938, repr. 1969); R. Hofstadter, Progressive Historians (1968); R. A. Billington, Frederick Jackson Turner (1973).

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