Students will come up with working definitions of the following
Steps to Follow for Lesson 1. Students discuss the following topics initially: “What does it mean to be an American today?” “How has this idea changed over the course of our history?” “How has our surrounding environment played a role in shaping who we are?” 2. Students take the following questions and read “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” by Frederick Jackson Turner. 3. Following reading, students participate in a class debate supporting, refuting or modifying Turner’s thesis based off of the questions and notes taken from the reading.
Questions to Consider:
1) What is The Frontier Thesis? What role does Turner argue the frontier has played in American history?
2) What does Turner say about American distinctiveness (or "exceptionalism") in the essay? What evidence does he provide for his argument?
3) Trace the process which Turner identifies as "Americanization." How does that process proceed? What are the steps and stages along the way?
4) Turner is often identified as a "Progressive" historian, meaning that he views history as the inevitable process from chaos to improvement, with the underlying assumption that change is usually for the better. What "Progressive" assessments of history appear in Turner's thesis? Does he identify any threats to that progress?
5) What makes it possible for Turner to argue that the land on the other side of the "frontier" is "empty," despite Native American and Spanish settlement in the region?
6) Examine the language used by Turner. What does his use of such terms as "savagery" reveal about his social philosophy? How is he a product of his times?
7) Patricia Nelson Limerick has argued that Turner's "West" is his own hometown of Portage, Wisconsin, and that this fact shapes his assessment of the "frontier process." Do you agree with this assessment of Turner's essay? Why or why not?
8) Who is Turner's "normative" American? What activities, identities, geographic locations, etc., reveal that American's normative status? In what ways is Turner's thesis a statement of American hegemony at the moment of the 1890s, both with regards to that normative American and American territorial expansion?