TURNER’S FRONTIER THESIS

   The foundational interpretation of Western history through most of the history of cinema Westerns was based upon Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis. Turner was a historian who made his reputation in 1893 with a paper delivered at the Chicago World’s Fair in which he claimed that the Western movement was the single most formative influence upon the American character. Characteristics such as individualism, nationalism, and egalitarianism derived primarily from the frontier experience. Cinema Westerns up until the post-Western period, then, celebrated the connection of American character with the Western frontier. But Turner also claimed that the frontier had closed in 1890 and that American history was then forced to move on for the development of its national character. As a result of this concept of the closing of the frontier, Western directors, screenwriters, and novelists all treated the West as a thing of the past. For their appeal, Westerns depended upon nostalgia for what had vanished in America. The new Western historyof the late 20th century began the process of questioning the validity of Turner’s Frontier Thesis.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

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