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A New Western History

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The study of the American West gives an opportunity to learn about the western culture, activities and their impact on the development of the current American culture.  The existence of the Western Frontier itself has changed the history of the United States leading to the establishment of democracy and the government America has today. Frederick Jackson Turner advanced the Frontier Thesis that showed its significance in shaping America’s history. Turner himself said that the west became the origin of the distinctive character of the nation and its citizens. This was because the frontier liberated Americans from the Europeans which ending the prior customs and creating new ones.

In Turner’s thesis paper, there was great emphasis on the role the frontier played while shaping America’s character. This, in turn, has sparked a lot of criticism among historians as well as influenced the political developments in the history. One of the historians that critiqued the thesis was Theodore Roosevelt who argued that the battles between the Indians and the Trans-Appalachian pioneers influenced and shaped the character of America. Others such as Franklin Roosevelt supported the thesis but thought about new frontiers that needed to be conquered in order to create a better nation for its citizens.

Professor George Wilson Pierson criticized Turner’s frontier thesis in 1942 by stating that a number of factors, not just the frontier contributed to America’s culture today. He argued that to see other present factors that led to the development of the United States one should look beyond the frontier.

The Legacy of Conquest, a 1987 book by Patricia Nelson Limerick, strongly critiqued the Turner’s Thesis. She brings the idea of a new western history where the American West instead of being treated as a process of finite expansion is treated as a place. Limerick in her book pushes for a continuous study of the history of the American West, which she believes that it continues up to this day and has really taken an issue with the notion that the end of the frontier back in 1890 marking the end of an era.

This researcher suggested that accepting Turner’s idea that in the year 1890 was the end of an era through the winning of the west was a misunderstanding, as well as a misinterpretation of the forces which shaped and continue to shape the political social and economic events of the west. She is completely aware that people from the west, who heard about the end of the frontier, did not just stop what they were doing for a few moments, and then carry on with their businesses in a different mode. The scholar realized that rejecting the frontier as the key factor, which structured the American Western history, would lead to a fuller realization of the region’s remarkable cultural diversity.

The New western historians identify not just a single process as in Turner’s thesis, but they touch on the subject in broader terms about the various processes of conquest, exploitation, invasion and many other factors in shaping the Western United States. Besides, this clearly eliminates the suggested by Turner to explain the influence the West had on America’s development element of progress. It was quite essential that Limerick pointed out: some roads to development lead indeed to failure and goes on further to admit that the western myth is, in fact, myth.

The scientist proposes that the history of the Western United States is a study of a place, which is still undergoing conquest, and will never really get away from its consequences. While comparing Tuner’s thesis with Limerick’s, we notice that in the former, Western history stood alone while in the latter; Western history portrayed distinctive features and also features that it shares with other histories from different parts of the nation and the world. She drives in the main point that with the old historians: they tend to divide history into two parts as which include the distant past and the recent past all leading up to today. However, this is not the case as history is all one story, which continues to unravel itself up to the present day.

In the introduction of the book, Limerick indicates a number of myths and symbols if the Western region showing the aspect of instability in the region. Their land is the center of the region where there is a struggle for the resources of the land such as minerals, oil, water and agricultural products. The westerners also depended highly on the federal government to deal with certain matters such as controlling the Indians. The author of The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West, in fact, acknowledged that the American West was a meeting point between people from different regions and cultures, where both the majority and minority stood the same ground eventually tying these diverse groups into one similar story.

Both Turner and Limerick have different views on what shaped America’s culture, but we can see over the years through critique of Turner’s thesis by various historians gives rise to a new method of studying history. Limerick’s perception shows the importance of looking beyond one position in order to uncover the truth about the history. One can see that the old history does not pay much attention to other points of view while the real history has much more detail and has revolutionized modern history.

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