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Which clippings match 'Frontier Myth' keyword pg.1 of 1
22 FEBRUARY 2009

The Significance of the Frontier in American History

"American social development has been continually beginning over again on the frontier. This perennial rebirth, this fluidity of American life, this expansion westward with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society, furnish the forces dominating American character. The true point of view in the history of this nation is not the Atlantic Coast, it is the Great West. Even the slavery struggle, which is made so exclusive an object of attention by writers like Professor von Holst, occupies its important place in American history because of its relation to westward expansion.

In this advance, the frontier is the outer edge of the wave –– the meeting point between savagery and civilization. Much has been written about the frontier from the point of view of border warfare and the chase, but as a field for the serious study of the economist and the historian it has been neglected.

What is the frontier? It is not the European frontier –– a fortified boundary line running through dense populations. The most significant thing about it is that it lies at the hither edge of free land. In the census reports it is treated as the margin of that settlement which has a density of two or more to the square mile. The term is an elastic one, and for our purposes does not need sharp definition. We shall consider the whole frontier belt, including the Indian country and the outer margin of the 'settled area' of the census reports. This paper will make no attempt to treat the subject exhaustively; its aim is simply to call attention to the frontier as a fertile field for investigation, and to suggest some of the problems which arise in connection with it.

In the settlement of America we have to observe how European life entered the continent, and how America modified and developed that life and reacted on Europe. Our early history is the study of European germs developing in an American environment. Too exclusive attention has been paid by institutional students to the Germanic origins, too little to the American factors.

Now, the frontier is the line of most rapid and effective Americanization. The wilderness masters the colonist. It finds him a European in dress, industries, tools, modes of travel, and thought. It takes him from the railroad car and puts him in the birch canoe. It strips off the garments of civilization and arrays him in the hunting shirt and the moccasin. It puts him in the log cabin of the Cherokee and Iroquois and runs an Indian palisade around him. Before long he has gone to planting Indian corn and plowing with a sharp stick; he shouts the war cry and takes the scalp in orthodox Indian fashion. In short, at the frontier the environment is at first too strong for the man. He must accept the conditions which it furnishes or perish, and so he fits himself into the Indian clearings and follows the Indian trails."
(Frederick Jackson Turner, 1893)



1893 • Americanization • becoming • Cherokee • civilization • colonisationconflictdemocracydivine destinydivine providence • expansion • expansionism • Frederick Jackson Turner • frontierfrontier mythideologyIndigenousIroquoisliminalmanifest destinymoral dignityNative Americans • personal enfranchisement • political ideologyprovidenceromantic sublimesettlementterritoryThe WestWesternwilderness


Simon Perkins
03 FEBRUARY 2006

Claustrophobic spaces of German modernity and agoraphobic spaces of American post-war film genres

"Running throughout our essay as its leitmotif is the opposition between the claustrophobic spaces of German modernity (epitomized in Expressionist cinema and in the noir films directed by Germans in Hollywood) and the agoraphobic fear of wide open spaces, exemplified by post–war American space (suburbia and the urban "superblock") and by the post–war film genres of the western and the road movie. Lacking a frontier myth, Germans fantasized about an expansive sense of space and dreaded a claustrophobic one. By contrast, the American cinema developed a morbid fear of open spaces devoid of human community and fantasized about the possibility of a tightly–knit urban community."

(Ed Dimendberg and Anton Kaes)



agoraphobia • American • Anton Kaes • claustrophobiaclaustrophobic spaces • Edward Dimendberg • expansive sense of space • expressionism • Expressionist cinema • filmfrontierfrontier mythgenreGermanGerman Expressionism • German modernity • Hollywood • human community • modernist architecturemodernityopen countrysideopen spacesperiurbanisationpost-war • post-war American space • post-war film genres • postwar • road movie • suburbia • superblock • tightly-knit urban community • urban • urban superblock • Westernwestern film genre • wide open spaces


Simon Perkins

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