The Turner thesis has had an extremely long-lasting impact, and may be considered as one of the main documents of American historiography.
According to Turner, it was the frontier that shaped American institutions, society, and culture.
It was a long time before historians started questioning Turner’s "frontier thesis", so strong was the appeal to Americans’ imagination generated by this justification of American exceptionalism.
Criticism culminated in the emergence of "New Western History", in the late 1980s.
First, Turner rejects the "germ theory", which claimed that American institutions and customs had been imported from Europe, therefore stressing the continuity of institutions and de-emphasizing the significance of American experience.
Second, Turner’s explanation runs counter to the Eastern Establishment, and its colonial and Atlantic coastal emphasis.The experience of the frontier, the westward march of pioneers from the Atlantic to the Pacific Coast, distinguishes Americans from Europeans, and gives the American nation its exceptional character.Turner famously asserted: "The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development" (Turner 1).Not only does the frontier stand as the bedrock of the American nation, it also creates a new people, "a mixed race, English in neither nationality nor characteristics" (Turner 23).The pioneer experiences a "rebirth", : "The wilderness masters the colonist.Insisting that "[the] true point of view in the history of this nation is not the Atlantic coast, it is the Great West" (Turner 3), the historian offers a new perspective on American history.Finally, Turner provides his contemporaries with an history, which explains the process of Americanization whereby a unique nation was created out of diverse peoples and cultural practices.L’Ouest américain est souvent présenté comme ayant un statut à part dans la construction de l’identité américaine.Ecrivant à la fin du dix-neuvième siècle, le père fondateur de l’histoire de l’Ouest, Frederick Jackson Turner, considère que la singularité du caractère américain résulte de l’expérience de la Frontière.Since its settlement was the last stage in the completion of the country, thus marking the closing of a crucial period in American history, the West has had a special place in the nation’s self-image, and it has always been considered as central in the construction of American identity.Throughout the twentieth century, historians have tried to assess the significance of the West, regarded, by some critics, as "the most distinctively American part of America" (Bryce 315).