Educating the Democratic Citizen

Frederick Jackson Turner, History Education, and the University Extension Movement

Authored by: Marc A. VanOverbeke

Handbook of Social Justice in Education

Print publication date:  December  2008
Online publication date:  June  2009

Print ISBN: 9780805859270
eBook ISBN: 9780203887745
Adobe ISBN: 9781135596149

10.4324/9780203887745.ch2

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Abstract

Frederick Jackson Turner, one of the most famous historians at the turn of the 20th century, argued that the American frontier and the continued availability of free land had driven the formation of a distinctive national identity. "The frontier is the line of most rapid and effective Americanization," he said at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and its effect has been felt most "in the promotion of democracy." Turner concluded his address ominously by arguing that "the frontier has gone, and with its going has closed the first period of American history" (Turner, 1893/1994b, pp. 33, 53, 60). With the closing of the frontier, the development of large corporations and factories, the impressive growth of cities, and the striking stratification of social classes, the United States was in the midst of a profound transformation at the turn of the 20th century. Along with other scholars and reformers, Turner wondered how Americans would cope with such sweeping changes. What would stand in for the frontier and help Americans navigate the transition to a new century, Turner asked; and for much of his career he had been considering ways to foster democracy and an American identity in a country no longer teeming with free land. As a young history professor at the University of Wisconsin, Turner looked to mass education and the study of history as a way to deal with the challenges of a new century.

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