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Turner’s frontier thesis constitutes a landmark document in American historiography for several reasons.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.
Véritable point de rencontre de nations et d’empires dès l’époque coloniale, région aux frontières internationales, l’Ouest semble se nourrir, aujourd’hui encore, de ces relations, contacts et interactions entre les peuples.
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).
In the late nineteenth century, Frederick Jackson Turner, the founding father of Western history, attributed the unique American character to the experience of the frontier.
Focusing, first, on Turner’s interpretation, with its justification of American exceptionalism, it will then analyse the regionalism of the New Western History, which has resulted in the isolation of the West from the rest of the nation.
Finally, as scholars have been quick in criticizing the regionalist perspective of New Western History, it will try and assess how historians have started giving Western history a new orientation over the last decade, one that aims at reconciling the concepts of region and frontier, thus giving back to the West its significance at the national level. Billington and Fulmer Mood have shown that the Frontier Thesis, formulated in 1893 in “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” is not so much a brilliant early effort by a young scholar as a mature study in which Turner gave his ideas an organization that proved to be final.During the rest of his life he developed but never disclaimed or modified them.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" (Turner 4).Society is described as an organism in constant evolution, and the frontier being "the line of most rapid and effective Americanization" (Turner 3).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).Criticism culminated in the emergence of "New Western History", in the late 1980s.Rejecting the notion of frontier altogether, New Historians suggested a rewriting of the Western past that focused on the West as a region, with geographical limits and specific characteristics distinguishing it from the other American regions.Cette "exception américaine" ("exceptionalism") est mise à mal par les générations suivantes d’historiens.Les études de la deuxième moitié du vingtième siècle insistent, notamment, sur la diversité du peuplement et de la population de l’Ouest, nourris de vagues successives d’immigration.