Frederick Jackson Turner 1861–1932

Reuben Gold Thwaites (1853–1913)
Gelatin silver print, c. 1892

Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison

This portrait of Frederick Jackson Turner pictures the young historian in his office. As the head of the history department at the University of Wisconsin, Turner believed that the history of the American West merited greater attention.

In his 1893 essay “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” he wrote that the “true point of view in the history of this nation is not the Atlantic coast, it is the great West.” Turner argued that the nation’s unique character and its vigor were a direct byproduct of the continual movement of Americans westward.

However, reflecting on data from the 1890 census indicating that Americans had now settled every section of the continent, he feared that the nation’s pioneering spirit might be lost. Turner’s writings were highly influential during his lifetime and continue to provoke lively discussion today.