NORMAN D. BROWN, Editor
Writing Western Hzstory: Essays on Major Western Historians. Edited by Richard W.
Etulain. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1991. Pp. ix + 370.
Acknowledgments, introduction, conclusion, contributors, index. $37.50,
cloth; $17.50, paper.)
"We can safely declare the frontier thesis dead," asserts William Cronon, one
of the contributors to this important and instructive collection of essays on the
lives, careers, and works of ten major western historians. Frederick Jackson
Turner's frontier hypothesis, writes Cronon, is "at least so badly flawed that
any new formulation must be built on an entirely redesigned foundation"
(p. 94). Yet Cronon's own essay, as well as the balance of this volume, suggest
the continuing and pervasive influence of Turner even as the "New Western
Historiography" (p. 350) struggles to redefine a field. Half of editor Richard
Etulain's introductory essay on the "Rise of Western Historiography" is devoted
to the author of the frontier thesis. The first section of the book, which exam-
ines the work of California historical pioneers Josiah Royce and Hubert Howe
Bancroft, is dubbed "precursors to Turner." In the second section, four "classic
western historians" (Frederic Logan Paxson, Walter Prescott Webb, Herbert
Eugene Bolton, and James C. Malin) are each covered in a separate chapter,
but two full chapters are awarded to the master. And even in a third section
devoted to "recent western historians," Henry Nash Smith is praised as the
parallel of Turner, Ray Allen Billington is remembered as his most faithful
disciple and interpreter, and Earl Pomeroy's significance is measured by the
degree to which he has "reconceptualized" western history in a manner not
seen "since Turner" (p. 318).
One of the most interesting and ironic themes to emerge from this collection
is the rehabilitation of Turner through a deemphasis of the frontier thesis it-
self. This is true not only for Cronon but also for Michael C. Steiner, whose
essay reminds us that Turner spent most of his career elaborating his "equally
evocative though surprisingly neglected sectional thesis" (p. 103). Turner's
alertness to "the power of place in human affairs" (p. 123) actually anticipated
the arguments of his severest latter-day "regionalist" critics, to whom Steiner
attributes a misplaced "fixation upon the frontier thesis, which marked only
the beginning of Turner's thought" (p. 121).
Turner's chief critics among the ten historians highlighted in this volume are
the quirky and eccentric James C. Malin of the University of Kansas and the
"cosmopolitan and sophisticated" (p. 321) Earl Pomeroy, author of The Pacific
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 96, July 1992 - April, 1993. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101215/. Accessed June 29, 2015.