The Hundredth Meridian

Give Me Wilderness, Or Give Me . . .

Better than anyone before or since, Frederick Jackson Turner explained the peculiarly American fascination with wilderness that continues to perplex and, occasionally, to annoy European observers. In his instantly famous paper delivered before the American Historical Association's annual meeting 101 years ago. Professor Turner declared, "American social development has been continually beginning over and over again on the frontier. This perennial rebirth, this fluidity of American life, this expansion westward with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society, furnish the forces dominating American character. The true point of view in the history of this nation is not the Atlantic coast, it is the great West."

Americans whose ancestry is long established in this country have an instinct for wilderness—wilderness as opposed merely to "nature"—received naturally from their forebears and nurtured by a genuinely American cultural memory that cosmopolitan immigrants arriving immediately before and in the aftermath of World War II, as well as the homegrown multiculturalists and globalists of more recent date, have not succeeded entirely in extirpating from the United States. This is the instinct to which the popular purveyors of the myth of the Wild West appealed in print and on film, with spectacular success; and on which, since the 1970's, the advocates of...

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