Date of Award


Document Type

Closed Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in History and University Honors






West (U.S.) – Historiography, West (U.S.) -- History, Ethical relativism, Frontier thesis




In this paper I will present an argument for the vigorous and critical scholarship of the American West. Proceeding in a roughly chronological fashion, chapter one explores the primary source of western American history--Frederick Jackson Turner's 1893 'frontier thesis'--from the vantage point of the mid-1980s when revisionist scholars announced a 'new western history,' greatly inspired by historian Patricia Nelson Limerick and her 1987 work The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West. In chapter two, after describing in fairly broad strokes the nature of the new western history and the debates it provoked, I will home in on the particularly vehement and polemical charges of moral relativism made by historian Gerald D. Nash, framing this episode in the larger context of the longstanding theoretical tension between historicism and absolutism. Chapter three will focus on the new western history's ultimately unfulfilled goal to replace the frontier model of western history with a strictly regional framework, and will compare and contrast more recent works utilizing each of these interpretive tropes. I will then survey work of the past year that focuses on what it means to teach western history in the wake of past controversy, concluding that scholarship of and on the American West continues to offer a profound means of understanding the place of Americans in America, and America in the world.


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