Institute of Modern History

Global Frontiers

A Winter School for doctoral students and postdocs

University of Tübingen, 15–17 November 2017

Please note that the Call for Papers is now closed.

Supported by the Institutional Strategy of the University of Tübingen (ZUK 63)At the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Chicago on July 12, 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner announced the closing of the United States frontier and "with its going … the first period of American history." It was the unclaimed West, he argued, that distinguished the nation's citizens from their European predecessors, "strip[ping] off the garments of civilization and array[ing] him in the hunting shirt and the moccasin." Now, for the first time in four hundred years, its residents would have to find something beyond "the stubborn American environment" to stimulate their minds and promote a united character.

Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill, 1885
Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill, 1885. Photograph by D. F. Barry. Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 US, LC-DIG-ds-07833.

Turner's remarks provide much worthy of discussion—beginning with his assumption that the lands listed as empty by the United States Census Bureau were themselves unsettled. Indeed, even as the historian gave his remarks, there was evidence that the imaginative pull of the American frontier was alive and well. Across town at the Worlds Columbian Exposition, for example, fair-goers marveled at the indigenous artifacts and persons on display in the Anthropology Hall and at an Indian School recreated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Visitors to Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, located just outside the Exposition, too, expected to join in the fun and victories of the North American cowboy, complete with demonstrations of sharpshooting and recreated battles against Plains tribesmen. The motif of the frontier has grown in the popular mind even into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and has been adopted by communities world-wide, informing German imperialism from the late 1800s to around World War II, American cultural influence in midcentury Japan, support for the Space Race during the 1960s, and the German PEGIDA movement as well as the refugee crises of 2015 and 2016.

Scholars, in like manner, have argued over and applied Turner's original imagining of the frontier to a wide-variety of historical and geographical contexts. Such debates first have significantly challenged Turner's United States-centrism, for example employing the concept to assess assumed civilizational divides between "the West" and "Islam." Second, and more critically, the idea has pushed scholars to come to terms with different types of boundaries—not only geographic but social, racial, ethnic and cultural—as well as their effectiveness. In particular, whereas Turner emphasized division and difference—identifying the frontier as the marker of a progressing civilization and the distinguishing feature of his nation—recent scholars like Oscar Martinez have re-envisioned the concept as a fluid "borderland." Their works imagine the frontier as a site of similarity and exchange between regions, thus emphasizing the potential of such spaces not only for conflict but mutual transfer and exchange.

An akıncı (Ottoman frontier warrior) defeating a Hungarian knight. From a miniature in the Süleymanname (c. 1558).
An akıncı (Ottoman frontier warrior) defeating a Hungarian knight. From a miniature in the Süleymanname (c. 1558). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The frontier paradigm continues to foster new and enriched conversations on topics like the environment, first contacts, colonial theory, commercial and cultural exchange, and technological development. Yet, while the theme has blossomed outward to embrace new peoples, places and periods, thereafter its continued development often has remained confined to these specialized niches. The Winter School "Global Frontiers" aims to reunite the research of scholars working on the theme of the frontier across a variety of disciplines, such as the Arts, Anthropology, Ethnography, Geography, Literature, and various Area Studies in addition to History, and promote their sharing of conceptual frameworks now restricted to specific historical spaces and timespans. The course will open with a keynote lecture by Dr. Matthew W. Mosca (University of Washington, Seattle), author of the highly acclaimed From Frontier Policy to Foreign Policy: The Question of India and the Transformation of Geopolitics in Qing China (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013).

The Winter School is organized by Dr. Daniel Menning (University of Tübingen), Dr. Kristin Condotta Lee (Washington University in St. Louis, MO), and Dr. Tobias Graf (University of Oxford) with financial support from the Excellence Initiative of the University of Tübingen as part of the university's Institutional Strategy (ZUK 63) and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).