Type of Document Thesis Author Berson, Thomas Author's Email Address email@example.com URN etd-07082004-190703 Title James Fenimore Cooper's Frontier: The Pioneers as History Degree Master of Arts Department American and Florida Studies, Program in Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Frederick Davis Committee Member Keywords
Date of Defense 2004-07-01 Availability unrestricted AbstractABSTRACT
This thesis examines aspects of American culture and society in Post-Revolutionary upstate New York through the lens of James Fenimore Cooper’s novel The Pioneers. While scholars have looked to The Pioneers as an object of literary criticism or for overarching American themes such as manners or authority, I examine The Pioneers’ value as a historical document.
Specifically, I examine the clash between a new culture still in its infancy and an existing one in its last days. The frontier settlers in Cooper’s work, as in reality, imposed their religion, science, and land-ownership principles on the remnants of native Americans and pre-revolutionary “squatters” even as their own understandings of those institutions were changing.
In this paper I examine how, although settlers attempted to impose their religion on native Americans, religion did not play as major a role in guiding frontier morality, but that Jeffersonian notions of republican motherhood and innate morality did. At the same time, these notions of morality came into conflict with the new laws that were being enforced while settlers were imposing Christianity onto the indigenous residents of America. These topics are the subject of Chapters One and Two.
Fledging notions of applied science were brought to bear in an attempt to create a sustainable long-term development, but that scientific institutions in America, such as medicine, were notably deficient. These issues are the subject of Chapter Three. Following that, I also discuss how land-ownership issues were complicated by pre-existing claims on the land, by Indians, Loyalist settlers and squatters. Finally, I explore how Cooper presciently staked out proto-environmentalist themes long before modern notions of conservation were developed, and how his portrayal of these themes is valuable to understanding ideas of the Turnerian “frontier.”
The paper examines all these ideas by comparing Cooper’s writing to that of historical scholars and Cooper’s contemporary cultural observers, as well as by utilizing other primary source materials.
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