Journal of American Studies (1998), 32:81-103. Cambridge University Press.
Copyright © 1998 Cambridge University Press

"Confusion of Mind": Colonial and Post-Colonial Discourses about Frontier Encounters

a1Department of History, Victoria University of Wellington, P.O. Box 600, Wellington, New Zealand


An interpretation of frontier texts must respond to the demand by Gesa Mackenthun and other scholars that "empire be added to the study of American culture." As written by authors like Frederick Jackson Turner, who placed themselves on the colonizing side of the frontier, these texts described the frontier as "the meeting point between savagery and civilization" where European immigrants became "Americanized, liberated, and fused into a mixed race." Here was forged a "composite nationality for the American people." Such texts with their understanding of the "Indian frontier " as a "consolidating agent in our history" which developed "the stalwart and rugged qualities of the frontiersman," helped to construct the American identity as the "imperial self" with its implicitly patriarchal, Eurocentric, and colonial assumptions. Describing the frontier as a "military training school, keeping alive the power of resistance to aggression," such texts failed to acknowledge the aggressive acts that seized the land from its original inhabitants.

Article Text(198 Kb)