In his book Die ‘Westliche Hemisphäre’ (1942) Ross related a shift in his definition of the notion of race: he accorded more explanatory power to space, or environment, than to heredity. In the same book he even modified this change within the context of America’s ethnic composition by claiming that the formation of a specifically American race cannot be left to the environment alone.

Despite these changes Ross’s ideas continued to echo American historian Frederick Jackson Turner, particularly the latter’s referenced essay on the shaping force of the American land, which, he claimed, made itself felt with each move westward.  Similar to Ross’s argument in his book Unser Amerika (1936),1 Turner’s understanding of environmental forces is a ‘fast motion’ process, particularly during America’s early western expansion: as soon as the West shifted its position and was moved away from the coastal, “Old World” colonial settlements, the new environments across the Appalachian mountain range had an almost immediate effect on the pioneering settlers. These effects Turner called “Americanization”. (Indeed, elsewhere Turner wrote that “[t]he frontier is the line of most rapid and effective Americanization.”2)

Turner’s term denotes specific characteristics that, in contrast to Europe’s gradual evolution of social and political institutions, emerged from “the virgin soil on which political gardeners might experiment with new varieties.”3 This frontier wilderness was particularly beneficial for the growth of individualism and democracy, terms that figure in almost every essay by Turner.4 Clearly, in Turner’s view the North American continent was “vacant”, “unoccupied”, and ready to be made fertile. And while he does use the words “Indian lands”, Native Americans, as in his classic 1893 essay (see footnote 2), are virtually written out of this story and play no role of significance except as “hostile savages”. That atrocities by—and to—Native Americans were in any way connected with the relentless westward settlement is, although briefly acknowledged, left unaddressed, as it doesn’t fit the equally relentless drift of his teleological history of American political institutions.

Although biased, at least Turner is clear as to what his focus is. The teleology of Ross’s notion of an American race, in contrast, remains elusive and speculative. Meanwhile, in a country that was built from the influx of immigrants from all corners of the world, intercultural contact rather than isolation, to recall Franz Boas’s words, would determine the genetic pool.

Nico de Klerk

Frederick Jackson Turner. Western state-making in the Revolutionary era. The American Historical Review: 1895 October 1; 1; 70-87,

Topic: Race
Case: American journeys


1 Colin Ross. Die Menschenrechte und die angelsächsische Vorherrschaft. In: Unser Amerika. Der deutsche Anteil an den Vereinigten Staaten.1. Aufl. Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus; 1936: 157-166. See Library.

2 Frederick Jackson Turner. The significance of the frontier in American history. In: The frontier in American history. New York: Dover; 1996 [1920]; 3 (orig. publ. in 1893),

3 Turner. October 1895; 71.

4 This notion was echoed in: Colin Ross. Die Erschließung von Niemandsland. In: Unser Amerika. Der deutsche Anteil an den Vereinigten Staaten. 1. Aufl. Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus; 1936; 176-181. See Library.

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