Earlier this year, Zoltan Acs and I were discussing a possible paper for me to write that investigated the great entrepreneurial activities taking place on college and university campuses.
Over time Zoltan recommended that I look into Frederick Jackson Turner’s The Significance of the Frontier in American History.
Turner argues that it is the frontier experience, rather than European influence, that led to the development of America’s unique political, social, and economic systems. (A version of American Exceptionalism that de Toqueville, Lipsett, and others discuss)
The more I read of Turner, the more I find his theories fit well with many of the structural economic and social changes the US (and much of the global economy) is currently experiencing. Moreover, many of the attributes that Turner argues were present on the frontier are present on today’s college and university campuses. One example is the diversity of the population that inhabited the frontier. Today’s campuses are incredibly diverse along many lines (age, sex, race, work experience, religion, musical tastes, nationality, field of study, economic status, etc.)
Another attribute that the frontier and the campus have in common is distance from control. On a campus much of the population is far from parents or from former employers, while those who went to the frontier were beyond the reach of governments, churches, families, and tradition.
While reading through the 1921 book edition of Turner’s thesis, I came across this passage:
The pioneer was taught in the school of experience that the crops of one area would not do for a new frontier; that the scythe of the clearing must be replaced by the reaper of the prairies. He was forced to make old tools serve new uses; to shape former habits, institutions and ideas to changed conditions; and to find new means when the old proved inapplicable. He was building a new society as well as breaking new soil; he had the ideal of nonconformity and of change. He rebelled against the conventional.
Besides the ideals of conquest and of discovery, the pioneer had the ideal of personal development, free from social and governmental constraint.
Sounds like a campus? Sounds like the Creative Economy?
I will continue to update you as I flesh out this theory and test some cases, but does this sound like I am on the right track? Is the campus the new frontier for America and much of the developed world? Any thoughts on Turner’s theories?