Monthly Archives: July 2016

Pedagogy Notes: On Thinking about Borderlands in World History

This is the second installment in our pedagogy series. We invite you to join the discussion in our comments section at the bottom of the post.

At CIDE Región Centro, in 2014, when I started teaching my World history I course, I wanted to incorporate a Borderlands history perspective into my lectures and class discussions. Imperial frontiers is a topic that I have long found fascinating, and now given the chance, I wanted to explore it further with students. One of my favorite readings on this subject, which I assigned to students for group discussion, was Porfirio Sanz Camañes’s “Frontera, límites y espacios de confrontación en la América Hispana durante el siglo XVIII.” In it, Sanz examines the conflicts that occurred in the region of Río de la Plata before a new treaty was signed between Spain and Portugal. Sanz considers how the concept of the “frontier” and “border” evolved during the colonial period. It’s a great essay that also helped me conceive my lectures on the colonial empires in South America.

Another reading that has been very useful in conceptualizing borders and frontiers in my World history class is Nelson Eduardo Rodríguez’s “El imperio contraataca: las expediciones militares de Antonio Caballero y Góngora al Darién, 1784-1790.” Rodríguez contextualizes the Darien region of Panama as a colonial frontier where indigenous people and smugglers resisted and bedeviled settler officials who tried to subject the region to the crown’s authority. Throughout the eighteenth century, this porous “borderland” pertained and became a site Great Britain exploited to pressure the geopolitical power of their Spanish rivals in the western Caribbean.

Many of the students who I teach grew up in central Mexico and the region of the Bajío, which includes the state of Aguascalientes, where I live and work. When I’m developing my classes on New Spain, David Weber’s work, especially Bárbaros: Spaniards and Their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment, remains an important resource for writing and revising lectures. The discussion of frontiers that Weber uses really helps me to add an appreciation of “empire” as a process constructed through cultural and economic change as well as the application of violence to subject indigenous people to colonial power. In this context, I emphasize to the class the critical role that the Bajío played in facilitating the deployment of Spanish power to northern New Spain.

Likewise, Peter Sahlins’s excellent, Boundaries: The Making of France and Spain in the Pyrenees, has been very useful when I’m covering the development of nation-states. I urge students to identify the historical context of creating borders and the often bloody impact of this work. One of my favorite moments during the semester is when students really grasp the constructed and artificial character of the nation-states that we consider to be almost “timeless” monolithic entities.

Ultimately, I want to use the themes of borders and frontiers in World history to help students conceptualize the political relationships that marked the early modern world and gradually influenced the evolution of nation-states. I see it as an opportunity to connect present-day debates around borders and migration to the historical context of these issues in the colonial period. In this sense, a Borderlands history perspective has helped me to make connections across different regions and time periods in the lectures and discussions we have in the course.

Categories: Teaching/Professional Development | 2 Comments

Job Alert: UC San Diego, Latin American History

Dear readers, we wanted to let you know that UC San Diego has launched a search this month for an historian of Latin America since 1500. The individual selected must have their PhD in hand by July 1, 2017, when the appointment begins. Preference in the search is given to scholars of South America or the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, “whose research touches on an environmental topic broadly defined, including but not limited to natural/built environments, energy, oceans and transportation, science and technology, space and place, food or commodities, land and agriculture, and public health or disease.”

The Division of Arts and Humanities will begin reviewing applications in November. In the application packet, candidates must summarize their research and teaching experience, and also discuss how they will contribute to equity and diversity on campus through leadership. Interviews will be conducted at next year’s meeting of the American Historical Association in Denver, Colorado.

For more information, or to apply, follow the link, here.

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A Conversation with Roberto Lint Sagarena, author of “Aztlan and Arcadia: Religion, Ethnicity, and the Creation of Place.”

The (re)making of place has composed an essential aspect of Southern California history from the era of Spanish colonialism to the present. In Aztlan and Arcadia: Religion, Ethnicity, and the Creation of Place (NYU Press, 2014) Associate Professor of American Studies at Middlebury College Roberto Lint Sagarena examines the competing narratives of Anglo American conquest and ethnic Mexican reconquest following the U.S. War with Mexico in the mid-19th century. Employing a transnational lens that illuminates the commonalities between Spanish colonizers, Mexican criollos, Anglo American settlers, and ethnic Mexican Californians, Dr. Lint Sagarena argues that the ethno-nationalist histories of Aztlan and Arcadia share commonalities in logic, language, and symbolism that are rooted in religious culture and history. From Anglo American Hispanophilia to Chicana/o indigenismo, Professor Lint Sagarena sheds new light on the region’s long and conflicted history over its multi-ethnic past as well as the understanding by many of its inhabitants that “owning place requires owning history.”

Listen to the full conversation at New Books in Latino Studies or via iTunes and Stitcher.

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Pedagogy Notes: On Recent Books and Teaching

As many of our readers are planning for next semester’s classes this summer, we’ve decided to launch a new summer series for ideas on teaching Borderlands history and historiography. Tim is starting us out with this article today, and we hope to have additional essays on the subject as the month continues. You’re also welcome to share your own experiences or insights on Borderlands pedagogy in the comments section at the bottom of this post. -Mike

One of the most rewarding aspects of working in Borderlands history is that that the field is ever-evolving; this, however, can also be something of a problem. Given the tremendous numbers of exciting new books and articles that are published on an annual basis, it can be difficult for any historian to stay on top of all of the new contributions that scholars make to the field. One solution that I have found (and I’m certainly not alone in this) is that it is often useful to put articles and monographs on my syllabi before I have actually read them. This, of course, is inherently dangerous—what if the book or article in question doesn’t translate well to the classroom, or, what if you find the material less than satisfactory but still have to figure out a way to teach it? Inevitably, this will happen from time to time.

Having now taught both graduate and under-graduate level seminars on Borderlands history within the last year, I wanted to take the time reflect on a handful of new monographs that I have used in the classroom and to reflect a little bit on the pedagogical value of said books. Given the premium placed on space in a short blog post, I will restrict my discussion to those works that have been published since early 2015 in particular, which is somewhat problematical given the field’s constant vitality (I should also note that this list is obviously not an exhaustive one—there are many new monographs aside from the few that I will discuss here that are absolutely worth reading or assigning to students).[1] Nonetheless, the field saw a number of exciting new works in 2015 that Borderlands scholars might want to consider adding to their syllabi in the near future.

One book that I have had great recent success with is Andrew Torget’s, Seeds of Empire.[2] Torget’s book is, quite simply, a necessity for people interested in the easternmost edges of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands; given that it recounts some of the most iconic moments in early-nineteenth century Texas history, I would strongly encourage Borderlands historians who teach in Texas, in particular, to consider adopting this book. To quote Torget, Seeds of Empire shows how

[p]owerful economic and political forces swirling the north Atlantic crashed into one another…swept across the continent, and transformed Mexico’s northern borderlands into the western edge of the U.S. South…That process would, in time, redistribute power on the continent as it remade the border between the United States and Mexico, leaving both countries with enduring tensions that reverberate to this day.[3]

Importantly, these forces in question—U.S. expansion, the slavery complex, and the transatlantic cotton economy—not only shaped the eventual establishment of the U.S.-Mexico borderline, but Torget’s highlighting of these economic and political factors shows how the deployment of Borderlands analysis can fundamentally alter certain long-existing historiographical notions; in this case, Torget provides a fresh interpretation of events such as the Texas Revolution, Texas annexation and the U.S.-Mexico War, sweeping away longstanding historiographical debates such as the oftentimes anachronistic and downright silly explanations that previous generations of historians have provided for events such as the Texas Revolution.[4] Seeds of Empire thus provides a clear and compelling example of the promise of Borderlands analysis to undergraduate and graduate students alike, replete with historical events and phenomena that students will easily grasp, if they are not already entirely familiar with them (this, again, is particularly likely at Texas-based institutions, for obvious reasons).

If Seeds of Empire can successfully help students to see the usefulness of Borderlands history, other books published since 2015 highlight borderlands phenomena that have been mostly overlooked in the literature up to this point. For example, Borderlands historians have of late begun to pose a number of questions related to state power and borderlands political economies. To that end, another monograph published in 2015 that clearly and nicely illustrates the promise of Borderlands history for students is George Díaz’s, Border Contraband. Díaz’s study of smuggling in the Texas-Mexico borderlands highlights relations between the state and the local: “when governments regulated and prohibited trade on their borders,” the author writes, people consequently “subverted state and federal laws through smuggling.”[5] Furthermore, the definition of what governments consider illegal oftentimes runs in counterdistinction to what borderlanders consider wrong, thus creating a moral economy that in reality can only exist at the margins of modern nation states.

Border Contraband serves as an excellent conversation starter about the nature of the relationship between the federal government and borderlanders, along with providing a clear focus on the lived experiences of the latter. Also, this book works well in the classroom because the subject matter is, put simply, cool. A well constructed and readable book on a cool subject like smuggling will have no difficulty in piquing the interests of students in a classroom setting (this was certainly the case in my own personal experience).

One important issue related to questions of agency and the state is the reciprocal relationship between border crossing, border control and the influences of state formation on people at the margins. For a nice example that works well for the U.S.-Canada borderlands, in particular, see Michel Hogue’s, The Metis and the Medicine Line.[6] The border, in Hogue’s view, actually gave life to the Metis. Hogue refers to the 49th parallel as “the medicine line” for the Metis, meaning that it was a source of strength and collective group identity for them in the face of intrusions by the Canadian and U.S. governments. Comparatively, Hogue’s book pairs nicely with Díaz’s, given that both reflect border developments in the face of state power.

Indeed, the Metis—a group consisting of people of First Nations, Native American, and Euroamerican ancestry—emerged in Canada during the nineteenth century as a people “in-between,” which fact alone makes them a fascinating study of cross-cultural interaction (one of the many facets of Borderlands history). The Metis absorbed other groups, their material goods, and crossed the 49th parallel as an expression of group agency and self determination; crossing the border also drew out contradictions in the settler colonial projects of the United States and Canada as well as their different laws, which in turn led each nation state to assert its sovereignty over the joint borderline to greater degrees during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Metis in Hogue’s study are thus somewhat reminiscent of certain actors in Richard White’s classic, The Middle Ground, but the difference here is that these people also had a clear influence over—and, in turn, found themselves influenced by—two modern nation states. As such, The Metis and the Medicine Line is filled with questions related to identity, borders, political economy and state power—in short, this book covers some of the fundamental questions of Borderlands historiography writ large. Admittedly, Hogue’s book is a slightly more challenging read than either Torget’s or Díaz’s, but the payoff in any class about borders or borderlands is, I think, readily apparent.

Fortunately, Borderlands historians continue to tackle issues that are relevant to contemporary society: few issues are more relevant and newsworthy—especially during the vicious 2016 election cycle—than Mexican immigration (if for no other reason than the cacophony of shrill voices calling for restrictions from the Donald Trump camp). John Weber’s book, From South Texas to the Nation, traces the origins of Mexican labor exploitation throughout the twentieth century. Weber’s argument is twofold: first, he argues that Anglos and ethnic Mexicans fashioned an agricultural empire in early twentieth-century South Texas; and, secondly, he argues that this agricultural empire served as a laboratory of sorts for other employers across the United States, who copied the “South Texas model of labor relations” in order to exploit workers and pad their own profit margins.

The usefulness of Weber’s construction, of course, is that it puts on full display connections between the border and Mexican immigration with which students are more than familiar. Borderlands history thus is shown to have clear and deep contemporary relevance in this particular case. Weber’s book is also a good reminder of the value of smart Borderlands history on twentieth-century topics; in my case, students responded well to the book and saw connections between scholarship and current affairs. A few of my students, in fact, were comfortable and inspired enough to speak up during class discussions about their own experiences being undocumented immigrants.

Ultimately, the greatest challenge that any Borderlands historian will face over the course of her or his career is staying on top of the literature; nonetheless, a flexible approach that incorporates as many of the latest articles and monographs as possible not only allows one to keep reading, but it also helps convey the conceptual shifts that the field constantly experiences. But most importantly, these four books illuminate some central conceptual concerns in Borderlands history that students, simply put, must understand, including but not limited to the importance of transatlantic political and social economies; community-level political or moral economies in the borderlands and their relationships to the nation state; the reciprocal relationship between border making and the foundation of individual or group identity; and finally, the borderlands as a human laboratory for racial and labor exploitation.

All of the above concepts are crucial to understanding some of the latest insights that Borderlands history has to offer. I sincerely hope that some readers will consider using these books in classes during the upcoming year (or years). I would also like to invite a little bit of dialogue here: readers who have utilized the above-mentioned books are welcome to respond in the comments section of this post about their own experiences in using them. Also, what recent titles have you used in your courses that you would recommend to others in the field? History, at its best, is a conversation—let’s have one!

NOTES

[1] For just a few examples, see, Alicia M. Dewey, Pesos and Dollars: Entrepreneurs in the Texas-Mexico Borderlands, 1880-1940 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2014); Kornel Chang, Pacific Connections: The Making of the U.S.-Canadian Borderlands (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012); and, Geraldo Cadava, Standing on Common Ground: The Making of a Sunbelt Borderland (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012).

[2] Andrew Torget, Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800-1850 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

[3] Ibid., 3.

[4] Many of these are covered in an excellent book by historian James Crisp. For more, see, James Crisp, Sleuthing the Alamo: Davy Crockett’s Last Stand and Other Mysteries of the Texas Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

[5] George T. Díaz, Border Contraband: A History of Smuggling across the Rio Grande (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015), 1.

 

Categories: Teaching/Professional Development | 2 Comments

Black Lives Vigil on the Border

In El Paso, The Black Student Union (BSU) from The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP)and the group Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) hosted a vigil in memorial of Black Lives lost to unnecessary violence and to educate the community of the ongoing tragedies across the nation.

The community gathered at La Plaza de los Lagartos (San Jacinto Plaza) in the evening on Sunday, July 10. The plaza was filled with various organization and community members who stood in solidarity with BSU and PFLAG. Among the attendees were students from New Mexico State University who made a special trip to El Paso from Las Cruces, New Mexico to attend the vigil.

The press release circulated for this event  read “Black Student Union, BSU, is to promote activities of common interest, cultural and educational benefits for the African American students at UTEP,” it went on to quote the organizations president Shyla Cooks, “We have been far too silent for far too long.”

Organizers and leaders of the Black Student Union (BSU) Keyanna Robinson, Makeda Buggs, and Shyla Cooks shared a few words please click on their names to hear their message. These brave students continue the long legacy of community organizing and activism on the border. Through poems, speeches, and songs they joined their voice to the many speaking out about injustices faced by black communities and other minority groups across the United States.

 

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Makeda Buggs, Black Student Union (on stage speaking)

 

 

 

 

 

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Conference Notes: LASA 2016

At the end of the spring semester, I had the opportunity to attend and present my work at this year’s Conference of the Latin American Studies Association in New York City. The meeting brought thousands of specialists of Latin America to the Big Apple’s Midtown Hilton and Sheraton Times Square hotels. I landed in JFK on Thursday late afternoon and took an Uber into the city. Checking into my hotel in the West Village that evening, I made it to the conference site at the start of the next day. Already the Hilton lobby was packed with attendees for a full schedule of panels and other events over Memorial Day Weekend. In total, more than six thousand people participated in this year’s LASA with over 1,400 panels listed in the program. The conference’s film festival also screened dozens of works.

Bustling Times Square, photo by author.

For historians of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, there were a handful of interesting bilingual panels presenting papers on mobility, immigration policy, cultural and social analysis, drug policy, and historical memory of the region. On Friday morning, Amelia A. Hall of the University of Alberta was scheduled to give her paper, “The Badasses of Bad Movies: Border Hybridity, Women’s Models, and Gendered National Identity in Cine Fronterizo.” Unfortunately, it was difficult make it to everything given that a lot of related panels were occurring at the same time. Down the hall, Marta M. Caminero-Santangelo, of the University of Kansas, had organized a panel on literary depictions of border crossings, which looked at the DREAMers, as well as the Caribbean context of the border (Marisel C Moreno, University of Notre Dame), and Latinx literary aesthetics (Ylce Irizarry).

Of course, being New York City in springtime, there were countless things to do outside the hotel’s walls. Walking through midtown Manhattan, people wearing their attendee badges could be seen enjoying all that the area had to offer. Although the heat was sweltering, I joined friends for walks in Central Park, strolled Fifth Avenue, and later had dinner nearby the conference at the tasty and affordable, Topaz Thai.

The next day, I was excited to attend an early evening panel organized by Stanford University’s Mateo J. Carillo, and chaired by Julia G. Young of the Catholic University of America, on transnational migrant mobilities. Being an historian of transport mobility in northern Mexico, myself, this session was right up my alley (pun intended). The first presenter, Laura D. Gutierrez from the University of California-San Diego, spoke on the history of the Bracero program and punitive deportations. One aspect of the work that really captivated my interest was Gutierrez’s analysis of the power and limits of the U.S. and Mexican bureaucracies that exerted power over transnational workers. Following Gutierrez, Carillo spoke about the history of road building in the Bajío, a northwest-central region of Mexico, and its impact on the mobilization of agricultural workers who traveled for jobs in the United States. Carillo rightly emphasized that new roads played a crucial role in this labor history from the 1940s to the 1960s. Lastly, Yuridia Ramirez of Duke University, presented her work on the links that form between Mexican migrant communities in North Carolina and their families and friends remaining in the Bajío. She analyzed themes of identity production and cultural heritage, and the role that education played. The discussion that followed was lively. Afterwards, I joined colleagues for dinner at the aptly named House of Brews.

My panel, organized by my friend and colleague Catherine Vézina of the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE), was scheduled for Monday morning in the Times Square Sheraton. It began with José Alberto Moreno Chávez of El Colegio de México (Colmex) who spoke about cosmopolitan culture and modernization in Mexico City through a fascinating analysis of how elites wrote and thought about popular terms, including “Snob” and “Fresa,” which invariably included historical context of U.S. cultural influence. I followed with a presentation on rural road-building campaigns in Mexico, including the northern Mexican state of Nuevo León, where transportation companies pressed the government for more highways in support of domestic and U.S. tourism along the border. Catherine continued, giving a paper on the implications of the bracero program to bilateral policy initiatives and questioning the impact on modernization schemes in Mexico. After her, Valeria Sánchez Michel, also of CIDE, discussed the history of modernization related to Mexican higher education in the 1950s, exploring the cultural representations that planners hoped to impose as well as how this ideal contrasted with students’ everyday life and demand for reforms. Finally, Colmex’s Vanni Pettina concluded the panel with a lively discussion of his work on bilateral relations between the Soviet Union and Mexico during the late 1950s and early 1960s as Mexican President Adolfo Lopéz Mateos navigated the diplomatic currents of the Cold War.

Following the panel, it was time to grab a coffee, check into some other sessions, meet more friends and colleagues, and later explore more of the city. The weekend was packed and like any LASA conference, it’s hard to make it to every panel and event that piques your interest. Nevertheless, it was a great experience that brought together a wide gathering of the academic community on Latin America in a diverse, multicultural and multidisciplinary atmosphere. If you were at LASA this year, share your experiences about the panels (especially borderlands-themed sessions) in the comments below!

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