Author Archives: Guest

BOOK REVIEW: Border Patrol Nation

In today’s latest guest post, we’re excited to feature the work of Terry Maccarrone! Terry is a Master’s candidate in history at Stony Brook. His areas of interest are wide-ranging but tend to focus on European and Asian history, international relations, and theories of nationalism and state building.

Miller, Todd. Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security. San Francisco: City Lights Publishers, 2014.

Todd Miller’s journalistic examination of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s divisions of Customs & Border Protection (CPB) and Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) operates from a noticeable anti-establishment perspective bias, disapproving of post-9/11 immigration-related policies instituted by the U.S. government. In his on-the-ground accounts of encounters with CPB and ICE that are disturbing at best, Miller offers some readers an emotional, provocative look at a flawed immigration (and immigration control) system, and gives others who would not initially be inclined to object to U.S. governmental policies a shock to their systems.


Throughout the book, Miller portrays the CPB and ICE as pseudo-Fascist thugs, part of a neo-Borderland Security-Industrial Complex that works to overstate the immigrant border threat, keep detention center beds filled, and reap the federal budget dollar bonanza. Unfortunately, the phraseology he uses in his works evokes images of blind, order-following Nazi Storm Troopers and indoctrinated Hitler Youth, rather than a more balanced investigation of CPB and ICE offices, agents, and policies. Miller succeeds, however, in eliciting an emotional response from the reader through his depictions of the abuse suffered by migrant victims at the hands of these agencies. His interviews with victims, advocates, and officials are powerful, but the book would have been more well-rounded with more counterevidence that might have defended the agencies’ actions or rationales. This is a criticism, however, that some might find more applicable to a strictly academic study rather than one journalist’s purposefully provocative take on the current border crisis.

Structurally, the book is well composed, and discusses both the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders for those interested in comparing the two regions. A chapter on the Haiti-Dominican Republic border attempts to analyze the overreach of the CPB into foreign states—and communicate Miller’s objection to North American meddling in the affairs of other states—but some readers may find this chapter tangential or out of place. Overall, though, Miller succeeds in offering a thought-provoking book that compels its readers—no matter their political viewpoint—to delve further into the case studies and arguments raised therein about the legal and human consequences of post-9/11 security concerns.

Categories: Book and Journal Reviews | 1 Comment

The Lives of Others: Refugees, Crisis, and National Identity in Europe’s Borderlands

In today’s guest post, Danielle Smith, Interim Director of the Center for International Studies at Georgia Southern University writes about the recent history of Europe’s borderlands in the context of the on-going refugee crisis. Danielle’s research interests cover memory and identity constructions in transitional societies, especially focusing on Europe. 

Quickly skimming the international press coverage from a week ago yields headlines that flattered Angela Merkel and the German government for their openness and incredible dedication to taking humanitarian action in the face of a seemingly overwhelming number of asylum-seeking refugees entering Europe. The Economist went so far to praise Chancellor Merkel’s “brave, decisive, and right” leadership on the issue as a sea change from years of “cautiously incremental decision-making.” This global eagerness to praise the German government’s actions glossed over – as anyone who has followed the state’s relationship with its minority populations can predict – the internal derision and push-back from nativist and nationalist groups.

This time the rhetoric was ignited by the arrival of refugees in numbers larger than predicted, and served to magnify far-right, right, and even some centrist party fears about safety, security, and the fate of Germany as a nation. To these groups, Germany’s overwhelming burden stems from the inability and unwillingness of other European Union states to take on their fair share of refugees, as determined a quota recently set by the European Commission. Nationalist rhetoric contextualizes this crisis as further weakening Germany economically and culturally. On September 13, the German government announced its intention to reverse previous pledges and close its southern borders with Austria by 5pm, thus temporarily exiting the Schengen Area. These chaotic and vacillating decisions represent far larger than a single domestic or foreign policy action by the state of Germany. It does, rather, symbolize decades of unresolved issues related to the development of a supra-national European identity and the role of state and national borders that stubbornly remain in conflict with the idea of “Europe” as an identity space.

An important feature in the creation of identities and nations are borderlands, representing a set of boundaries where people attempt to define the beginning and ending of “otherness,” a task that can only be achieved in the idealistic self-delineating of national identities. On the contrary, borderlands are often classified as frontiers because they represent a co-mingling of identities along politically designated boundaries. These complicated situations suffer from a variety of conflicting responses related to the proper conceptualization for imagining these landscapes and dividing national groups, ranging from attempted cultural integration, to forced assimilation, to outbreaks of violent ethnic chauvinism. For the EU, the Schengen Agreement originated as a remedy for divisive centripetal forces which produce nationalist center-seeking and “othering” at defined borders.

In large geographic states, people have the ability to physically move away from borderlands to the center and escape the constant pressure of and disentangle themselves from the immediacy of these otherness questions. Pursuing nation-states counters the purpose and goals of developing a European Union of ever closely tied states. Fostering borderless mobility between states serves to confer the conception of a state to the larger territory of Europe, especially as comprised by those states that agree to and abide by the terms of Schengen. This is an important point as the classical definition of a state does include the presence of a permanent population. Borderless mobility, then, enables heterogeneity amongst nations formerly confined to specific spaces and eliminates inclusion/exclusion dynamics by erasing borders that foster such practices. Ideally, no European whose nationality originates within the Schengen Area can be an “other,” and these national identities become combined into the ideal of “European.” Continue reading

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Book Review: Borderland on the Isthmus: Race, Culture, and the Struggle for the Canal Zone

We’re excited to present this guest post by Gregory Lella, a PhD student in the History department at the State University of New York at Stonybrook. His main research interest is internal law enforcement and incarceration within the U.S. military, particularly in enclaves, bases, and facilities located outside of the United States. He is interested in how the military’s parallel culture and legal system functioned in the context of the carceral state.

Donoghue, Michael. Borderland on the Isthmus: Race, Culture, and the Struggle for the Canal Zone. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2014.

Michael Donoghue’s Borderland on the Isthmus is an ambitious attempt to chronicle the social history of the Panama Canal Zone using the lens of borderlands history. Focusing on the years between 1903 and 1999, Donoghue produces a study of identity, culture, race, gender, and sexuality that accomplishes many of its objectives but in some moments falls short of its challenging goals.


Donoghue studies the Canal Zone as a noncontiguous borderland—or a borderland geographically disconnected from a larger imperial entity—and he structures his chapters thematically rather than chronologically, with each focusing on a different group of people or the complications of a particular identity. Though this decision results sometimes in confusion for the reader—several subheadings and broad jumps between different topics can be disorienting—his analyses of race relations in the Panama Canal Zone and the relations between civilians (Zonians) and the military are insightful. When it comes to analyzing gender relations in and around this borderland, however, Donoghue places far more emphasis on the history of sex and prostitution than gender relations on the whole. The book’s tendency to focus on spectacular and shocking stories centering on sex—for instance, the first chapter’s opening anecdote about American GIs being fellated through a border fence by Panamanian prostitutes—only works if the author successfully uses these stories to illustrate a larger, deeper argument. Some of the book’s stories are loosely connected by theme but the reader is left wishing at times that the author made stronger, more coherent arguments to follow. Continue reading

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Book Review: Ottoman-Iranian Borderlands: Making a Boundary, 1843-1914

We’re pleased to feature a new book review by Masoud (Ahmad) Ariankhoo on Borderlands History blog, today! Ahmad is a Ph.D. student in Stony Brook University’s Department of History. He is interested in the history of tolerance with a focus on the Medieval Sufi traditions of Persia. He is now working on a collection of letters from a High Middle Ages Sufi master to tease out attitudes to religious plurality.

Ates, Sabri. Ottoman-Iranian Borderlands: Making a Boundary, 1843-1914. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013, 350 pp.

Sabri Ates’s The Ottoman-Iranian Borderlands is an extensive historical study of “an ancient interacting frontier” between two rival powers of the Middle East that only concluded “days before World War I” (1, 317). Ates centers his analysis on forgotten or neglected facets of a borderland that was constantly contested, re-imagined and reshaped by various players over several centuries. The book breaks away from the unidirectional approach of examining the center’s effects on the periphery and instead sheds light on the influence of borderlanders on those in power and the making of the border itself.

          ottoman iranian borderlands

Regarding his terminology, Ates points out that he uses “borderland, border, and frontier interchangeably” which may draw critique from borderlands historians as each term holds a specific meaning all its own (8). The author, however, demonstrates that he is fully aware of these distinctions by giving priority to the term “borderland” in his description of the contested region between the Ottomans’ and Iranians’ territories. He also does not refer to borders as impenetrable barriers in which the mobility of humans is completely contained but rather believes that the process towards establishing a defined border exhibits a “decrease in the porosity of the frontier as a filter” (197). Ates’s particular approach is significant since it puts his work in line with the global trend towards a more multilateral understanding of borders and borderlands and is also one of the first scholarly works that addresses the border interactions in the Middle East through the lens of borderlands methodology

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Book Review: Smuggler Nation: How Illicit Trade Made America

Today’s guest blogger, David Purificato, is a Ph.D. student at the Department of History, SUNY at Stony Brook University, we are excited to feature his book review on Borderlands History! David is interested in nineteenth century antebellum American cultural, social, and domestic history, with a focus in material culture and the history of the book.  He is currently conducting preliminary dissertation research by looking at backgrounds in nineteenth century illustrations and Fashion Plates to better understand how the book as an object functioned in the American parlor.   

Smuggler Nation: How Illicit Trade Made America. By Peter Andreas, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. 355 pp. Illustrations, notes, index. Paperback, $19.95).

Peter Andreas’s Smuggler Nation examines North America’s long relationship to smuggling and the nation’s history of illegal trade from the colonial period to the twenty-first century. He argues that federal attempts to stop illicit “cross border economic flows” to and away from national borders have “defined and shaped” the United States, and ultimately created the modern American police state (2). Asserting that today’s appeals for border control suffer from “historical amnesia” and the belief in the myth that the U.S. ever had secure borders, Andreas looks for a long and deep history of the clandestine to demonstrate how the United States’ development has always been tied to the practice of smuggling (3).

Rooftop Smuggler Nation

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Editorial: “What´s In a Name? The Anxiety of Identity on the Borderlands” by James Starling

James Starling is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History and Philosophy at the University of Texas Pan-American in Edinburg, Texas. He has also served as a lecturer at the University of Texas-El Paso and New Mexico State University. Starling graduated with a PhD in Borderlands History from the UTEP in 2012, where he completed his dissertation, “The Bonds of a Common Faith: Catholicism, Marriage and the Making of Borders in Nineteenth-Century Paso del Norte,” under the direction of Cheryl Martin. Starling’s research interests include family life, religion, and gender in the colonial and nineteenth-century Borderlands, and his next work will be a study of interfaith and interethnic marriage in Paso del Norte and South Texas during the U.S.-Mexico War.

“What´s In a Name? The Anxiety of Identity on the Borderlands”

In recent times, the naming of two very different entities, a minor league baseball team and a new university, provoked spirited discussions over identity in two Texas Borderlands communities, El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley.[1] In both places, arguments over names reveal some of the anxieties over identity and image that many residents of the region express during this time of heated anti-immigrant rhetoric and debates over the future demographic landscape of the United States. Continue reading

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Oxford to Freeze Chair in the History of Latin America

From H-LatAm:

Dear colleagues,

As you may know, Oxford University has decided to ‘freeze’ the Chair
in the History of Latin America when Alan Knight retires at the end of
2013, which means that it will not be advertised and the post will in
effect remain vacant for the foreseeable future and possibly be
eliminated. I have drafted a letter of protest, copied below. If you
would like to support this protest, please email me with your name and
affiliation, and I will add them to the letter. I hope to forward the
letter, with as many signatures as possible, in a couple of weeks time
to the Oxford VC, the head of the Humanities Division, and the head of
History Faculty. Possibly also to the THES and Guardian. Continue reading

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“War Along the Border” Panel Recap @Texas Tech

Borderlands History is pleased to host this recap of the War Along the Border panel by panelist and author Miguel Levario. 

The Teaching Diversity Across the Curriculum: Open Teaching Concept initiative at Texas Tech University hosted a panel featuring War Along the Border editor Dr. Arnoldo De León, historian of Mexico, Dr. John Klingemann who contributed a chapter to the volume titled “‘The Population is Overwhelmingly Mexican; Most of it is in Sympathy with the Revolution…’, Mexico’s Revolution of 1910 and the Tejano Community in the Big Bend,” and author of Militarizing the Border: When Mexicans Became the Enemy Dr. Miguel A. Levario to discuss the historical context of today’s “hot topic” issues of immigration, border security, and violence through the lens of De León’s award-winning edited volume, War Along the Border: The Mexican Revolution and Tejano Communities. The session was part of a two-week series of continuing dialogue and co-curricular activities on the Texas Tech campus centered on the larger-theme of the presidential and congressional elections. Continue reading

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Arizona, Race, and Mormon Political Identity

Borderlands History is pleased to host this piece from David G., a PhD candidate at Texas Christian University, who is writing his dissertation on Wounded Knee in American memory. It is cross posted from The Juvenile Instructor, an academic blog on Mormon history which David G., our own Jared T., and others founded in 2007.

In recent years, historians have looked beyond Utah’s borders to Arizona as a fruitful place to explore the dynamics of race, gender, and class among Mormons in the American West. Two works that have appeared of late include Mormons as prominent actors in Arizona’s history, Daniel J. Herman’s Hell on the Range: A Story of Honor, Conscience, and the American West (2010) and Katherine Benton-Cohen’s Borderline Americans: Racial Division and Labor War in the Arizona Borderlands (2011). Continue reading

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