I am wary of historical interpretations that wrap things up into too neat of a package. The modern world is not simple and I am unconvinced by scholarship that tries to present historical events as simple. Like the present, history is messy. And – that’s why I love it.
Thus, I am always keeping my eye open for historical events, persons and case studies or contemporary happenings and news items that complicate overly-simplified narratives. I like finding things that go against the grain and force scholars to pause and reconsider their assumptions about a topic. My current book project, for instance, takes the familiar narrative of indigenous peoples crossing borders out of the United States and into Mexico and Canada, turns it around and compares two groups of Native peoples who crossed in the opposite direction – into the United States. Engaging in these kinds of counterintuitive projects may not change our broader conclusions, but they will be better informed by possible counter-narratives and complicating factors. Continue reading
In my current position at the University of Nebraska at Kearney I have the opportunity to direct graduate reading seminars. One of the best parts of directing these seminars is drawing up the required reading lists. In past seminars on the American West, 20th Century West, Native American History and other topics I am always careful to insert a book or two with borderlands or transnational foci.
Thus, when I was given the option to direct a couple seminars over the summer on whatever topics I wanted – I immediately proposed a full seminar on “American Borderlands.” I had a great group of students and reveled in the chance to build the reading list. For those considering building similar courses, here are the books we worked through. Continue reading
The 52nd Annual Conference of the Western History Association will be held in Denver, CO from October 4-7. The conference theme this year is “Boundary Makers and Border Crossers,” so as you can imagine there are plenty of great borderlands panels to attend. Here is a quick rundown of panels relevant to our collective borderlands interests (I put this together quickly and surely missed some – please add them in a comment). The list represents panel titles. Some of these feature entire panels on Borderlands and Transnational history, others are more broadly defined by contain a single paper or two on relevant borderlands topics. Indeed, if you define “borderlands” or transnational history broadly – a great majority of the program features scholarship that examines environmental, cultural, religious, intellectual, social or other types of boundaries and historical divides. For details on presenters and paper titles, see the full program at http://issuu.com/westernhistoryassociation/docs/52nd_wha_2012_denver_program_for_web:
Friday, October 5th
- Marking Territory: Representation, Arbitration, and Demarcation on the U.S.-Mexico Border
- Women, Families, and State Politics in the U.S. West and Mexico Continue reading
Brenden Rensink, Ph.D.
Visiting Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska at Kearney
I will just come out and say it – I want more borderlands historians to engage in comparative work, to integrate U.S.-Mexican, U.S.-Canadian and countless other transnational histories into new groundbreaking scholarship. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.
Transnational and borderlands history is complex. It requires mastering historiographies, narratives, and archival materials from multiple political entities – historic empires and nation-states, contemporary international, national, state- or local-level polities – and potentially in multiple languages. Fully integrating them together is complicated. It is messy. And that is why I love [and hate] it so much. At an AHA panel honoring the late David J. Weber (Southern Methodist University), Professor Steven Hackel (UC-Riverside) shared a quote from Dr. Weber in which he Continue reading