Book and Journal Reviews

From the Bookshelf: Linking the Histories of Slavery – North America and Its Borderlands

Linking the Histories of Slavery: North America and Its Borderlands
Edited by Bonnie Martin and James F. Brooks

(cross-posted at bwrensink.org)

Students and scholars of the North American Borderlands of a certain vintage will surely have read James F. Brooks’ Captives and Cousins. In that seminal work Brooks used the framework of slavery, raiding, and kinship to discern order in the seeming chaos of the colonial Spanish-American borderlands. This topic of slavery is enjoying renewed (and much deserved) interest and again serves as a useful framework to understand the region’s history. Unfree labor – in all of its forms – rise as an essential, but oft overlooked, component in what drove borderlands histories. At times, it held the region together, at times it drove it apart. If the present anthology signals a new wave of monograph-length studies, the field is prepped for growth. The popularity of Andrés Reséndez’s new (hemispheric) The Other Slavery: The Untold Story of Indian Enslavement in America also signals that readers are ready to grapple with this important subject.

The anthology grew out workshops jointly hosted by the Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University, and the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe. Those institutions deserve praise for the expenditure of considerable funds and energies to conceptualize, execute such programming and to publish its results. In the throws of undertaking a similar workshop/anthology myself for the BYU Charles Redd Center for Western Studies, I know it is no small undertaking. The potential payout, however, is immense. In this case, their hard work definitely paid off!

The volume is divided into 3 parts.

  • Part I, “Links to Early Slavery” includes two essay that link familiar contexts of African slavery in the east with indigenous forms of slavery and some of their integration with commercial slave worlds in the east.
  • Part II, “Links to Expanding Slave Networks,” moves beyond the initial interfacing of indigenous and Euro-American slaving practices/networks/commerce, to investigate extensive connections between these worlds. 6 chapters range from California to the American South, and along the southern borderlands from the southwest to Texas to Cuba – three struck me in the following ways.
    • Paul Conrad’s work explore “An Apache Diaspora to Cuba” may prove the most astounding – demonstrating how the breadth of Spanish colonial enterprises could result in captives being traded off the American mainland. The potential integrating of southwest borderlands and Atlantic world slave networks is intriguing. Considering Cuba, I immediately turned to Jace Weaver’s The Red Atlantic: American Indigenes and the Making of the Modern World, 1000-1927, to see how much slavery was considered there – a bit, not enough. Likewise, I love how Conrad unmoors us from the mainland. I felt similar excitement at being pulled into indigenous maritime experiences by Joshua Reid’s The Sea is My Country and Andrew Lipman’s The Saltwater Frontier. Conrad does not dwell much upon the extra-continental aspect or intrigue of his story, but being jarred from the familiar Apacheria where my previous readings of Apaches and slaving in the SW caused pause and encouraged me to set aside the assumptions of that familiar world. Perhaps, there was a historical experience here I truly knew nothing about (as did Reid and Lipman’s work). This is at the foundation of why Borderlands history proves so endlessly fascinating – it constantly confronts us with unfamiliar historical worlds and contexts.
    • Boyd Cothran’s work on the Upper Klamath region treats us to a glimpse at the inner working of indigenous economic, political, and diplomatic worlds. Klamaths adapted existing slave traditions to new opportunities afforded by Gold Rush developments. There is nuance here too often lacking when we consider indigenous actors – deliberate economic decision-making and political acumen. Cothran is currently working on a wonderful new project, and his Remembering the Modoc War was wonderful, but I do wish he would take this chapter and expand it into a full monograph.
    • Natale Zappia explores economic networks within the inland SW – trade and slave networks expand from inland California into Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, with Indians both slaving and being slaved. This aligns with Zappia’s Traders and Raidersa much needed contribution. Those inland California, SW, and Great Basin indigenous worlds – the Colorado Basin – are in need of more work, one of many geographic backwaters that too few people investigate.
  • Part III, “Links to Legacies of Slavery” warrants a full anthology in and of itself. The three chapters explore cultural memory of slavery in New Mexico, Twentieth Century Relocation, and Twenty-First Century sex slavery. The latter two were particularly hard hitting
    • Sarah Deer links the trauma of dislocation via boarding school and relocation programs to increased risk and occurrence of sex trafficking and exploitation of Native women. I was pleased to find that this work was included in a broader collections of essays she published in 2015, The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America. Building further, Melissa Farley explores the fraught circumstances of contemporary sexual exploitation and prostitution (legal and illegal). These two final essays deliver such a gut-punch, reminding us that the evils and horrors of history are still very much alive today. Too few of our investigations into the past succeed in drawing attention to the oft-dire present

Much of this volume unfolds in traditional southern “borderlands” worlds, but there is some variance in geography and themes that link the borderlands to other context. I would like to see more of this. The preponderance of southern focus perpetuates familiar narratives while other possible locations for the study of unfree indigenous labor are passed over. Cothran and Zappia’s California treatments introduce some new regions. However, what of the northern borderlands? What of the Great Plains, Pacific Northwest, Canada? Benjamin Madley recently published an article in the Pacific Historical Review that conceptualizes slavery in more nuanced terms – “unfree” labor. (See Benjamin Madley, “Unholy Traffic in Human Blood and Souls”Systems of California Indian Servitude under U.S. Rule.” Pacific Historical Review 83 (November 2014): 626-667). There is a rich field to be plowed here – the various forms of “slavery” or “unfree” labor in indigenous North America (too little Canada in a book on “North America”!). Perhaps with this and other new work, historians of the North American West and indigenous peoples will pause to consider how systems of unfree labor may actually be a part of stories they are telling, but hadn’t thought to consider them.

Much thanks to James Brooks for mailing me a copy of this book to review and to the hard work of its contributors. Borderlands, West, indigenous, and other scholars should all take note of this anthology and start googling around for concurrent or upcoming work by its authors.

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Book Review: Lovewell’s Fight: War, Death, and Memory in Borderland New England

Dear readers, we have a new guest post from Matthew M. Montelione, received his M.A. in History from Stony Brook University in December 2014. His ongoing research centers on Suffolk County in the American Revolution, specifically the local experiences of Loyalists on eastern Long Island. -Mike

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In a sweeping and engaging narrative, Robert E. Cray has contributed the next great slice of northeastern North American borderlands scholarship. In Lovewell’s Fight: War, death, and memory in Borderland New England (2014), Cray strikes a poignant and often understudied chord in early American history. Lovewell’s Fight focuses on inconspicuous white-Indian boundaries in New England (mainly Massachusetts—or what is now New Hampshire) in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Cray deserves high praise for combing through scarce archival evidence, and for producing a concise history that highlights war and its legacy in the minds of borderlands peoples who experienced it, or were affected by it thereafter. He is especially concerned with backcountry militia Captain John Lovewell’s fatal expedition into Abenaki territory in 1725, and the “fragmentation after battle” that has rarely been examined using a borderlands lens. Cray’s work “belongs to that rare category of military encounters in which defeat transcends an opponent’s victory to don the mantle of legend.”[i]

Like Richard White in The Middle Ground: Indians, empires, and republics in the Great Lakes region, 1650-1815 (1991), and Alan Taylor in The Divided Ground: Indians, settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution (2007), Cray uses diverse human actors as justification for a borderlands region. Like a detective, Cray rediscovers long forgotten memories of particularly brutal early eighteenth century Anglo-Indian warfare and notes that roles of power, for both groups, were highly malleable in the New England borderlands. While Cray risks being scrutinized for emphasizing white motives and memories as opposed to their native counterparts—in general, in opposition to Taylor—this is likely due to the lack of surviving documents, if any were written at all, left by this particular Abenaki group in the 1720s.[ii]

Cray’s Massachusetts frontiersmen saw “Community ties and military rank dissolved when men were few and exposed… to possible attackers.” Among the farmhouses in Dunstable stood “ever-present garrison houses—silent structures reminding its inhabitants of the unsettled state of borderland life.” This was an ever changing landscape, whose civilian population lived day-by-day in fear of Abenaki attacks. There was hardly any intercultural accommodation in this region, and it would be hard to label the New England war zone as a middle ground in White’s fashion. Rather, Cray nods to James H. Merrell’s disenchantment with interracial friendliness in Into the American Woods: Negotiators on the Pennsylvania Frontier (1999). While not as ominous in tone as Merrell, Lovewell’s Fight also shares with Into the American Woods a penchant for the forest. The woodlands were an unfamiliar battleground for backcountry Massachusetts settlers, and many warriors on both sides of the conflict met their fates among the trees.[iii]

Cray says something new about borderlands methodology by infusing memory into his story, to a much greater extent than historian Joseph S. Wood did in ““Build, Therefore, Your Own World”: The New England Village as Settlement Ideal” (1991), but perhaps more importantly, he speaks to blood drenched countrysides and woodlands, the contingent nature of war, and reinforces the notion of borderlands by conflict.[iv] Indeed, while this more violent facet of borderlands history has evolved since The Middle Ground, it reaches an all time high with Lovewell’s Fight. Cray reinvigorates historical inquiry into the “martial spirit” of early American players, and their motives, desires, successes, and failures shed light on what life was like in colonial America, at the fringes and beyond.[v]

Lovewell’s Fight greatly contributes to northeastern North American colonial borderlands historiography. Cray says something new about military and diplomatic history, and opens doors to future inquiries in the field. His study calls historians to reevaluate the social, political, military, and religious relationships between whites and Indians in early American history. Lovewell’s Fight speaks to the importance of military analysis, to the loss of daily life patterns due to incessant conflicts, and to an even darker facet of northeastern borderlands history.

[i] Robert E. Cray, Lovewell’s Fight: War, death, and memory in Borderland New England, (University of Massachusetts Press, 2014), 2-26.

[ii] Cray, Lovewell’s Fight, 2-26.

[iii] Cray, Lovewell’s Fight, 16-57. See also James H. Merrell, Into the American Woods: Negotiators on the Pennsylvania Frontier, (W.W. Norton & Company, 1999).

[iv] See Joseph S. Wood, ““Build, Therefore, Your Own World”: The New England Village as Settlement Ideal,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 81, No. 1, (March, 1991), 32-50. Wood tracks the imagined ideal of the New England village in American memory. While not a borderlands study per se, and certainly not in relation to Cray’s work—there are no Indians present in Wood’s article—Wood nonetheless contributes an important piece to colonial borderlands historiography, as he suggests that the general relationship between people and nature in New England constitutes a different kind of borderland. Whether consciously or not, James H. Merrell greatly elaborates on Wood’s idea of nature as a primary actor in borderlands regions in Into the American Woods.

[v] Cray, Lovewell’s Fight, 32.

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Border Medicine

Border Medicine: A Transcultural History of Mexican American Curanderismo

Brett Hendrickson (New York and London: NYU Press, 2014)

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Review by Jennifer Koshatka Seman

As students and scholars of the borderlands, we seek innovative literature and approaches to the field that can broaden not only our perspectives, but those of our students as well. Border Medicine: A Transcultural History Mexican American Curanderismo is such a book. In Border Medicine, religious studies scholar Brett Hendrickson examines the Mexican faith healing practice, curanderismo. This practice is often associated with the U.S.-Mexico borderlands because of the presence of ethnic Mexicans in this region who practice it or believe in it. Hendrickson’s study of curanderismo sheds light on another facet of the borderlands: that it is about process and hybridity, about the creation of something new… and the sometimes-unintended consequences of this.

Gloria Anzaldúa described the U.S.-Mexico borderlands as “una herida abierta,” an “open wound” created when two nations rub against each other and the less powerful one bleeds.[1] Anzaldúa also described the borderlands as a place where new, hybrid cultural practices and identities are born because of the intersection of different peoples, ideas, and cultures in this space: “And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the life blood of two worlds merging to from a third country – a border culture.”[2] In Border Medicine, Hendrickson addresses the cultural combination that created curanderismo and the ways in which it appeals to a wide audience even beyond the borderlands. He argues that although curanderismo has historically been most closely associated with Mexicans and Mexican Americans, it has always possessed a strong appeal to Anglo Americans. Hendrickson explains, “curanderismo’s intrinsic hybrid nature opens up multiple channels of convergence with other energy-based healing modalities common in American metaphysical religion” (3). Border Medicine illuminates these “channels of convergence.”

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Queer History, Spaces, and Rights on the Border

Filodiversidad (1)Friday, October 23rd the Colegio de la Frontera Norte, Cd. Juárez Campus (COLEF), hosted the “Jornada sobre diversidades sexo-genéricas: Filodiversdad.”  The event featured a press conference promoting the Cartilla LGBTTTI, a Mexican federal legal tool designed to articulate the rights of queer people and victims of sexual violence. Following the press conference, the COLEF presented an academic panel, “Diversidad sexual y derechos humanos”; a presentation of the newly published Queer Geographies; a live performance of Juarez artist, Ramón Padilla; and a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the COLEF installation of the Engendering Community Project.  The jornada serves as an excellent example of the intersection of public history, interdisciplinarity, and activism in a borderlands context.

The headliner of the event, Ana Suárez from the Comisión Ejecutiva de Atención a Víctimas, joined Alfredo Limas of the Universidad Autónoma de Cd. Juárez and event coordinator Salvador Cruz (COLEF) for the opening panel on sexual diversity and violence.  Cruz, a social scientist interested in masculinities, youth, and violence, offered a theoretical context for the event’s discussion.  Limas, whose work focuses on gendered violence in Juárez, offered a discussion of alarmingly hateful online response to media coverage of LGBT civil rights advances.  Providing a policy-based perspective on gendered violence, Suárez described the Cartilla and its function as a legal standard.  Though she emphasized that civil rights are not negotiable, she recognized the challenges LGBTQ Mexicans face and lamented that many of them feel exercising their civil rights is a far-fetched dream.

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Joining the event to promote Queer Geographies were project coordinator Lasse Lau and contributor Felipe Zúñiga-González.  Blending provocative short essays and striking photography the self-published work explores queerness, activism, and visual arts in Beirut, Tijuana, and Copenhagen.  A must-read for folks interested in queer theory, space, and sexuality, this gritty work even takes the reader cruising for sex in the bushes of a Copenhagen park and in the online chat rooms of Tijuana.  The book’s most innovative feature, “A Hands Routine,” comes in form of a folding map.  Describing a different type of clandestine rendezvous, the timeline of in-car hand holding documents Lebanese artist Omar Mismar’s everyday decisions to hide or come out.

11063580_10153179791150823_8132968282906796884_nLike Queer Geographies, the Engendering Community Project aims to celebrate the experiences of queer people in marginalized spaces, notably the border community of El Paso-Juárez.  Started over five years ago as an oral history project by the former director of women’s studies at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), Brenda Risch, Engendering Community evolved into a hugely successful public history exhibit which ran from June through September at UTEP’s Centennial Museum.  Explaining the project’s trajectory and the feminist/ethical impulse to have the project available for participants and the public on both sides of the border, J. Aaron Waggoner (this author) inaugurated the COLEF opening.  Though the exhibit will be only be available at its current location through early December, it will provide a space for ongoing conversations and organizing.

J. Aaron Waggoner is a Doctoral Candidate in History at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Categories: Book and Journal Reviews, conferences, News and Announcements | 1 Comment

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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On Comparative Methodology, My Book Manuscript, and Haake’s The State, Removal and Indigenous Peoples in the United States and Mexico

This was originally posted at www.bwrensink.org as a part of an ongoing book review series, “From the Bookshelf.”
The content is not explicitly borderlands but seems relevant to the field.

Back when I was working on my dissertation, I was put in contact with a scholar in Australia – Claudia B. Haake – as her recent monograph was relevant to my research in its content and methodology. Her book, The State, Removal and Indigenous Peoples in the United States and Mexico, 1620-2000, is a comparative treatment of the forced removals of Lenapes (Delawares) by the United States, and Yaquis by Mexico.  As 1/2 of my dissertation dealt with Yaquis crossing the U.S.-Mexican border into the United States, the related scholarship on Porfirian forced removal (enslavement, actually) of Yaquis to the Yucatan was an important backdrop for explaining the flight of Yaqui refugees to Arizona and other points north. The content of her book highlighted some very useful sources that I had yet to uncover.
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Book Review: River of Hope: Forging Identity and Nation in the Rio Grande Borderlands

Valerio-Jiménez, Omar S. River of Hope: Forging Identity and Nation in the Rio Grande Borderlands. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013. 384 pp. Paperback. $26.95

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In River of Hope: Forging Identity and Nation in the Rio Grande Borderlands, Omar S. Valerio-Jiménez offers readers an excellent study of the eastern U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. Valerio-Jiménez chronicles the history of the region beginning with the foundation of the Spanish colony of Nuevo Santander and continuing into the nineteenth century as independence transformed it into the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. The work also examines the legal, economic, and social consequences of U.S. westward expansion and the impact of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on everyday lives in the region.
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Book Review: Iron Horse Imperialism: The Southern Pacific of Mexico, 1880-1951

Lewis, Daniel. Iron Horse Imperialism: The Southern Pacific of Mexico, 1880-1951. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2007. 192 pp. Paperback. $18.95

Iron Horse Imperialism Book Cover

For Borderlands historians, Iron Horse Imperialism: The Southern Pacific of Mexico, 1880-1951 offers an exemplary study of business, politics, and society. Daniel Lewis uses the history of the SP de México as a vehicle to explore questions of identity and state formation in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Incorporated in New Jersey, for many years, managers touted the company’s U.S. identity, characterizing the enterprise within an imperialist discourse that endeavored to extend “progress” to an “uncivilized” landscape. At the time, the government of Porfirio Díaz welcomed the new line as a means to improve access to Mexico’s difficult-to-reach northwestern lands, reinforcing its control over the region. Harsh terrain and local resistance slowed construction efforts, and over the decades, the company relied on often-contentious relationships with Yaquis, Cristero rebels, and the government to complete the track from the border to Guadalajara. In particular, the Mexican Revolution challenged expansion plans, forcing the company’s powerful U.S. parent to pour millions of dollars into the subsidiary’s operations to repair damage the conflict inflicted.

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Book Review: The Civilizing Machine: A Cultural History of Mexican Railroads, 1876-1910

Matthews, Michael. The Civilizing Machine: A Cultural History of Mexican Railroads, 1876-1910. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014. 340 pp. Paperback. $40 

Michael Matthews examines the cultural representations of railroads in the Mexican press, articulating their significance to popular society and state formation during the Porfiriato. The Civilizing Machine: A Cultural History of Mexican Railroads, 1876-1910 delves into the writings and imagery of newspapers and magazines loyal and opposed to the regime of Porfirio Díaz. Matthews argues that rival political factions often shared much common ground discursively when characterizing railroads and locomotive travel as harbingers of modernity. Few disagreed that the iron horse embodied notions of “order and progress” poised to deliver Mexico to the club of “modern” nations. Notable differences arose, however, in the ways print outlets portrayed the railroad as an aspect of government policy during this period. For example, Díaz’s supporters used public commemorations when opening new railway stations to stage the national government’s political power and technical prowess. In contrast, opponents cited locomotive accidents and labor abuses committed by foreign-owned railroad companies as manifestations of government ineptitude and preferential treatment given to Americans and Europeans. Although rarely rejecting the technology in toto as bad for the nation, critics instead used the railroad as a foil to appraise the regime without running afoul of state censors.

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