Book and Journal Reviews

Book Review: Globalizing Borderlands Studies in Europe and North America

Globalizing Borderlands Studies in Europe and North America. John W.I. Lee and Michael North, editors. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2016. Pp. vii, 271. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $60.00 Hardcover.

Globalizing Borderlands Studies in Europe and North America is as ambitious as it is unwieldy. The editors, John W.I. Lee and Michael North, have organized a diverse group of authors whose work spans a broad span of time from late antiquity to the mid-20th century, common era. Contributors consider multiple theoretical perspectives of the theme: conceptual borderlands, religious and cultural borderlands, imperial and medieval borderlands, indigenous borderlands, and medical borderlands. They also examine how communities often forged identity in contrast to their neighbors. Spatial relations, generally, is a critical theme throughout the volume.

Put simply, there is a lot going on in this text. Many of the authors reference one another’s work, which helps to bridge the analytical focus of each case study. This is especially true of the Europeanist scholars in Globalizing Borderlands Studies who represent over half of the chapters present. When the book is focused on that part of the world, especially the Baltic Sea Region (of which there are four chapters dedicated), the authors make interesting observations about how distinct communities interacted. For instance, Manja Olschowski analyzes friars of the Cistercian religious order fought to protect their community’s rights vis-à-vis local Christian authorities and powerbrokers in the 12th and 13th centuries. She focuses on monasteries’ economic activities; they produced wine and traded in salt to provide the order with income. The friars interacted with local merchants and, in some cases, helped to build new markets for the sale of regional goods. Their financial success, however, could bring them into conflict with secular rulers who threatened Cistercians who left the grounds of their monasteries. This rivalry produced, Olschowski argues, micro-level borders, where religious statutes protect friars on their estates, but faced uncertain political and social landscapes once they ventured into local towns.

Olschowski’s work contrasts with the chapter Kord-Henning Uber’s chapter, wherein he consideres the religious rivalries that affected the Duchy of Courland (located in modern-day Latvia) during the 17th and 18th centuries.  consider the Duchy of Courland, which existed in modern-day Latvia. The dukes who ruled this region had attempted, but failed, to homogenize the religious identity of the population: Lutherans, Calvinists, Catholics, Orthodox, and others, including smaller groups of Jewish people and some pagans maintained their distinct communal identities. Drawing on work in earlier chapters by Elizabeth DePalma Digeser and Greg Fisher and Alexander Drost, Uber finds that Courland functioned as a religious borderland, which carried political consequences as no single group, including the ruling elites, successfully consolidated power to the detriment of local rivals.

Returning to Digeser (whose chapter opens the volume), her examines the figure of Origen, the early Christian writer and philosopher, considering the condemnation he experienced after death among Hellenic and Christian communities in the third and sixth centuries as a kind of conceptual borderlands. It is an inventive use; Disgeser argues that Origen occupied a type of philosophical frontier among two groups of people who were in the process of defining their identities in contrast to one another. She also points to the possibilities this research provides for future collaboration, however, in this chapter, the borderlands discussion of Origen’s place in late antiquity lacks needed development. The concept, although really requiring greater development, proves influential to authors in subsequent chapters in Globalizing Borderlands Studies.

Fisher and Drost, for instance, examine interactions among societies in the eastern Mediterranean and North African world in late antiquity, studying Romans, Berbers, and Arabs in spatial terms influenced by Richard White’s middle ground and related concepts. They find commonalities with Digeser in how religious and social ideas interacted among frontier communities. The chapter concludes with an examination of Germanic tribes, noting how they were influenced by and internalized Roman structures of power compared to Berbers and pre-Islam Arabs. Moreover, in framing the significant of their study, Fisher and Drost emphasize that many of the challenges (ideological, spatial) related to the exercise of power in the Mediterranean world and North Africa in late antiquity offer students of modern geopolitics much to consider.

Following a chronological structure, after the contributions by Digeser, Fisher and Drost, and Olschowski, Globalizing Borderlands Studies pivots to the “New World” examining the colonial frontier in Maine in wartime during the late seventeenth century. Ann Marie Plane is interested in the relationships that local residents crafted amid the hostilities of King Philip’s War, which pitted English and indigenous communities against one another with considerable loss of life and property. Plane draws on Sam Truett’s work to contextualize the legacy of violent frontier encounters, as well as Digeser’s conceptual borderlands for understanding the long-term impact armed conflict has on identity formation and historical memory among subsequent generations. She emphasizes the point in her conclusion that scholars should resist a “desire for tidy closure” when studying the consequences of cross-border violence. It is an interesting study, but at the same time, its location (like an island in the sea) can be lost among the numerous chapters on Europe in this section of the book.

In the next chapter, Stefan Herfurth describes the history of Swedish Pomerania following the Thirty Year’s War, emphasizing how the region on the southern cost of the Baltic Sea existed as cultural and political cross-roads. Under Swedish rule, but specifically a property of the Swedish crown, Pomerania was a “bridgehead” for Sweden in northern Europe and the Holy Roman Empire. Over time, as Russia grew in power, diminishing Swedish influence after the Great Northern War, Pomerania’s identity also shifted. This change became more pronounced when the region came under the control of Prussia in the early 19th century. It solidified a new political reality. At the same time, however, the region’s inhabitants nurtured a local identity that was neither fully Swedish, nor fully German, highlighting the borderlands essence of Pomerania during this period.

Uber’s chapter follows, and then the volume returns to North America with Clinton F. Smith’s brief chapter considering native borderlands and indigenous power. He urges historians of Borderlands studies to continue to reorient their studies of native power away from frameworks that have long been influenced by notions of European colonialism. Turner’s east-west focus, as well as Bolton’s consideration of north-south spatial relationships ultimately returned to the European-style nation-state as the primary regional, historical actor. Smith notes that more recent work, especially Pekka Hämäläinen’s Comanche Empire place native actors at the center of the narrative, but also return a focus on native-European interactions, rather than prioritizing indigenous power as the primary actor in defining spatial relationships. It is here that Smith draws on work examining the Lakota of the northern Great Plains. The Lakota sought to dominate the Missouri river region, pushing out other indigenous rivals, and control trade through force if necessary. For decades the Lakota functioned as a regional power that defined its own spatial relations vis-à-vis its neighbors. At the end of this brief theoretical chapter, Smith tries to incorporate Digeser’s and Fisher and Drost’s theoretical perspectives, but the attempt feels tacked on, leaving much to be desired for how borderlands can be conceptualized across distinct regions and centuries.

After Smith, the volume moves to the U.S.-Mexico borderlands during the nineteenth and early-to-mid twentieth centuries. Verónica Castillo-Muñoz examines regional development of Baja California from 1870 to 1912, which became a zone of significant U.S. investment in Mexico. The commercial growth, supported by Governor Estabán Cantú, who also benefited from the border states robust vice trade, had significant demographic impacts, displacing indigenous communities under the guise of land colonization that brought in new immigrant workers by the turn of the century. Her work examines these interactions influenced by White’s notion of the “middle ground” as distinct groups of people negotiated spatial relationships in order to survive a changing political landscape.

Subsequently, Gabriela Soto Laveaga explores state power and the creation of sanitation and health regimes in Mexico during the early-to-mid twentieth century. She notes that these programs were a priority for the new government that came to power after the Mexican Revolution with the goal of modernizing infrastructure and projecting notions of progress to citizens and foreign observers. During the 1930s to the 1950s, the period Soto Laveaga considers, medical students and professionals played critical roles in spear-heading public initiatives that engaged with poor rural communities, arguing for better infrastructure and complaining about a lack of state-provided resources. Her work not only covers the border, but also examines coastal states, such as Veracruz; her findings align with other scholarship on post-revolutionary social and economic development in twentieth century Mexico.

With these chapters on the U.S.-Mexico border region, the challenges of the ambitious scope that the editors and authors are trying to achieve in Globalizing Borderlands Studies come back to the fore. For instance, Castillo-Muñoz and Soto Laveaga hardly engage with the other work present in this volume (although brief mention in made). That is not necessarily a detriment as both chapters offer cogent analysis of their topics and add to the literature on economic development and public health. But it does cause this reader to question: is it necessary for specialists of the US-Mexico borderlands of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to be in conversation with borderlands historians of late antiquity in the Mediterranean world North Africa and the Baltic Sea Middle Ages? Perhaps so, but the regional divides are not well addressed. The interaction among scholars falls along discernable geographic lines. This volume offers much for European specialists to consider, but less so for scholars of North America. The editors go to great lengths to build bridges that almost, but do not quite, reach across divides in the field of Borderlands studies.

The volume’s final case study returns to the Baltic Sea Region to examine cross-border petty trade among populations in Belarus and Lithuania. Olga Sasunkevich uses her subject to theorize broadly on how borders are conceptualized and operate. She quotes Digeser to describe the physical borders as “artificial dividers.” (237) Building on this notion, Sasunkevich draws on other scholars of European borderlands, including Henk van Houtum, Olivier Kramsch and Wolfgang Zierhofer to articulate how state power transform borders into filters of exclusion and inclusion; where state actors attempt to impose certain social and economic limits on flows of people and goods. In the historical context of Europe in the 1990s as communist rule came undone, and as the European Union evolved to become the dominate transnational framework in the region, these points find purchase. Sasunkevich concludes with an observation that will be familiar to Borderlands scholar: “it is not the borders themselves but rather border regimes and the control they implement that differentiate between people and prescribe individuals’ positions in social hierarchies on both local and global levels.” (245)

In the brief conclusion, written by Drost and North, the authors summarize the volume’s key analytical points and look to the horizon, identifying where the field may develop in coming years. They write: “Traditional descriptions of geographical and metaphorical borderlands in Europe and North America have mainly referred to a borderland as an entity defined by borders that exist outside human agency or are primarily defined by institutional structures.” Their observation came as a surprise to this reader who can think of numerous scholars, including Katherine Benton-Cohen, Geraldo L. Cadava, Monica Perales, Samuel Truett, Alexandra Stern, among others, who are engaging themes of human agency in their work on the U.S.-Mexico border. In short, this innovative type work is already well underway in the field. Drost and North posit that the theoretical concept of borderlands as treated in this volume has applicability in other border regions across the world (understandable) and calls on more work to be done to create “new explanatory models.” Again, quite understandable. Hopefully, scholars will take up the call.

Globalizing Borderlands Studies has a wide focus, but it is necessarily a first step in broadening the discussion of borders in Europe and North America. Nevertheless, the volume strains under this ambition. It strives to break new theoretical ground, but in doing so, reveals the significant challenges that remain. The decision to organize the volume chronologically serves to mix the regional focus but does not draw much additional analytical insight; it is easy for the reader to identify which authors are interested in one another’s scholarship. The conceptual divides in the field remain clear and present.

Ultimately, this volume presents an interesting collection of case studies that hint at a future for the field. Much work is needed, both in the archive and in developing the theoretical framework, before the goal of “globalizing” Borderlands studies can be achieved as these editors and authors propose.

 

Michael K. Bess

Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas

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Book Review: Native but Foreign

Rensink, Brenden W. Native but Foreign: Indigenous Immigrants and Refugees in the North American Borderlands. College Station: Texas A&M University, 2018. pp. 300. Illustrated. $38.00 Hardcover.

A victim of the wickedness of a few men, whose imposture was favored by their origin, and recent domination over the country; a foreigner in my native land; could I be expected stoically to endure their outrages and insults? Crushed by sorrow, convinced that my death alone would satisfy my enemies, I sought for a shelter amongst those against whom I had fought; I separated from my country, parents, family, relatives and friends, and what was more, from the institutions, on behalf of which I had drawn my sword, with an earnest wish to see Texas free and happy. –Juan N. Seguín, 1858

Juan Nepomuceno Seguín certainly knew what it felt like to be “native but foreign.” Scion of the famous Seguín family of San Antonio, Juan worked alongside his father, Erasmo, as “cultural brokers”—to borrow the phrase from historian Raúl Ramos—who sought to mitigate differences between settlers in Stephen F. Austin’s colony and the newly independent Mexican government during the 1820s. Seguín went on to prove himself loyal to the Euroamerican settlers by signing the Texas Declaration of Independence in 1836. Nonetheless, after serving as alcalde of San Antonio, Seguín fell victim to the growing Anglo-American distrust of ethnic Mexicans during the 1840s, eventually fleeing across the Río Grande into Mexico. Although Seguín would later find himself back in Texas, he, like many other ethnic Mexicans, embodied his self-described status of being a “foreigner in my native land.” Mexican Americans were clearly a colonized people.

Much could be said for the hundreds of thousands of Native Americans across the larger U.S. West, who found themselves increasingly marginalized by Americans over the course of the nineteenth century as they sought to hold onto their own homelands. As Brenden W. Rensink argues in his compelling new book, Native but Foreign: Indigenous Immigrants and Refugees in North American Borderlands, however, historians should not overlook Natives who fled into the United States from the neighboring developing nations of Canada and Mexico around the turn of the twentieth century. Rensink’s book is comparative in nature. Over the course of about 221 pages, the author poses the following question: how did Yaquis, who historically originated in Mexico, and Chippewas and Crees, who crossed the U.S.-Canada border into Montana, prevail upon federal officials to recognize them as indigenous groups who belonged in the United States? Moreover, what does placing these histories in conversation with one another tell us about borders, migration, and belonging in modern nation-states?

Rensink begins by examining the long histories of contact, exchange and expansion in each of the three groups’ histories prior to their respective establishments of transnational presences in North America’s borderlands. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Crees and Chippewas exhibited similar migratory patterns into what later became the U.S. state of Montana. Crees, for example, followed an extensive trading sphere by the early nineteenth century that took them throughout Saskatchewan and Alberta in Canada, down to the northwest of Lake Superior, into the Pembina region along the forty-ninth parallel, and southwest to the Missouri River in modern-day North Dakota. Chippewas followed similar migratory patterns. As such, by the 1830s both groups engaged in the fur trade with various Euroamerican traders all along the line that would later become the U.S.-Canada border. Contemporaneously in the far Southwest, Yaquis remained an unconquered people in the Sonoran Desert and Yaqui River Valley. Yaquis took advantage of the relatively unpoliced Sonoran borderlands to wander north in order to escape Spanish and Mexican intrusions; eventually, Yaquis found themselves living on both sides of what Mexican as well as U.S. officials would later negotiate as the modern national borderline. As Rensink states, “arbitrary lines that went across ancient Native landscapes ascribed new realities that all had to negotiate” (37).

Negotiating borderlines during the nineteenth century oftentimes meant facing an evolving prejudice in both Montana and Arizona. For Crees, the fur trade’s collapse in the 1870s led to a devaluation of Cree contributions to Montana’s economic development. Rensink traces how federal attitudes toward Crees transformed from relative acceptance to considering them a nuisance by the 1880s. Anglo Montanans became frustrated with Indigenous border crossing, issuing various cries to strengthen the line. Contrastingly, Yaqui labor was an asset that industrial developers sought out in the Sonora-Arizona borderlands, so a semblance of tolerance for Yaquis seems to have persisted for some time. In other words, prejudice could be muted against some Indigenous based upon economic or political expediency.

Either way, Indigenous people became “foreign” refugees or immigrants, which is the subject of part two of the book. Yaquis fled violence across the border during Mexico’s Porfiriato (1876-1911), a time period when Mexico’s federal government, led by dictator Porifirio Díaz, swept many natives to the margins—either through extermination, deportation, or enslavement—while characterizing them “as the antithesis to reform and progress” (57). In chapter four, Rensink chronicles a similar set of circumstances with the Crees in Montana. Crees fled a wave of state violence in backlash to Louis Riel’s rebellion (the Northwest Rebellion of 1885), finding neither popular nor official support after arriving in Montana. Thus, by the turn of the twentieth century, we see similar tales of displacement, transborder movement into the United States, and lack of belonging in both northern and southern borderlands spaces.

Parts three and four of the book are where Rensink’s comparative analysis really starts to bear fruit. Rather than examining isolated cases—like how the Plains Métis became “American” by choosing to stay in Montana after the Northwest Rebellion, as other scholars have previously done—Rensink’s comparison of how the Crees and Chippewas in the north and the Yaquis in the south struggled to carve out homelands in the United States displays how these processes are contingent upon how dynamic histories play out in specific borderlands spaces. Transnational Crees, for example, exhibited desires to take out U.S. citizenship as early as the turn of the twentieth century, even when the Canadian government expressed a willingness to accept them in lieu of any level of tolerance at the local level in Montana. After 1908, though, Crees and Chippewas gained important allies in Progressive Era Montana, such as former state legislator Frank Linderman and his friend and newspaper publisher William Bole, who successfully lobbied the federal government to the point of President Woodrow Wilson signing a bill that created the Fort Assiniboine Reservation in September of 1916.

The process of claiming belonging took much longer for Yaquis in the Southwest. Yaqui refugees may have crossed the border to great relief during the Mexican Revolution’s many tumults, where they established strings of communities that reflected the establishment of a new Yaquimi in Arizona. Nonetheless, employment in agriculture and mining, which replaced steady employment by railroad companies during the earlier part of the twentieth century, dried up by the 1940s and 50s in the face of increased mechanization. As Rensink chronicles in chapter seven, though, their legal presence and belonging always remained in question in Arizona during the first half of the twentieth century while they played these indispensable economic roles. This, of course, is a typically American story—certain “foreign” groups are desired for their labor alone. Still, the public performance of Yaqui culture through elements like religious ceremonies helped assert their presence and belonging. It wasn’t until the creation of the Pascua Yaqui Association (PYA) in 1963 with the help of Representative Morris Udall and the famed Arizona anthropologist Edward Spicer that Yaquis found a way forward at the federal level. Finally, U.S. President Jimmy Carter signed a pair of bills into law in 1978 that effectively recognized the Pascua Yaqui Tribe at the federal level, given that PYA and non-PYA Yaquis enrolled in short order. New hurdles lay in the future, though, such as exerting greater control over land, asserting political sovereignty, and passing a tribal constitution (the latter only occurring in 1988).

As Rensink concludes, “Yaquis consistently adjusted to new identities that allowed them to survive in borderlands on their own terms” (217). Such has been the case for any group seeking to prove its own legal validity (and, by implication, equality) to the maturing nation-state since its inception during the late-nineteenth century. Rensink’s book displays how border crossing has “entailed new contests and evolving identities for these peoples” over time (219). Indeed. With the rise of neo-nationalism in the western world during the 2010s—whose most relevant iteration here is perhaps U.S. President Donald Trump’s ongoing quest for a “big, beautiful wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border—these questions of border-crossing, claims to belonging and gaining recognition from the nation-state will continue to play out in modern borderlands for some time to come. Rensink’s Native but Foreign is a timely book that will help reinforce the humanity and lived experiences of people seeking shelter and crossing into a nation that is supposed to be the greatest democracy on Earth.

Tim Bowman

West Texas A&M University

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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

lovewell

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)

9781479846320_Full

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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Categories: Book and Journal Reviews, Methodology | 1 Comment

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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