Book and Journal Reviews

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

Cover

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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From the Bookshelf: Reséndez – A Land So Strange

I have been posting on my own website and blog, http://www.bwrensink.org, and when relevant to borderlands history I will begin cross-posting here.  Here is the most recent relevant post.

From the Bookshelf
Periodic musings on books I like.

Only once in my life as a historian has a book recommendation given to a friend actually turned out well. It was a couple of years ago, and a good friend of mine asked that I suggest a book he could give his father for Christmas.

I recommended the following:

Andrés Reséndez, A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca
(New York: Basic Books, 2007)

I had just assigned the book for an undergraduate course on the pre-1900 U.S. West and students ate it up. I loved Reséndez’s much-praised first book, Changing National Identities at the Frontier: Texas and New Mexico, 1800-1850, but it was a much denser academic study that I probably wouldn’t suggest as casual reading to my friend or his father.

A Land So Strange, however, is one of those rare titles that:

  1. Covers a fascinating topic. The sub-subtitle tells it all: “The Extraordinary Tale of a Shipwrecked Spaniard Who Walked Across America in the Sixteenth Century.”
  2. Is well-written in engaging prose.
  3. Is well-researched.

Points 2 and 3 are the real kickers for suggesting books to friends and family. There are plenty of amazing academic books that won’t appeal to general readers. Likewise, there are plenty of popular books that don’t quite stack up as “academic” well-researched scholarship. When people ask for suggestions, as a historian I can’t give them a popular title that is based on shoddy scholarship. But, I know that giving them a well-research, but dense, tome won’t serve any better a purpose. A Land So Strange was a perfect fit. And, from what I hear – his father loved it! Continue reading

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Thoughts on The Bridge and the Borderlands

On July 10, FX premiered its new crime drama, The Bridge, which takes place in the Juarez/El Paso region. Three of our bloggers offer their thoughts on the inaugural episode.  What were your thoughts on the premier?

Tim Bowman

Juárez is a city that many Americans seem to have a real problem with.  In some respects this problem is well earned. Some Americans are probably unaware that the drug cartels were already a major problem even before the uptick in violence that occurred after Felipe Calderón’s election in 2006.  Others have undoubtedly missed the brutal rash of femicides committed against young factory workers since the 1990s. Finally, the Juárez with which many concerned American liberals are familiar is that of a big city and its maquiladoras, which at this point need no introduction. Continue reading

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Review of: Unspeakable Violence: Remapping U.S. and Mexican National Imaginaries

Unspeakable Violence: Remapping U.S. and Mexican National Imaginaries

Nicole M. Guidotti-Hernández, Duke University Press 2011

In Unspeakable Violence: Remapping U.S. and Mexican National Imaginaries, Nicole M. Guidotti-Hernández forcefully argues, “…violence forms the foundations of national histories and subjectivity….”  To demonstrate this, she examines four historical flashpoints: the 1851 lynching of a Mexican woman in a California mining town, the Camp Grant Indian Massacre of 1871, the erasures of racialized and sexualized violence in South Texas in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the Yaqui Indian wars of 1880-1910. In the five chapters of the book (two are dedicated to the Yaquis) Guidotti-Hernández takes each of these historical flashpoints and interrogates them, showing first how they have been minimalized and erased from national histories. She then offers new analyses of these somewhat familiar incidents, illuminating how violence creates the nation-state – both Mexican and U.S. – in the context of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

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Borderlands History Blog Turns 1

On January 26, 2012, Borderlands History Blog went live. We look forward to more and better content in this next year. Thank you for reading and for your support. If you have news, announcements, or might be interested in guest blogging with us, please drop us an email at borderlandshistory@gmail.com.  Though our focus is on North American borderlands history, we’d love to present more from other geographic and methodological perspectives, so if you have some ideas, please drop us a line.

Please follow us on twitter, @BorderlandsHistLike us on Facebook, and don’t fail to share links to our posts via the Twitter and Facebook buttons below each post.

Here are some highlights from our first year. If you missed commenting on one of these the first time around, please feel free to leave a comment and restart the conversation!  Continue reading

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Book Review: Barrios to Burbs: The Making of the Mexican American Middle Class by Jody Agius Vallejo

Vallejo, Jody Agius. Barrios to Burbs: The Making of the Mexican American Middle Class. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012.

Barack Obama’s 2012 electoral victory highlighted many things about the American electorate, perhaps most notably the growing power of Mexican-American voters. The influence of these voters might someday send shockwaves through the American political system and, some might say, has the potential to turn some deeply red states blue (or, at least, a shade of blue). Sadly, scholars have devoted precious little time to studying this increasingly important demographic. In her insightful new book, Barrios to Burbs, sociologist Jody Aquis Vallejo argues that even “the majority of research on the Mexican-American population in the United States unintentionally contributes to the idea that Mexican Americans [are a mostly impoverished and marginalized people] by focusing on poor and unauthorized workers…who remain in disadvantaged or working-class ethnic communities” (2). Her book seeks, in part, to offer a corrective to a heavily unbalanced scholarly literature. Continue reading

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Review of War on the Gulf Coast: The Spanish Fight against William Augustus Bowles

I recently published a review of War on the Gulf Coast: The Spanish Fight against William Augustus Bowles on H-Borderlands.  I thought my review of Gilbert C. Din’s book might be interesting to some of our readers here.

During his presidential address to the 2011 Louisiana Historical Association meeting, Gilbert C. Din described a long series of chance encounters and events that led to the “accidental Louisiana historian” he is today. Din’s unintended journey started as a student at the University of California, Berkeley, where he began his training in Latin American historiography, but was uninterested in historian Herbert E. Bolton’s borderlands. Continue reading

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Don Carlos Fuentes, 1928-2012

Don Carlos Fuentes, 1928-2012

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