Teaching/Professional Development

BHIP13: The Dr. Laura Gómez Interview

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Dr. Laura Gómez. Photo credit: Dr. Ernesto Chávez

I interviewed Laura Gómez for the Borderlands History Interview Project late last year, but had been waiting for just the right moment to release the interview. In celebration of Women’s History Month and within weeks of the 170th year anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, March was just the month.  In fact, with my co-contributors, we decided we would dedicate this week to celebrating Dr. Gómez and her scholarship.  With the recent political focus on Trump’s border wall and his venomous rhetoric against undocumented immigrants—the racially bound “Mexican menace”—Dr. Gómez’s landmark book Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race is more important now than ever.  Recently, she spoke at the University of Texas at El Paso to commemorate the second edition of her groundbreaking book and to talk with students, faculty, and community members about its significance. Last Monday, Blanca Garcia-Barron reported back about her experience at the talk for the Borderlands History Blog.  It is in the spirit of understanding the legacy of Mexican-American racialization and in celebrating the women scholars who have worked tirelessly for decades to recuperate and expose this history that I would like to present my interview with Dr. Gómez.  Her insights on race, racism, Mexican-Americans and law reveal the power of her research in the era of Trump.

Currently, Laura Gómez is Professor of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles where she teaches Civil Procedure and Criminal Law in the first-year UCLA School of Law curriculum and has taught courses in law and society and the Critical Race Studies Program in the law school’s upper-year curriculum. She received her A.B. at Harvard College in 1986, and then went on to earn a Master’s degree and Ph.D. in Sociology from Stanford University, in 1988 and 1994 respectively. As she worked toward her Ph.D., Gómez obtained a J.D. from Stanford University’s School of Law in 1992. She has written and edited several books including:  Misconceiving Mothers: Legislators, Prosecutors and the Politics of Prenatal Drug Exposure, published in 1997 by Temple University Press; Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race, first published in 2007, New York University Press. (Celebrating its 10th Anniversary NYU Press is ready to release the second Edition of the book in 2017), and Mapping “Race”: Critical Approaches to Health Disparities Research, Co- Edited (with Nancy López), published in 2013 by Rutgers University Press.  She has written numerous articles for scholarly as well as general readership about race and the law. Professor Gómez has had extensive experience outside of academia as well. As a law clerk for Judge Dorothy W. Nelson on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (1992-93) and later as a legislative aide to U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico (1996-97), Gómez’s portfolio included Central American policy, South African policy, and Armed Services (for the latter, she held a top-secret government clearance).

While Laura Gómez is the first “non-historian” I interview for the BHIP, her research has done so much to advance the work of Chicanx and Latinx historians and scholars across fields in understanding the racialization of Mexicans in the United States. Indeed, her work has been foundational in complicating the black-white racial paradigm in the U.S. and providing the history of the legal framework used to racialize Mexicans and Mexican Americans.  Her book outlined the genesis of Mexican-American racial formation beginning in the nineteenth century and has allowed for relational discussions for other Latina/o history in this country.

With her diverse academic background in law and sociology, I asked Professor Gómez how she approached her research for this book.  She explained that as she worked on her Ph.D. in sociology and her law degree concurrently, she was very much thinking about the ways in which critical race theory and the law could be applied to understanding the history of Mexican-Americans in a state like New Mexico. Gómez stressed that the questions she asked drove her to search for answers in different fields and with the support of thoughtful advisors she was able to weave together methods and theories from sociology, anthropology, law and, of course, history in order to address the overarching political scope of her study.

In many ways Manifest Destinies is about contesting and complicating established historical narratives in the United States. Describing the North-South/black-white paradigm that has characterized nineteenth century racialization, Dr. Gómez stated that in her book she sought to complicate this narrative by foregrounding the connections between the U.S. war with Mexico that started in 1846 and the tensions that led to the Civil War fifteen years later.  Gómez wanted to reorient the story of race-making in the United States to include the invasion of Mexico and the “uneven incorporation” of Mexico’s territories and its people into the United States after 1848.  Moreover, she underscored the manipulation of the narrative of westward expansion—powerfully enshrined in the ideology of Manifest Destiny—that she explained shrouds this historical moment in invisibility. One, westward expansion is depopulated, but for the white settlers coming from the east, Native communities and Mexicans are erased. Second, the violence of the war and the expropriation of land is also unceremoniously removed from history books, making westward expansion seem inevitable and ordained for white Americans.

From this historical position, Professor Gómez explained that she unraveled the thread of race-making for Mexicans in New Mexico. As conquered people, Mexicans, under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, were considered legally white. While Mexicans attempted through the courts systems to assert their legal whiteness and their federal citizenship, socially they were treated as a racial minority.  Many Mexicans sought to align themselves with whiteness—as a Spanish-speaking ethnic group— in order to contest Anglo-American claims that Mexicans were a “mongrel race.” According to Gómez, however, from a sociological vantage point, race and not ethnicity could best explain Mexican and later Mexican Americans “inequality that became rooted in the Southwest” in the years after the war.  “To describe it as ethnic is a misnomer…and that doesn’t capture the dimensions of racism and racial segregation that Mexican Americans had and continue to experience,” she said. “My project was to try to make this a conversation about racial inequality and have an open and blunt conversation about race.”

Our conversation continued from there to discuss the current situation in the United States and why the second edition of her book will be flying off the shelves.  Laura Gómez is thrilled that her book continues to be salient today—especially in the Trump era. We must “seize this moment of reactionary politics” she said, because the numbers are in our favor. Latinx are a young and growing population and we must be ready to expand our educational horizons in order to push back against this president’s agenda and the conservative forces feeding it. Her current project will certainly help with this as she is writing about the racialization of Latinx in the twenty-first century United States.

It was a fantastic conversation with Dr. Laura Gómez and I encourage our Borderlands History Interview Project audience to enjoy the entire interview via this link. Thank you again for joining us and we look forward to a new episode of BHIP soon.

Special thanks to Marko Morales for the great work with audio editing and to Mike Bess for some additional technical support.

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Call for Applications for the Jo Stewart Randel Grant

Dear readers, our blog colleague and associate director for the Center for the Study of the American West (CSAW) atWest Texas A&M University (WTAMU), Tim Bowman, wanted all of you to know about a current call for applications for its Jo Stewart Randel Grant.

Launched in October of 2016, the Center is pleased to announce the Jo Stewart Randel Grant for scholars either from WTAMU or from outside institutions who would benefit from the use of the Research Center archives at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum or the Cornette Library on the WTAMU campus. Through this grant, CSAW seeks to promote interdisciplinary scholarship on the American West.

Grants are available for amounts up to $2,000 based on the applicant’s research topic and need. Additionally, outside scholars will receive support from CSAW interns and staff with arrangements for their stay in Canyon, Texas. Grants are competitive and open to researchers in all disciplines whose research focuses on the American West.

Applications are due by April 20, 2018 and can be accessed through the following link.

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CFP: New Directions in Black Western Studies

Dear readers, a call for submissions is on going for an upcoming workshop on Black Western Studies at the 57th Annual Western Historical Association, which will be held in San Diego from November 1-4, 2017. The organizers are also planning a special issue on “New Directions in Black Western Studies” for the quarterly interdisciplinary journal, American Studies. Papers accepted for the workshop will be considered for inclusion in the special issue. 

Scholars of Borderlands studies, among other research fields, are encouraged to apply. The deadline to do so is June 30th; submit your abstract (max: 500 words) via email to Jeannete Eileen Jones, Kalenda Eaton and Michael Johnson.

From the announcement:

For both the workshop and the journal we are interested in what it means to read the North American West as a Black space with varied and deep possibilities.. By this we mean, how the concept of presenting/representing the West is informed by black identities and identity-making, rival geographies tied to black mobility, black culture, black knowledge production, black arts, and black literatures. The WHA workshop and AMSJ special issue  will fill a gap in American Studies by bringing Black Western Studies into current dialogue with other fields of American Studies that focus on the intersections between race, ethnicity, and place/geography.

For more information, follow the link.

 

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Bridging National Borders in North America

This summer an excellent series on Borderlands scholarship is planned and the organizers are looking for participants! Titled, “Bridging Borders in North America,” Benjamin Johnson at the University of Loyola Chicago is coordinating this National Endowment of the Humanities Summer Seminar for College and University Faculty. It will be held at Chicago’s Newberry Library and the team of scholars leading this series include Patricia Marroquin Norby, Julianna Barr, Kornel Chang, and Geraldo Cadava.

The seminar is scheduled to occur from July 10th to August 4th, while the deadline for applications is March 1st with notifications made at the end of that month. Also important to note: at least three spaces are reserved for non-tenure-track or adjunct faculty members!

From the seminar description:

The Newberry Library’s D’Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies will be hosting a four-week summer 2017 NEH seminar for college and university faculty that explores the history of North America’s border and borderlands. In keeping with the recent work in the field and the collection strengths of the Newberry Library, this seminar will take a broad geographic approach, framing borderlands as distinct places at particular moments in time where no single people or sovereignty imposed its will.

The organizing theme is the process of border-making. We will examine three aspects of this theme: how nation-states claiming exclusive territorial sovereignty re-drew the continent’s map; the intersection and sometimes collision of these efforts with other ways of organizing space and people; and the social and political consequences of the enforcement of national territoriality.

Two questions guide our examinations of these developments: how did diverse peoples challenge national borders, or use or alter them for their own purposes? And, how does consideration of these topics recast our understanding of the intertwined histories of indigenous peoples, Mexico, the United States, and Canada?

For more information, or to apply, follow the link

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Western History Dissertation Workshop

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is hosting the 2017 Western History Dissertation Workshop. It’s the twelfth annual gathering, which will occur from May 12-14 in Lincoln, Nebraska. It is described as a “vigorous dissertation support to advanced western history PhD students in a collegial group of 10-12 leading scholars from participating institutions across the United States.” Ideal candidates for the workshop will have already made written progress on their dissertation, expect to defend in the coming academic year, and will share a chapter with the group for feedback. Continue reading

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BHB at AHA 2017

We’ll be at the American Historical Association meeting in Denver this week and we’d like to invite you to our panel if you’re in town. Lina, Mike, Kris, and Jenny will be talking about their experience working with the blog and the role that digital humanities can play in thinking and teaching about the U.S.-Mexico border. Their roundtable will be held in room 401 of the Colorado Convention Center (Meeting Room Level) on Thursday, January 5th from 3:30-5pm. Continue reading

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From Dissertation to Book: Writing a Book Proposal

Dear readers, I’d like to introduce Dr. Lori Flores, Assistant Professor of History at SUNY Stony Brook. She has collaborated with us in the past, particularly on a great book review series from last year featuring the work of her graduate students. Now, we have the pleasure of publishing her first post for BHb, which provides some great ideas about adapting one’s work for a book proposal. Most recently, Lori authored Grounds for Dreaming: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the California Farmworker Movement, part of the Lamar Series in Western History published by Yale in 2016. -Mike

I am often asked for advice on how to navigate the transition from completing a dissertation to revising the dissertation into a book, and writing academic book proposals for publishers. Here are seven tips that might help demystify the book proposal process (disclaimer: I’m a historian, but hopefully these tips translate across disciplinary boundaries):

  • See your work with new, fresh eyes.

If you’ve just finished your dissertation, congratulations! Now set it aside for a good while. Trying to tackle dissertation-to-book revisions too soon will prevent you from seeing your graduate school-inspired language, and from knowing what needs to be tweaked, cut, or added in terms of content. Many times, you need a more distant perspective on your work in order to articulate to editors how you plan to produce a book, which is an entirely different beast in terms of framing, style, and structure. Feel free to circulate your work to valued colleagues for their input while you’re gaining that distance, and tackle other passion projects or interesting new readings in your field for some inspiration.

Continue reading

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Pedagogy Notes: Teaching North American Borderlands History Online

This is the third and final installment in our summer pedagogy series. We invite you to join the discussion in our comments section at the bottom of the post.

This past summer, I taught an upper-division/graduate readings course on North American Borderlands History online for Western New Mexico University. Teaching history online presents unique opportunities and challenges. On the one hand, digital tools as simple as LMS assignment submission systems and email provide direct lines of communication with students that don’t always exist as readily in face-to-face settings where assignment feedback can often be somewhat one sided. The challenge is that although I have more direct and interactive means of discussing assignments and course concepts with students in the online classroom, they often fail to engage those opportunities.

In order to make online teaching feel less like a correspondence course, I assign Twitter, blogging, and an online timeline platform at tiki-toki.com to engage students in unique assignments that require them to use their skills of critically analyzing and discussing the monographs, articles, and primary sources that we are working on as a class. Continue reading

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Pedagogy Notes: On Thinking about Borderlands in World History

This is the second installment in our pedagogy series. We invite you to join the discussion in our comments section at the bottom of the post.

At CIDE Región Centro, in 2014, when I started teaching my World history I course, I wanted to incorporate a Borderlands history perspective into my lectures and class discussions. Imperial frontiers is a topic that I have long found fascinating, and now given the chance, I wanted to explore it further with students. One of my favorite readings on this subject, which I assigned to students for group discussion, was Porfirio Sanz Camañes’s “Frontera, límites y espacios de confrontación en la América Hispana durante el siglo XVIII.” In it, Sanz examines the conflicts that occurred in the region of Río de la Plata before a new treaty was signed between Spain and Portugal. Sanz considers how the concept of the “frontier” and “border” evolved during the colonial period. It’s a great essay that also helped me conceive my lectures on the colonial empires in South America.

Another reading that has been very useful in conceptualizing borders and frontiers in my World history class is Nelson Eduardo Rodríguez’s “El imperio contraataca: las expediciones militares de Antonio Caballero y Góngora al Darién, 1784-1790.” Rodríguez contextualizes the Darien region of Panama as a colonial frontier where indigenous people and smugglers resisted and bedeviled settler officials who tried to subject the region to the crown’s authority. Throughout the eighteenth century, this porous “borderland” pertained and became a site Great Britain exploited to pressure the geopolitical power of their Spanish rivals in the western Caribbean.

Many of the students who I teach grew up in central Mexico and the region of the Bajío, which includes the state of Aguascalientes, where I live and work. When I’m developing my classes on New Spain, David Weber’s work, especially Bárbaros: Spaniards and Their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment, remains an important resource for writing and revising lectures. The discussion of frontiers that Weber uses really helps me to add an appreciation of “empire” as a process constructed through cultural and economic change as well as the application of violence to subject indigenous people to colonial power. In this context, I emphasize to the class the critical role that the Bajío played in facilitating the deployment of Spanish power to northern New Spain.

Likewise, Peter Sahlins’s excellent, Boundaries: The Making of France and Spain in the Pyrenees, has been very useful when I’m covering the development of nation-states. I urge students to identify the historical context of creating borders and the often bloody impact of this work. One of my favorite moments during the semester is when students really grasp the constructed and artificial character of the nation-states that we consider to be almost “timeless” monolithic entities.

Ultimately, I want to use the themes of borders and frontiers in World history to help students conceptualize the political relationships that marked the early modern world and gradually influenced the evolution of nation-states. I see it as an opportunity to connect present-day debates around borders and migration to the historical context of these issues in the colonial period. In this sense, a Borderlands history perspective has helped me to make connections across different regions and time periods in the lectures and discussions we have in the course.

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Pedagogy Notes: On Recent Books and Teaching

As many of our readers are planning for next semester’s classes this summer, we’ve decided to launch a new summer series for ideas on teaching Borderlands history and historiography. Tim is starting us out with this article today, and we hope to have additional essays on the subject as the month continues. You’re also welcome to share your own experiences or insights on Borderlands pedagogy in the comments section at the bottom of this post. -Mike

One of the most rewarding aspects of working in Borderlands history is that that the field is ever-evolving; this, however, can also be something of a problem. Given the tremendous numbers of exciting new books and articles that are published on an annual basis, it can be difficult for any historian to stay on top of all of the new contributions that scholars make to the field. One solution that I have found (and I’m certainly not alone in this) is that it is often useful to put articles and monographs on my syllabi before I have actually read them. This, of course, is inherently dangerous—what if the book or article in question doesn’t translate well to the classroom, or, what if you find the material less than satisfactory but still have to figure out a way to teach it? Inevitably, this will happen from time to time.

Having now taught both graduate and under-graduate level seminars on Borderlands history within the last year, I wanted to take the time reflect on a handful of new monographs that I have used in the classroom and to reflect a little bit on the pedagogical value of said books. Given the premium placed on space in a short blog post, I will restrict my discussion to those works that have been published since early 2015 in particular, which is somewhat problematical given the field’s constant vitality (I should also note that this list is obviously not an exhaustive one—there are many new monographs aside from the few that I will discuss here that are absolutely worth reading or assigning to students).[1] Nonetheless, the field saw a number of exciting new works in 2015 that Borderlands scholars might want to consider adding to their syllabi in the near future.

One book that I have had great recent success with is Andrew Torget’s, Seeds of Empire.[2] Torget’s book is, quite simply, a necessity for people interested in the easternmost edges of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands; given that it recounts some of the most iconic moments in early-nineteenth century Texas history, I would strongly encourage Borderlands historians who teach in Texas, in particular, to consider adopting this book. To quote Torget, Seeds of Empire shows how

[p]owerful economic and political forces swirling the north Atlantic crashed into one another…swept across the continent, and transformed Mexico’s northern borderlands into the western edge of the U.S. South…That process would, in time, redistribute power on the continent as it remade the border between the United States and Mexico, leaving both countries with enduring tensions that reverberate to this day.[3]

Importantly, these forces in question—U.S. expansion, the slavery complex, and the transatlantic cotton economy—not only shaped the eventual establishment of the U.S.-Mexico borderline, but Torget’s highlighting of these economic and political factors shows how the deployment of Borderlands analysis can fundamentally alter certain long-existing historiographical notions; in this case, Torget provides a fresh interpretation of events such as the Texas Revolution, Texas annexation and the U.S.-Mexico War, sweeping away longstanding historiographical debates such as the oftentimes anachronistic and downright silly explanations that previous generations of historians have provided for events such as the Texas Revolution.[4] Seeds of Empire thus provides a clear and compelling example of the promise of Borderlands analysis to undergraduate and graduate students alike, replete with historical events and phenomena that students will easily grasp, if they are not already entirely familiar with them (this, again, is particularly likely at Texas-based institutions, for obvious reasons).

If Seeds of Empire can successfully help students to see the usefulness of Borderlands history, other books published since 2015 highlight borderlands phenomena that have been mostly overlooked in the literature up to this point. For example, Borderlands historians have of late begun to pose a number of questions related to state power and borderlands political economies. To that end, another monograph published in 2015 that clearly and nicely illustrates the promise of Borderlands history for students is George Díaz’s, Border Contraband. Díaz’s study of smuggling in the Texas-Mexico borderlands highlights relations between the state and the local: “when governments regulated and prohibited trade on their borders,” the author writes, people consequently “subverted state and federal laws through smuggling.”[5] Furthermore, the definition of what governments consider illegal oftentimes runs in counterdistinction to what borderlanders consider wrong, thus creating a moral economy that in reality can only exist at the margins of modern nation states.

Border Contraband serves as an excellent conversation starter about the nature of the relationship between the federal government and borderlanders, along with providing a clear focus on the lived experiences of the latter. Also, this book works well in the classroom because the subject matter is, put simply, cool. A well constructed and readable book on a cool subject like smuggling will have no difficulty in piquing the interests of students in a classroom setting (this was certainly the case in my own personal experience).

One important issue related to questions of agency and the state is the reciprocal relationship between border crossing, border control and the influences of state formation on people at the margins. For a nice example that works well for the U.S.-Canada borderlands, in particular, see Michel Hogue’s, The Metis and the Medicine Line.[6] The border, in Hogue’s view, actually gave life to the Metis. Hogue refers to the 49th parallel as “the medicine line” for the Metis, meaning that it was a source of strength and collective group identity for them in the face of intrusions by the Canadian and U.S. governments. Comparatively, Hogue’s book pairs nicely with Díaz’s, given that both reflect border developments in the face of state power.

Indeed, the Metis—a group consisting of people of First Nations, Native American, and Euroamerican ancestry—emerged in Canada during the nineteenth century as a people “in-between,” which fact alone makes them a fascinating study of cross-cultural interaction (one of the many facets of Borderlands history). The Metis absorbed other groups, their material goods, and crossed the 49th parallel as an expression of group agency and self determination; crossing the border also drew out contradictions in the settler colonial projects of the United States and Canada as well as their different laws, which in turn led each nation state to assert its sovereignty over the joint borderline to greater degrees during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Metis in Hogue’s study are thus somewhat reminiscent of certain actors in Richard White’s classic, The Middle Ground, but the difference here is that these people also had a clear influence over—and, in turn, found themselves influenced by—two modern nation states. As such, The Metis and the Medicine Line is filled with questions related to identity, borders, political economy and state power—in short, this book covers some of the fundamental questions of Borderlands historiography writ large. Admittedly, Hogue’s book is a slightly more challenging read than either Torget’s or Díaz’s, but the payoff in any class about borders or borderlands is, I think, readily apparent.

Fortunately, Borderlands historians continue to tackle issues that are relevant to contemporary society: few issues are more relevant and newsworthy—especially during the vicious 2016 election cycle—than Mexican immigration (if for no other reason than the cacophony of shrill voices calling for restrictions from the Donald Trump camp). John Weber’s book, From South Texas to the Nation, traces the origins of Mexican labor exploitation throughout the twentieth century. Weber’s argument is twofold: first, he argues that Anglos and ethnic Mexicans fashioned an agricultural empire in early twentieth-century South Texas; and, secondly, he argues that this agricultural empire served as a laboratory of sorts for other employers across the United States, who copied the “South Texas model of labor relations” in order to exploit workers and pad their own profit margins.

The usefulness of Weber’s construction, of course, is that it puts on full display connections between the border and Mexican immigration with which students are more than familiar. Borderlands history thus is shown to have clear and deep contemporary relevance in this particular case. Weber’s book is also a good reminder of the value of smart Borderlands history on twentieth-century topics; in my case, students responded well to the book and saw connections between scholarship and current affairs. A few of my students, in fact, were comfortable and inspired enough to speak up during class discussions about their own experiences being undocumented immigrants.

Ultimately, the greatest challenge that any Borderlands historian will face over the course of her or his career is staying on top of the literature; nonetheless, a flexible approach that incorporates as many of the latest articles and monographs as possible not only allows one to keep reading, but it also helps convey the conceptual shifts that the field constantly experiences. But most importantly, these four books illuminate some central conceptual concerns in Borderlands history that students, simply put, must understand, including but not limited to the importance of transatlantic political and social economies; community-level political or moral economies in the borderlands and their relationships to the nation state; the reciprocal relationship between border making and the foundation of individual or group identity; and finally, the borderlands as a human laboratory for racial and labor exploitation.

All of the above concepts are crucial to understanding some of the latest insights that Borderlands history has to offer. I sincerely hope that some readers will consider using these books in classes during the upcoming year (or years). I would also like to invite a little bit of dialogue here: readers who have utilized the above-mentioned books are welcome to respond in the comments section of this post about their own experiences in using them. Also, what recent titles have you used in your courses that you would recommend to others in the field? History, at its best, is a conversation—let’s have one!

NOTES

[1] For just a few examples, see, Alicia M. Dewey, Pesos and Dollars: Entrepreneurs in the Texas-Mexico Borderlands, 1880-1940 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2014); Kornel Chang, Pacific Connections: The Making of the U.S.-Canadian Borderlands (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012); and, Geraldo Cadava, Standing on Common Ground: The Making of a Sunbelt Borderland (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012).

[2] Andrew Torget, Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800-1850 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

[3] Ibid., 3.

[4] Many of these are covered in an excellent book by historian James Crisp. For more, see, James Crisp, Sleuthing the Alamo: Davy Crockett’s Last Stand and Other Mysteries of the Texas Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

[5] George T. Díaz, Border Contraband: A History of Smuggling across the Rio Grande (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015), 1.

 

Categories: Teaching/Professional Development | 2 Comments

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