Teaching/Professional Development

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.

 

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Philosophy for Children in the Borderlands

This week the El Paso Herald-Post online featured University of Texas at El Paso, Assistant Professor Amy Reed-Sandoval’s Philosophy for Children program. Reed-Sandoval began the Philosophy for Children program on both sides of the border in 2014; working with children in Oaxaca, Mexico, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and El Paso.

“One of the primary goals of this documentary is to explore the ways in which the social, linguistic, political and historical contexts of the Mexico-U.S. border–and particularly El Paso and Ciudad Juarez–impact the sorts of philosophical questions that local children and community partners seek to answer,” Reed-Sandoval said.

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BHIP #8: We speak to Dr. Grace Peña Delgado!

Grace Delgado (3)

Dr. Grace Peña Delgado. Photo credit: Dr. Ernesto Chávez.

 

It was a lovely morning drive to Santa Cruz, California to meet with and interview Dr. Grace Peña Delgado. Dr. Delgado is currently Associate Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of Making the Chinese Mexican: Global Migration, Exclusion, and Localism in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands (Stanford University Press: 2012) which was distinguished as a CHOICE Academic title. Additionally, she co-authored Latino Immigrants in the United States (Polity, 2012) with Ronald Mize.

Delgado has penned several noteworthy articles including her latest piece, “Border Control and Sexual Policing: White Slavery and Prostitution along the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, 1903-1910,” in the Western Historical Quarterly which garnered several awards including the Judith Lee Ridge Award for best article in history published by a member of the Western Association of Women Historians and the Bolton-Cutter Award for best article on Spanish Borderlands history. We had a wonderful conversation about her past projects and her current and future research. Delgado discussed the significance of migration, immigration, race, gender, and sexuality in the borderlands, and about the ways in which the state as a focus of study is becoming more important as we understand the history of the making of the Mexico-U.S. and the Canada-U.S. boundary.

Delgado explained how she discovered the topic for her first book Making the Chinese Mexican. Listening to her grandparents recall the expulsion of the Chinese community out of Sonora, Mexico, Delgado realized she had no historical knowledge of this event. She saw promise in this little known topic and this transnational story became the focus of her dissertation and then her book. In the end Delgado believes her manuscript is a critique of nationalism on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. While there is a strong historical understanding of the dangers of American nativism at the turn of the twentieth century, her book shows the ways in which Mexican nationalism/nativism pushed back and forged a distinct border culture along the border of Arizona and Sonora, specifically as it related to the racialization of Chinese and Mexican communities in the region.

Her current project emerged alongside her research for her first book; as she dug through archival material that discussed the exclusion of Chinese from the United States and Mexico, she discovered documents that related to white slavery and the policing of women’s bodies along the border. While her first book revealed the layers of racial justifications for national exclusion, her current research unpacks the gendered and sexualized modes of exclusion, particularly for women. Delgado believes that a deeper and more nuanced analysis of state bureaucracy will reveal the ways in which sexuality lay at the foundation of state control along the border. She contends that the state and state formation mechanisms have been absent from the ways in which we analyze identity formation and the creation of communities along the border.

We also talked about the influence of Chicano/a and Latino/a historiography and methods in her research. Delgado made clear that her next book will reclaim borderlands history as Chicano/a history and vice versa. As borderlands scholars begin to address different questions, Delgado suggests this work has not been attributed to Chicano and Chicana historiography. She explains that as scholars we have “lost track of the contributions of Chicano historiography of 40 years past and we’ve also lost track of the way in which they’ve talked about the state and state formation on the border…” Dr. Delgado explains that her next book, focusing on prostitution, white slavery, and state formation will bring Chicano/a scholarship back in conversation with borderlands historiography and firmly place Chicano/a history back in the borderlands.

I asked Delgado about how she approaches teaching U.S. history, given her research and analysis of borderlands history. “I teach histories of American empire-building through critiques of citizenship and nationalism that also include the Mexican side of the equation,” Delgado explained. She places Chicano/a history, specifically, within a hemispheric framework and teaching through a postcolonial lens. Delgado believes that these ideas as well as her tenure in Pennsylvania inspired her to write her book Latino Immigrants in the United States in order to show linkages between Chicano/a and Latino/a scholarship and experiences in the United States. Delgado states that bridging this scholarship and translating this historical knowledge for students can help them to understand the roots of collective activism against American nativism in this country.

There is so much more we discussed, specifically in regards to state building and the management and control of bodies along the border. I recommend listening to the entirety of the interview in order to truly appreciate the scope of Delgado’s work and knowledge. I could have asked Dr. Delgado a million more questions about nativism, bureaucracies, immigration and the power of the state in the borderlands. It was a pleasure to interview her and yet again confirm the importance of borderlands history in our research and teaching.

I would like to thank Dr. Delgado for inviting me to the University of California, Santa Cruz and all the Borderlands History blog audience for tuning in to this exciting interview.

Special thanks to Marko Morales for his audio editing skills and to Mike Bess for his tech support.

Categories: Interviews, Methodology, Teaching/Professional Development | 1 Comment

Rethinking Interconnectivity along the U.S.-Mexico Border

The U.S.-Mexico border is the most frequently traversed political boundary in the world. In his new book, Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, Parag Khanna, a research fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, sees cities, communication networks, and transportation infrastructure as the key points of reference to understand how global society organizes itself, today. Although his argument diminishing the importance of national boundaries is less convincing (given the legal and policing issues millions of people face), the visual (re)presentation of global population centers, and of how goods and people move across geographic space, is compelling. Recently, the Washington Post interviewed Khanna about his work. Here’s what he had to say about his map depicting the U.S.-Mexico border and the North American economy:

One of the titles I’ve given the map is ‘Think geology, not nationality.’ America is now suddenly the largest oil producer in the world. The American energy revolution is the most significant geopolitical event since the end of the Cold War, and it’s a major shift in the world’s tug of war. Ten years ago, we were all talking about how the United States and China were going to fight resource wars for Middle Eastern oil and minerals in Africa. Now, thanks to this incredible seismic revolution, we’re selling oil to China instead.

The reason this relates to North America is because, if you think about strategy in the geological terms, you realize that if the U.S., Canada and Mexico unite their energy, water, agriculture and labor resources, you create a continental empire that is more powerful than America is. I’ve not even mentioned the Arctic, which of course Canada controls half of, which is becoming a very strategic geography as the Arctic ice melts. Canada is going to potentially be the world’s largest food producer in 20-25 years as a result of climate change. And then there’s water. The southwestern United States is now in a perennial drought, and yet at the same time, perversely, is the site of the fastest growing population in the United States. So hydrological engineering may need to take place between Canada and the United States.

For more of the interview, as well as his map depicting the infrastructural linkages across the U.S.-Mexico border, follow the link.

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Bloodlines and Borderlines in Louisiana: Grappling with Cajun Identity in Borderlands History

This entry is the first in a series that Jessica will be writing for the blog about her personal and professional journey developing and researching her dissertation topic as a doctoral candidate in Borderlands history. She welcomes all constructive feedback in the comments section and hopes to spark a broader conversation about identity and regional borders over the coming months. -ed

About midway through my dissertation proposal defense, Dr. Jeff Shepherd, my dissertation chair at the University of Texas at El Paso, asked: “how does your project fit into Borderlands history.”  I was not surprised by the question, but I remained stumped for some reason and gave a canned response. His question lingered after I became ABD. How does your project fit into Borderlands history, or a problem like it, is a question on every graduate student’s mind who studies in this field.

As to why I am struggling with this question may have to do with my topic, Cajun history, in particular, Cajun identity.  Cajun history begins with the early French Acadian settlements on the tidal flats of present-day Nova Scotia.  Imperial competition grew and in 1755, the British expelled the French Acadia settlers and scattered them throughout British North America, Caribbean, South American coast, the Falkland Islands, or France.  After that, many Acadian exiles residing in France traveled to Louisiana and were welcomed under the Spanish crown hoping to increase the territory’s population. Continue reading

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CFP: SMU Dissertation Writing Workshop

Dear readers, we wanted you to know about a great upcoming opportunity for graduate students. The Clements Center at Southern Methodist University has launched a call for papers for its 11th annual Western History Dissertation Workshop. It will be held on Saturday, May 28, 2016, at the university’s satellite campus in Taos, New Mexico in conjunction with a number of partners, including the Lamar Center for the Study of Frontiers and Borders at Yale University and the Center for the Southwest at the University of New Mexico, among others.

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Graduate students who are at an advanced stage in writing their dissertations are encouraged to apply. Topics can include any aspect of the history or culture of the American West. The workshop organizers will fly five students to Taos, expenses paid, to participate and receive feedback from the group as well as senior scholars. Continue reading

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Research assistant opportunity in Texas oral history

Dear readers, we wanted to let you know that Texas Christian University and its partner institutions are looking for research assistants for an oral history project exploring African American and Latino history in Texas. It’s a paid opportunity that will take place over the summer.

Research  Assistants  (RAs)  will  be assigned to selected  field sites  in  Texas  for  eight  weeks of  full-time  oral  history fieldwork.  With  assistance  from  the project  directors,  RAs  will  contact  gatekeepers,  consultants, and  community  leaders and  then  interview  a wide  range of  activists who contributed  to  the black  and brown freedom  struggles  (broadly  defined) in their  respective cities.  RAs will  also manage and process  digital  video interview  data  to add the project  website.   Work will  begin with a  two-day  training  and workshop at  TCU  on  June  2-3, 2016;  will  continue with  fieldwork  taking  place June 6  to  July  30 (including  a retreat  around  the 4th  of  July);  and  conclude  with a  two-day  wrap-up  meeting  and data processing at TCU on August 1-2, 2016.

For more information, follow the link:

Civil Rights in Black  and  Brown: Oral History  of the  Multiracial  Freedom  Struggle  in Texas
http://crbb.tcu.edu/

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Reflections: RMCLAS 2015

The annual meeting of the Rocky Mountain Council for Latin American Studies (RMCLAS) brought scholars to Tucson, Arizona for four days of insightful conversation, networking, and professional development. This year’s conference, held April 8-11 at the Marriot on the campus of the University of Arizona, was especially beneficial for students of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

Continue reading

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