Bridging National Borders in North America: Institute Schedule

The four-week seminar will be held at the Newberry from June 2-27, 2014. Sessions led by the seminar director, invited faculty, or Newberry research staff will occupy three mornings a week. These sessions also will include engagement with items from the Newberry collection. The seminar director will distribute and discuss updated bibliographies of principal works each week in order to expose participants to a wider range of scholarship than we have time to discuss. Participants will have the opportunity to meet with and discuss their interests and projects with faculty during informal brown-bag lunches and individual conferences. Afternoons and the other two days of the week will provide the opportunity for participants to engage in sustained research in the Newberry’s collection.

Participants should arrive prepared to discuss the first week’s readings, which will be made available electronically, and in a position to complete subsequent readings by the session in which they are discussed. These later readings are Alan Taylor’s The Divided Ground, Brian Delay’s The War of A Thousand Deserts, excerpts of Samuel Truett’s Fugitive Landscapes, Rachel St. John’s Line in the Sand, Kornel Chang’s Pacific Connections, Kelly Lytle-Hernandez’ Migra!, Geraldo Cadava’s Common Ground, and Claudia Sadowski-Smith’s Border Fictions.

The sessions begin with readings about the development of the field of borderlands history and about its central theoretical question—territoriality, or how the control of space shapes social relations and identity. In the first week, we will discuss some of the most widely influential essays within the field. The authors of these pieces often disagree with one another. Jeremy Adelman, Stephen Aron, and Charles Maier argue that the emergence of nation-states marked a sharp break with native and imperial spatial organization, while Juliana Barr, Michael Baud and Willem Van Schendel point to greater continuity and observe that national territoriality itself has been contestable and mutable. While some historiographic accounts (by Samuel Truett and Elliott Young and Pekka Hämäläinen and Samuel Truett) celebrate the potential of borderlands history to escape the iron cage of the nation-state, others (by Benjamin Johnson and Andrew Graybill and David Hollinger) accept the epistemological and narrative centrality of nations. Whatever the specific subject of their work, all scholars working in borderlands studies benefit from engaging directly with such questions.

This week also will feature formal introductions to the Newberry collection by three Newberry staff members: Daniel Greene, Vice President for Research and Academic Programs; James Akerman, Director of the Hermon Dunlap Smith Center for the History of Cartography; and Scott Manning Stevens, Director of the D’Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies.

The dramatic re-drawing of the continent’s map with the birth of the United States is the subject of the second week, which will include the seminar’s first invited guest, Alan Taylor (Distinguished Professor of History at UC-Davis). Taylor, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and numerous other awards, has expanded from his early work on frontier New York to write seminal treatments of North American colonial history and the entangled pasts of the Iroquois Confederation, Canada, and the United States.

Taylor will lead a discussion of his book The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution, which considers how the powerful blend of popular sovereignty, private property, and national identity that emerged from the American Revolution challenged the position that some native peoples had secured for themselves within the British Empire. These tensions embody many of the larger theoretical questions about sovereignty, identity, territory, and borders engaged in the first week. The next day, Taylor will discuss his more recent work, The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, and Indian Aliens. Although the war transformed a more permeable frontier into a boundary separating royal subjects from a Republic’s citizens, it was also a series of civil wars within native and European-American societies. The border thus highlighted one division even as it obscured others.

The second week’s final session will examine the ways in which early national territoriality did not organize society and space. Brian Delay’s The War of a Thousand Deserts: Indian Raids and the U.S.-Mexican War and portions of Samuel Truett’s Fugitive Landscapes: The Forgotten History of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands point to the ways in which Indian peoples and local landscapes proved impervious to the power of young nation-states.

Delay argues that the military might of Indian peoples shaped the course of the U.S.-Mexico War and the settlement that ended it. Years of raiding and plunder by Apache, Comanche, and other native peoples weakened Mexico’s national cohesion to the extent that northern Mexican elites sat out the war or in some cases even welcomed invasion. In the negotiations that led to the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexican officials displayed a better understanding of native power than did their American counterparts. The Americans naively accepted responsibility for stopping Indian crossing of the newly drawn border, a task that they completed only in the 1880s with extraordinary difficulty and expense. Engaging with Delay’s work will allow participants to ask: Why were borderland native groups so militarily powerful (extraordinarily so, given their numbers) and what are the implications of this power for how Mexican, U.S., and borderlands history is narrated?

Samuel Truett’s work recreates the local patterns of the economic and social landscape of the Arizona-Sonora borderlands. He demonstrates how regional elites forged transborder cultural and economic ties. Despite the international war that resulted in the drawing of the border, the leaders of American and Mexican society in this regional community saw one another as more similar than different: they were all cattlemen, entrepreneurs, and Indian fighters. Through Truett’s work, participants will ask how ostensibly international borders were actually local and regional spaces.

The seminar’s third week centers on the construction and use of borders in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We will ask: How effective were states in establishing exclusive territoriality, and what room for negotiation was there in these efforts? The use of borders by subordinated groups, particularly the enslaved people who fled across both the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada boundaries, will be the topic of our first session. The willingness of both enslaved and freed people to uproot themselves and move across international boundaries invested borders with meanings that generals, diplomats, and treaties did not anticipate. These readings explore the movement of slaves and freed people across both the Canada-U.S. and Mexico-U.S. borders and the conditions that they found after they crossed the line.

One of our guest faculty for the seminar’s third week is Rachel St. John (Associate Professor of History at New York University), author of Line in the Sand: A History of the Western U.S.-Mexico Border. Her book examines the negotiated process by which the land border between Mexico and the United States became a flexible barrier that restricted the movement of some goods, animals, and people without impeding others. Although a modern border control apparatus emerged by the 1930s, it was one shaped by residents of the borderlands as well as the demands of central states. St. John also will provide seminar participants with information about archival resources in the western United States and northern Mexico.

During the week’s final session, we will examine the ways in which Asian migration and trans-Pacific networks intersected with North America’s increasingly regulated borders. We will be joined by Kornel Chang (Assistant Professor of History at Rutgers-Camden), who will introduce the seminar participants to relevant work in Asian American and Pacific Rim history. Chang’s book Pacific Connections: The Making of the U.S.-Canadian Borderlands demonstrates how the Canada-U.S. border become more of a link than a barrier as it marked a common white and western identity rather than competing national identities. Discussing the book also will allow seminar participants to explore the ways in which North American border policing was driven by similar ideologies and efforts to manage Asian labor migrations in Australasia and Latin America. Through Chang’s work, we will ask: To what extent were North American practices and ideologies shaped by the global circulation of ideas about race, nationhood, and migration?

The seeming paradox of greater cross-border economic and cultural integration, on the one hand, and heavy policing of international migration, on the other, is the focus of the seminar’s final week. Our fourth guest, Kelly Lytle-Hernandez (Associate Professor of History at UCLA) will discuss her book Migra! A History of the U.S. Border Patrol, which traces the way that U.S. border enforcement became both more nationalized and more oriented at Mexican migrants since the Border Patrol’s 1924 inception. Why did the U.S. state, which initially patrolled its boundary with Canada with great vigor, come to focus so much of its attention on Latin American migration? What regional interests did the Border Patrol serve, and how much power did they wield in shaping its practices? In short, how national was the enforcement of American border policy? Lytle-Hernandez also will share her expertise on the Mexican state and Mexican archival resources (some of which she was instrumental in collecting and managing) that scholars can use to study Mexico’s efforts to manage migration.

Despite the enormous scholarly and press attention devoted to the kind of policing and enforcement that Lytle-Hernandez studies, in recent decades economic integration and cultural production have bound together lives across borders. In the second session of the week, guest scholar Geraldo Cadava (Assistant Professor, Department of History and Program in Latina/o Studies at Northwestern University) will lead a discussion of his book Standing on Common Ground: The Making of a Sunbelt Borderland. The book shows that cooperation rather than conflict characterized this borderland in the decades after World War II, as leading politicians and business interests in Arizona and Sonora forged cross-border economic, cultural, and political ties, much as had their predecessors in the mid-nineteenth century. Starting in the 1970s, however, the protests of Mexican-Americans, dissident Mexican students, and Indian peoples revealed the limits of this elite cross-border economic integration. Moreover, growing Anglo-American frustration with heavy illegal migration made Arizona the flashpoint of conflict over the U.S.-Mexico border in the 1990s and early twenty-first century. How did this early integration resemble ties across the U.S.-Canada border, and why did it unravel so dramatically? Cadava also will help the seminar participants discuss the ways in which the academic study of borderlands might inform discussions about contemporary border and immigration policy.

The third session of the week will pursue similar themes in the realm of culture. We will use Claudia Sadowski-Smith’s Border Fictions: Globalization, Empire, and Writing at the Boundaries of the United States to consider how fiction written by diverse authors has evoked both the connections maintained and made across borders and the ways that those connections have become increasingly fraught. Seminar participants will explore how novelists in all three countries envisioned their borders at the turn of the twenty-first century. Together, we will ask: To what extent did the fiction writers seek an escape from the increasingly policed and debated national borders?

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