The Borderlands of the American and Canadian Wests: Essays on Regional History of the Forty-Ninth Parallel

The Borderlands of the American and Canadian Wests: Essays on Regional History of the Forty-Ninth Parallel

The Borderlands of the American and Canadian Wests: Essays on Regional History of the Forty-Ninth Parallel

The Borderlands of the American and Canadian Wests: Essays on Regional History of the Forty-Ninth Parallel

Synopsis

The Borderlands of the American and Canadian Wests is the first collection of interdisciplinary essays bringing together scholars from both sides of the forty-ninth parallel to examine life in a transboundary region. The result is a text that reveals the diversity, difficulties, and fortunes of this increasingly powerful but little-understood part of the North American West. Contributions by historians, geographers, anthropologists, and scholars of criminal justice and environmental studies provide a comprehensive picture of the history of the borderlands region of the western United States and Canada.

The Borderlands of the American and Canadian Wests is divided into six parts: Defining the Region, Colonizing the Frontier, Farming and Other Labor Interactions, the Borderlands as a Refuge in the Nineteenth Century, the Borderlands as a Refuge in the Twentieth Century, and Natural Resources and Conservation along the Border. Topics include the borderlands' environment; its aboriginal and gender history; frontier interactions and comparisons; agricultural and labor relations; tourism; the region as a refuge for Mormons, far-right groups, and Vietnam War resisters; and conservation and natural resources. These areas show how the history and geography of the borderlands region has been transboundary, multidimensional, and unique within North America.

Excerpt

No international boundary could have less physiographic reality than the forty-ninth parallel of latitude that divides the U.S. West from its Canadian counterpart. the boundary’s inception was entirely political. in 1818, British and American diplomats who had never seen the fortyninth parallel arbitrarily chose it to separate U.S. from British territory from Lake of the Woods to the Rockies. in 1846, another group of AngloAmerican diplomats extended the line west from the mountains to the Pacific. No natural feature marks this 1,300-mile political frontier; on the contrary, identical landforms extend north and south across it. If this seems obvious on the northern plains, it is equally obvious west of the Continental Divide: the rugged terrain of British Columbia is impossible to tell apart from that of Montana, Idaho, or Washington, and the desert that crosses the parallel with Okanagan River continues south from British Columbia all the way to Sonora, Mexico. So identical is the landscape on either side that historians who reprint photographs of boundary surveyors at work must take care not to reverse the negatives.

In the half century after the surveyors marked the forty-ninth parallel with eight-foot iron mileposts, however, British-Canadian nationalists rapidly invested the boundary with ideological meaning. An evolving western myth became a fundamental building block of an emerging national identity in Canada, as it did in the United States. Each myth proclaimed each country’s uniqueness and justified the conquest and dispossession of the Native peoples who lived in each West. But although the historical process that created the two Wests had been interconnected and essentially similar, Canadians and Americans told strikingly different stories about their Wests. the American narrative—so familiar that it . . .

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