Academic journal article Journal of the Early Republic

Understanding Boundaries in the Early Republic

Academic journal article Journal of the Early Republic

Understanding Boundaries in the Early Republic

Article excerpt

Editors' note: The two essays that constitute this little symposium engage some of the more challenging analytical and narrative strategies employed today by historians doing comparative or "transnational" history, namely: point of view, scale, cultural construction, and material reality. At first glance these essays appear unrelated, separated as they are by two-thirds of a continent, several decades of time, language barriers, and colonial cultural traditions. Yet their first iterations occurred together on a panel at the Western Historical Association, where they sparked an enthusiastic discussion of the pleasures-and perils-of crafting cross-boundary explanations. Critics, of course, noticed the ways in which such treatments almost always distort things brought together for purposes of comparison. Admirers (often the same persons) found it energizing to think of borderlands defined by common stories even in the process of becoming bordered lands set off from one another by the consequences of those very stories. Something fluid and intriguing emerged as these two case studies sought to compare, not events but the process of boundary definition and transformation. Potential insights grow even more satisfying as one finds the right scale for observation and locates the relevant points of view. In Taylor's Niagara borderland we watch a "middle ground" disappear beneath the crushing effects of border lines, cultural constructs that find, through enforcement, material tangibility. Resendez's bordered Mexican Far North, on the other hand, dissolves into a borderland when the new regime relaxes trade restrictions against the Americans, who then begin a commercial invasion that will result, eventually, in redrawn borders after all. …

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