Bridging National Borders in North America: Transnational and Comparative Histories
Kopinak, Kathryn, Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies
Benjamin H. Johnson and Andrew R. Graybill, eds. Bridging National Borders in North America: Transnational and Comparative Histories Durham: Duke University Press, 2010, x + 373 pp.
In introducing the 10 original essays in this anthology, editors Johnson and Graybill note the hesitation that historians have exhibited--in comparison to academics in other disciplines--in studying the interconnectedness of Canada, the US, and Mexico. Very often, they have tended to specialize in the history of one or another of those particular nation states rather than consider their long entangled interrelationships. This first attempt to integrate the histories of the countries located at both international US borders is thus a welcome addition to the study of larger questions in a continental context. Many of the benefits of such a comparative analysis, such as questioning normative or exceptionalist explanations, are clearly explained in the introductory first chapter, and will be useful to readers in a range of disciplines.
Part I, titled "Peoples In Between," consists of two contributions, each showing how mixed-race groups on the peripheries of all three North American nations dealt with new borders in the 19th century. Miguel Angel Gonzalez-Quiroga analyzes the history of conflict at the northeastern end of the US-Mexican border, demonstrating that even when the US and Mexico were at war and commercial exchanges were illegal, cooperative trade continued between border-oriented Mexicans, Texans, and indigenous peoples. Cross-border interdependence continued among these groups even when officially prohibited. Because they lived at the spatial periphery of their respective countries, such populations were the only suppliers for each others' needs. There was also considerable labour migration across this particular borderland, with slaves fleeing south to Mexico and hacienda servants moving north to escape debt peonage. Most of the migratory movement was from Mexico to Texas, however, due to the attraction of higher wages in the US and the needs of Texan ranch-owners for seasonal labour (e.g., sheep shearing). Texan Anglos curbed any racism or discrimination they may have felt in order to gain access to cheap Mexican labour.
Michel Hogue's chapter on the creation of a Metis borderland on the Northern Plains also shows how furs, alcohol, arms, and ammunition, moving south from Canada into the US, were traded by Metis groups to other Metis and Indians. These goods were considered contraband because the US identified the Metis as Canadian. At the same time that buffalo herds contracted and disappeared from Canada, Montana Indian agencies convinced the US army to order Metis people who had previously been allowed to settle on US reservations to leave and return to Canada, as they were considered British subjects. Thus, the Metis in Montana, perceived then as foreign aliens by the US government, were excluded from the reservations in the US. Metis who remained on US reservations were incorporated into bands as full-blooded American Indians. Unlike the US government, the Canadian government recognized the existence of the Metis as a distinct people. However, Canada would not grant them the reserves or services that Canadian Indians had a right to, thus marginalizing the Metis further.
Part II, "Environmental Control and State-Making," shows how the drawing of national borders interacted with environmental dynamics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the first of the three chapters that make up Part II, Jennifer Stelz demonstrates how the outbreak of communicable diseases in the Puget Sound area of the Pacific Northwest and the fear of contagion from native people and undesirable immigrants prompted the first attempts by the local populations to use this part of the border to prevent crossings by selected groups. Public health data and medical examinations were used to stereotype Indians as less healthy and thus more vulnerable to seasonal ailments than non-native and non-immigrant populations. …