Book gems of 2016, Part 6

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on World War I and World War II, science, culture, and literature.

IMG_1422

Summer is upon us, and the season of leisure is the perfect time for new stories, characters, ideas, and adventures. Stillness of Heart concludes its occasional series of critical recommendations, from Civil War battle histories to memoirs, and from intellectual histories to photobooks almost as beautiful as the natural world they celebrate.

Read Part 1 of this 2016 series here and subsequent essays in this series here.

Finally … a brief look at some of the best works on World War I and World War II, science, culture, and literature.

David M. Lubin’s Grand Illusions: American Art and the First World War (Oxford University Press, 304 pp., $31.96) challenges us to appreciate how the trauma of war on individuals and on society as a whole has a powerful effect on how that society and its most creative minds express themselves through artwork. Political statement, illustration of shattered psyches, celebrations of victory and glory, reflections of societies that will never be the same again — the wartime and postwar motivations for beautiful and horrifying works analyzed in Lubin’s book were as varied and complex as the artists themselves. This valuable book reviews the work of famous artists and introduces us to previously unknown artists we must know about to fully understand the full spectrum of artwork from the Great War era.

Benjamin E. Jones’s Eisenhower’s Guerillas: The Jedburghs, theMaquis, and the Liberation of France (Oxford University Press, 336 pp., $23.96) reminds us that as the D-Day invaders floated off-shore and the paratroopers floated down from the sky, an Allied insurgency distracted, disrupted, or destroyed German operations in the hours and days before the invasion. This stunning book collects the stories of the daring teams that accepted incredible risks and executed impossible missions in the struggle to free France from Nazi domination.

Theresa Kaminski’s Angels of the Underground: The American Women who Resisted the Japanese in the Philippines in World War II (Oxford University Press, 512 pp., $27.95) offers a story of patriotism and bravery in the midst of brutal conquest. Four women contributed in different and priceless ways to the resistance efforts, the return of the American forces, and the final defeat of the Japanese invaders. Kaminski places their efforts in the larger historical context of the military operations, Japanese treatment of American prisoners, and the place of the Philippines in the overall calculus of Pacific strategy.

J. Samuel Walker’s Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs against Japan (University of North Carolina Press, 168 pp., $25), reissued this fall in a third edition, analyzes the contemporary debates over the use of the weapon, evaluates the intelligence available to the Truman administration officials at the time the decision had to be made, and includes fresh information from recently opened Japanese archives. The work masterfully illustrates the incredibly complicated considerations made by the Americans and the Japanese as the world — and warfare itself — stepped into a new era.

Miri Shefer-Mossensohn’s Science among the Ottomans: The Cultural Creation and Exchange of Knowledge (University of Texas Press, 262 pp., $55) pushes back against classic Western assumptions that the Ottoman Empire lost its cultural ambitions and interest in technological advancements — two key aspects of an intellectually vibrant entity — throughout the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, thereby dooming itself to (and justifying) European domination after World War I. Far from it, she argues, for the Ottomans retained their intellectual passion for new solutions to old problems, particularly in the field of communications, when, as early as the 1870s, they were one of the world’s leaders in telegraph technology. For centuries, the Ottoman Empire deliberately and nobly strove to create and maintain a rich creative and artistic culture, championing new inventions, embracing and improving innovations from other regions, and building on the mountainous achievements inherited from Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Safavids, and other great civilizations. This work refocuses academic attention on those accomplishments and challenges Western scholars and students to grant Ottoman civilization the credit and respect it richly deserves.

Apollo Pilot: The Memoir of Astronaut Donn Eisele, edited by Francis French (University of Nebraska Press, 192 pp., $24.95), promises to be an incredible story from an incredible individual. Eisele was selected for the Apollo 1 mission, the first in a series of manned missions to the moon. A training injury suddenly grounded him, and then news came that a fire killed the Apollo 1 crew, including his replacement. The disaster paralyzed NASA’s lunar program, and it was up to the next Apollo crew, including Eisele, to face down dual challenges: restart the Apollo mission program and also recover Americans’ faith in the grand endeavor. Apollo 7 did both. Eisele’s memoir of scientific triumph and personal tragedy brings a new dimension to the literature of space flight and of the heroes that won the space race.

Allan Metcalf’s From Skedaddle to Selfie: Words of the Generations (Oxford University Press, 232 pp., $19.95) promises to be a smart and light-hearted stroll through the history of American vernacular and the societies, cultural fads, fashions, and events that inspired or were defined by them. Metcalf’s work is a vital reminder that the stories behind common and colorful language, ranging from the Revolutionary era to today, are complicated but crucial elements of our nation’s history and cannot be underestimated.

Reading Debra Hamel’s Reading Herodotus: A Guided Tour through the Wild Boars, Dancing Suitors, and Crazy Tyrants of The History (Johns Hopkins University Press, 360 pp., $29.95) is like sitting on a beach near Bodrum, formerly Halicarnassus, with Hamel next to you, the classic book open on your lap, as she illuminates every incredible and sexy story — just the way Herodotus hoped we would enjoy his work.

James A. Michener’s Legacy (Penguin Random House, 144 pp., $16) re-appears on the literary stage with a new paperback edition. The 1987 novel centers on Norman Starr, loosely modeled on Iran-Contra figure Oliver North, as he prepares to answer for his actions before a congressional committee. He looks for moral strength in his ancestry, and the novel unspools an incredible cast of characters ranging across American history, each having played a part in forming the democratic republic Starr’s actions may have threatened.

******

Book gems of 2016
An occasional series
Jan. 3: Antiquity, Civil War, World War II, and space
June 22: Presidents and the political world
June 29: Texas and Texas history
July 6: Latin America
July 13: Slavery and the Civil War era
July 20: World War I and II, science, culture, and literature

Book gems of 2016, Part 5

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on slavery and the U.S. Civil War era

IMG_1427

Summer is upon us, and the season of leisure is the perfect time for new stories, characters, ideas, and adventures. Throughout the next few weeks, Stillness of Heart continues its occasional series of critical recommendations, from Civil War battle histories to memoirs, and from intellectual histories to photobooks almost as beautiful as the natural world they celebrate.

Read Part 1 of this 2016 series here and subsequent essays in this series here.

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on slavery and the U.S. Civil War era

Emily West’s Enslaved Women in America: From Colonial Times to Emancipation (Rowman & Littlefield, 168 pp., $35) offers a stunning symphony of long-lost voices struggling to survive, caring for and protecting their children, and fighting to keep their communities intact. Few if any other scholars have studied slave women as deeply and broadly as West, and hopefully her work will become required reading in history and women’s studies courses throughout a nation and society that still owes them so much.

Patrick H. Breen’s The Land Shall Be Deluged in Blood: A New History of the Nat Turner Revolt (Oxford University Press, 304 pp., $23.96) recounts the fascinating story of the 1831 slave rebellion in Southhampton County, Virginia. He then analyzes whites’ reaction to the rebellion, which in some ways is even more complicated and unexpected. As mobs exacted brutal vengeance on the slave populations — guilty or not — slaveowners found themselves protecting their slaves from their own white neighbors. Breen examines the manufactured narratives the slaveholders provided to the lynch mobs and deepens our understanding of the precarious stability of the antebellum slaveholding societies.

Mark K. Christ’s Civil War Arkansas, 1863: The Battle for a State (University of Oklahoma Press, 336 pp., $19.95) offers a fascinating analysis of the campaigns for control of the strategically valuable Arkansas River Valley, which were (and still are) overshadowed by U.S. Grant’s brilliant Vicksburg operations unfolding at the same time. His work challenges scholars, students, and enthusiasts to look beyond traditional war histories and theaters and envision a far more complicated war and wartime era.

For a personal account of how the Civil War ripped apart Arkansas communities, spend some time with Torn by War: The Civil War Journal of Mary Adelia Byers, edited by Samuel R. Phillips (University of Oklahoma Press, 248 pp., $19.95). Union military forces occupied her hometown of Batesville. She witnessed unprecedented suffering. The war overturned her understanding of her place in her state and in her nation. Byers takes her place alongside Southern diarists like Mary Chesnut and Kate Stone as an important witness to the wrenching changes the war brought to the South.

Another fascinating primary source is Vicki Adams Tongate’s Another Year Finds Me in Texas: The Civil War Diary of Lucy Pier Stevens (University of Texas Press, 367 pp., $29.95). Stevens, from Ohio, found herself trapped in Texas when the war broke out. Fortunately, she channeled her concerns, observations, sense of humor, and wide-ranging interests into a diary, which is an incredible encapsulation of wartime Texas from an outsider’s perspective. It’s a Unionist memoir with an extra twist, touching on gender identities, social changes, and even political loyalties, specifically when, like Stone, Stevens grew fond of Texans.

Lone Star Unionism, Dissent, and Resistance: Other Sides of Civil War Tejas, edited by Jesus F. de la Teja (University of Oklahoma Press, 296 pp., $29.95), brings the necessary complexity to the story of Texas in the Civil War, shattering the assumption that the Confederate state was filled with Confederate loyalists. The essay anthology explores how Unionist Texans, slaves, German immigrants, Tejanos, women, and political leaders waged their own wars of independence or resistance throughout its societies and communities during and after the war.

John W. Robinson’s Los Angeles in Civil War Days, 1860-1865 (University of Oklahoma Press, 204 pp., $19.95) paints a portrait of a place starkly different from what we know today. The small California town stood in the long shadow of San Francisco, and war brought economic and social strife to the area. Robinson explores how it became a microcosm of the struggle between pro-Union and pro-secessionist forces, a battleground between different races and cultures fighting for dominance, and the site of sickness, drought, and riots.

Stephen D. Engle’s Gathering to Save a Nation: Lincoln and the Union’s War Governors (University of North Carolina Press, 624 pp., $49.95) highlights a rarely-explored perspective of the Civil War. Governors of the loyal states gathered troops for the Union armies, marshaled public support for the war effort, and calculated political support for the Lincoln administration. Engle’s work is part biography anthology, part political analysis, and part homefront history. Engle enriches all three aspects of Civil War literature and highlights relationships that were far more crucial to Union victory than historians previously understood.

Louise L. Stevenson’s Lincoln in the Atlantic World (Cambridge University Press, 283 pp., $79.99) is a valuable addition to the growing scholarship on the Civil War in a global context. Personally, it is one of the literature’s most exciting, challenging, and fascinating conversations. Stevenson considers the African and European influences on Lincoln’s growth into a “global republican,” a champion of democratic republics in a predatory world of empires and kingdoms, and the supreme warrior in that global struggle who faced the challenge of civil war and saved the future of democracy.

Laura F. Edwards’s A Legal History of the Civil War and Reconstruction: A Nation of Rights (Cambridge University Press, 226 pp., $64) reminds us that the Civil War’s greatest effect was on American law and on the redefinition of citizenship, with all the rights that came with it. But Edwards is also careful to remind us that initial improvements did not lead to ultimate success or justice. The incredible accomplishments of the war and the Reconstruction Era required sustained commitment from subsequent generations for the benefits of those triumphs to take hold. Her history is a cautionary tale for modern citizens who not only take for granted today’s freedoms but also forget how brittle those rights can be when not actively sustained and protected.

Life and Limb: Perspectives on the American Civil War, edited by David Seed, Stephen C. Kenny, and Chris Williams (Oxford University Press, 240 pp., $29.95), offers vital insight into medicine in the Civil War, one of the era’s saddest subjects. For the men and women who participated as doctors, nurses, and caretakers, the war’s truest victories were found in their patients’ and loved ones’ survival and recovery. The essays explore the evolution of medical knowledge, the way writers coped with their experiences, the way the war shaped fiction, and accounts from the patients themselves. Nothing should be more important than to highlight the primal and complete suffering any war of any era unleashes on the human experience.

******

Book gems of 2016
An occasional series
Jan. 3: Antiquity, Civil War, World War II, and space
June 22: Presidents and the political world
June 29: Texas and Texas history
July 6: Latin America
July 13: Slavery and the Civil War era
July 20: World War I and II, science, culture, and literature

Book gems of 2016, Part 4

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on Latin America.

IMG_1470

Summer is upon us, and the season of leisure is the perfect time for new stories, characters, ideas, and adventures. Throughout the next few weeks, Stillness of Heart continues its occasional series of critical recommendations, from Civil War battle histories to memoirs, and from intellectual histories to photobooks almost as beautiful as the natural world they celebrate.

Read Part 1 of this 2016 series here and subsequent essays in this series here.

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on Latin America.

Emily Berquist Soule’s The Bishop’s Utopia: Envisioning Improvement in Colonial Peru (University of Pennsylvania Press, 320 pp., $36) tells the story of an incredible intellectual and scientific endeavor: the Spanish and Indian study of the cultures, botany, agricultural, and topography of northern Peru. Directing the project was Baltasar Jaime Martinez Companon, a Spanish bishop who also added to the collection of specimens a nine-volume series of books filled with images from throughout the region and painted by the Indians themselves. He intended to use the shipment of artwork and specimens to reassure Spanish officials that his part of Peru would be prosperous and peaceful. But for modern scholars, his efforts entrusted to us a snapshot of the era’s scientific understandings, Spanish cultural biases, and Indian artistic talents.

Karoline P. Cook’s Forbidden Passages: Muslims and Moriscos in Colonial Spanish America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 288 pp., $36) is a groundbreaking examination of the symbolic and religious significance of Moriscos — Muslims who converted to Christianity — in imperial Spain and in the Spanish New World. Spain would allow only Christians with long, verifiable Christian lineages to settle in the Spanish territories, but many moriscos secretly made the journey despite the mortal danger. Cook explores how these men and women, some still practicing Islam, introduced their faith to a new world, resisted Spanish persecution, and fought for their religious and political identities in hostile Spanish courtrooms. Cook’s work reminds today’s readers that personal struggles in this land over immigration, one’s place in society, religious freedom, and identity are nothing new, and neither are the moral determinations made to protect and defend those inherent human rights.

David F. Slade’s and Jerry W. Williams’s Lima fundada by Pedro de Peralta Barnuevo (University of North Carolina Press, 648 pp., $85) promises to be a magnificent achievement. In 1732, Peralta, a poet in Spanish Peru, wrote an epic poem that championed the notion that Peru belonged to the Peruvian descendants of Spanish conquerors. It criticized an imperial power structure that advanced the Spanish-born over the Peruvian-born. He considered it one of his greatest works. Since 1732, only fragments of his masterpiece have been republished, but the entire poem was never re-issued … until now, almost three centuries later.

Rafael Rojas’s Fighting over Fidel: The New York Intellectuals and the Cuban Revolution (Princeton University Press, 312 pp., $35, translated by Carl Good) is an incredible analysis of the searing currents of political thought coursing throughout New York City’s intellectual world and of the debate over the Cuban Revolution intensified that thinking. Rojas creates a vibrant swirling galaxy populated by brilliant writers, volatile artists, ambitious politicians, and fevered revolutionaries, all fighting over the ideals and consequences of Cold War ideologies, nationalist dreams, and personal affinities and hatreds.

Jonathan Colman’s The Cuban Missile Crisis: Origins, Course and Aftermath (Oxford University Press, 256 pp., $31.96) promises a definitive history of the Crisis, based on new primary sources and wide-ranging historical research and analysis. In the light of recent developments in U.S.-Cuban relations, Colman’s work arrives at the ideal time for readers and students seeking to understand the tumultuous Cold War and post-Cold War history that casts a long shadow over that relationship and still threatens the hope of so many Americans and Cubans for a brighter future.

Cruz Miguel Ortiz Cuadra’s Eating Puerto Rico: A History of Food, Culture, and Identity (University of North Carolina Press, 408 pp., $27.95) is a classic of Puerto Rican culinary literature. It’s a virtual tour of Puerto Rican history that jumps from one essential food item to another, essentially combining them like ingredients into a complete and savory cultural meal. The framework also enables him to anchor his larger analysis of change over time, specifically how U.S. control of the island transformed how Puerto Ricans gathered, processed, and related to those foods, and what that means to Puerto Rican identity, citizenry, racial status, and economics.

For May 2017
Paulo Drinot’s and Carlos Aguirre’s The Peculiar Revolution: Rethinking the Peruvian Experiment Under Military Rule (University of Texas Press, no other information available) should be an extraordinary analysis of an extraordinary time in Cold War-era Peru. More information to come.

******

Book gems of 2016
An occasional series
Jan. 3: Antiquity, Civil War, World War II, and space
June 22: Presidents and the political world
June 29: Texas and Texas history
July 6: Latin America
July 13: Slavery and the Civil War era
July 20: World War I and II, science, culture, and literature

Book gems of 2016, Part 3

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on Texas and Texas history.

IMG_0431

Summer is upon us, and the season of leisure is the perfect time for new stories, characters, ideas, and adventures. Throughout the next few weeks, Stillness of Heart continues its occasional series of critical recommendations, from Civil War battle histories to memoirs, and from intellectual histories to photobooks almost as beautiful as the natural world they celebrate.

Read Part 1 of this 2016 series here and subsequent essays in this series here.

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on Texas and Texas history.

Jesus F. de la Teja’s Faces of Bexar: Early San Antonio and Texas (Texas A&M University Press, 240 pp., $40) offers an anthology of essays that together form a biography of one of the most significant cities in North America. San Antonio’s historic importance as a military center, source of political power, international economic hub, and cultural crown jewel is expertly explored and analyzed in this work. The book also includes a vital bibliographic essay analyzing the latest developments in Tejano historiography.

Most history students know about the Texas Revolution, but they know next to nothing about the Revolution’s birthplace. Richard B. McCaslin’s Washington on the Brazos: Cradle of the Texas Republic (Texas State Historical Association Press, 100 pp., $15.95) should be the perfect remedy for that gap in historical knowledge. When the Republic of Texas joined the United States, power and administrative authority was centralized in Austin, and Washington faded into the social and commercial background. It briefly boomed as a port town, but its economic over-reliance on steamboats left it behind as the age of railroads dawned and rail tracks bypassed the town. The Revolution’s centennial in 1936 sparked fresh interest in Texas history, and the town basked in new appreciation from restoration experts and history-loving tourists. McCaslin’s book uses the history of the town to illustrate the larger historical eras of the Texas people, their evolving values, their conflicted identities, and their beautiful multifaceted culture.

Laura Lyons McLemore contributes Adele Briscoe Looscan: Daughter of the Republic (TCU Press, 320 pp, $29.95) to the Texas Biography Series. Looscan made history in 1915 when she became the first woman elected to the presidency of the Texas State Historical Association. The scholar of Texas history made history again when she stepped down in 1925, completing the longest presidency in the Association’s history. McLemore’s biography promises the story of an important intellectual and social leader who guided and enriched historical, political, and business conversations in early twentieth-century Texas.

Timothy Paul Bowman’s Blood Oranges: Colonialism and Agriculture in the South Texas Borderlands (Texas A&M University Press, 412 pp., $43) takes an important and complicated look at the social and economic tensions burning throughout Rio Grande Valley communities in the decades following the Mexican War. Bowman illustrates a brutal twentieth-century process of converting the region from Mexican culture to Anglo-American political and economic control, from a cattle-based economy to an agricultural economy. Racially-minded Anglos built or modified the region’s governmental and legal structures to contain and suppress Mexican-American populations, particularly laborers, who were exploited as they formed the foundation of a major U.S. agricultural industry.

Mark Allan Goldberg’s Conquering Sickness: Race, Health, and Colonization in the Texas Borderlands (University of Nebraska Press, 328 pp., $60) focuses on the same region but with an earlier timeframe and a different focus. Anglo and Spanish colonizers applied their standards of health to the Native Americans and Mexicans they found in the region and subsequently determined that because their European health standards practices were superior to indigenous standards and practices, the Europeans naturally deserved to control the region and its people. They used the network of religious missions or other controlled spaces to enforce European standards on the indigenous people, and they devalued the significance of indigenous understandings of health. For the colonizers, Goldberg’s important work explains, the issue of health became one more aspect of their larger ambitions for control and of the moral calculations made to justify that control.

David G. McComb’s The City in Texas: A History (University of Texas Press, 352 pp., $35) is an authoritative and much-needed analysis of the transformation of Texas from a land of rural and agricultural communities into a constellation of metro centers dominated by glittering skyscrapers, electrical wires, highways, and suburbs. Alan Lessoff’s newest work focuses on just one city with Where Texas Meets the Sea: Corpus Christi and Its History (University of Texas Press, 368 pp., $29.95). Full disclosure: I grew up in Corpus Christi, so I’ll consider pretty much any serious history about the Sparkling City by the Sea to be interesting, at least, but Lessoff’s history is exceptional — serious yet potentially appealing to both tourists and residents, brimming with fascinating stories, and built on solid and extensive research.

Jesse Cancelmo’s Glorious Gulf of Mexico: Life Below the Blue (Texas A&M University Press, 156 pp., $30) takes us below the waves to explore 600,000 square miles of incredible landscapes, vibrant coral reefs, and more than 15,000 different species. Cancelmo wants his readers to fully appreciate the complexity, beauty, and importance of the Gulf’s ecosystems, life cycles, and species. Readers should gain a more sophisticated understanding and appreciation of how the Gulf’s treasures enrich our world and our lives.

******

Book gems of 2016
An occasional series
Jan. 3: Antiquity, Civil War, World War II, and space
June 22: Presidents and the political world
June 29: Texas and Texas history
July 6: Latin America
July 13: Slavery and the Civil War era
July 20: World War I and II, science, culture, and literature

Book gems of 2016, Part 2

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on presidents and the political world.

IMG_1778

Summer is upon us, and the season of leisure is the perfect time for new stories, characters, ideas, and adventures. Throughout the next few weeks, Stillness of Heart continues its occasional series of critical recommendations, from Civil War battle histories to memoirs, and from intellectual histories to photobooks almost as beautiful as the natural world they celebrate.

Read Part 1 of this 2016 series here and subsequent essays in this series here.

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on presidents and the political world.

Editor Edith Gelles presents Abigail Adams: Letters (Library of America, 1180 pp., $40), a stellar collection of correspondence capturing the complexity, nuances, and uncertainties of the American Republic’s earliest era and of its first generation of political and intellectual leaders. It is a tribute to her intelligence, insight, bravery, and patriotic devotion. It is best read alongside John Adams: Writings from the New Nation, 1784-1826, edited by Gordon S. Wood (Library of America, 905 pp., $40). Taken together, the books illustrate a decades-long romance between a brilliant man and woman, the intellectual and cultural forces that shaped their lives, and an inspirational example for all Americans who should be just as devoted to the enrichment of their democracy as the Adamses.

Ronald L. Feinman’s Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman & Littlefield, 274 pp., $38) grimly examines the consistent danger faced by presidential candidates when the harsh public spotlight is perverted into a bullseye on their lives. Feinman turns the historic attempts and successful murders into case studies analyzing the government’s and public’s reactions to the crimes, providing fascinating and important perspectives on a too-often understudied aspect of presidential and political history. Mel Ayton’s Plotting to Kill the President: Assassination Attempts from Washington to Hoover (University of Nebraska Press, 376 pp., $32.95) takes a broader and more casual approach to the same issues, but from a different time frame and with many more details and anecdotes. They should complement each other quite well.

Seymour Morris Jr.’s Fit for the Presidency? Winners, Losers, What-Ifs, and Also-Rans (Potomac Books, an imprint of University of Nebraska Press, 462 pp., $32.95) arrives at the perfect time, just when Americans are overwhelmed from the campaign season’s speeches, news coverage, political ads, and scandals. If it makes us feel any better, previous generations of Americans did not have it much better. Morris unfurls an amazing and very colorful tapestry of personalities, ambitions, bizarre surprises, and the raw emotions of victory and defeat. Nothing better complements or enriches presidential history than the shadow history of the people those presidents defeated.

Jefferson Cowie’s The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics (Princeton University Press, 288 pp., $27.95) promises to be a fascinating and sobering reminder that any progress toward economic equality in American society is essentially paddling against the stream of traditional social and economic inequality. A strong, centralized, pro-active federal government forcibly reordered the democratic system to better benefit the lower-class citizens, from the early 1930s to the early 1960s, and that may be what is required for today’s America. Cowie’s book is not just a smart history but a call to action for today’s citizens and political leaders, along with a warning from the past of what resulted from inaction.

Marne L. Campbell’s Making Black Los Angeles: Class, Gender, and Community, 1850-1917 (University of North Carolina Press, 246 pp., $29.95) paints an extraordinary portrait of black families from the post-Mexican War era to World War I, illustrating how they grew, endured countless forms of discrimination, and struggled to build and sustain a viable community as the town steadily grew into an important city. Women, she discovered, were key to strengthening the relationships between different classes of black communities, thereby enabling their entire community to fight for economic independence, racial expression, and, ultimately, political power.

LBJ’s Neglected Legacy: How Lyndon Johnson Reshaped Domestic Policy and Government, edited by Robert H. Wilson, Norman J. Glickman, and Laurence E. Lynn, Jr. (University of Texas Press, 493 pp., $29.95), is an excellent essay anthology examining the lasting effects of Great Society legislation on modern American society, government, and economics. As the title suggests, the contributors argue that Johnson receives too-little credit for how his ambitions and political skills built the governmental and ideological architecture shaping today’s American society and the issues over which today’s loudest debates take place.

Doreen Mattingly’s A Feminist in the White House: Midge Costanza, the Carter Years, and America’s Culture Wars (Oxford University Press, 304 pp., $23.96) reminds us that the fight for feminism and equal rights could be difficult even under Democratic presidents. Costanza challenged President Jimmy Carter to support women’s right to choose, LGBTQ rights, and gender equality. She was a bright light in a dark America desperate for an undeniable and intelligent voice in the halls of power. Mattingly’s portrait challenges today’s generations to remember the heroic efforts that lead the initial assaults in the civil rights struggles still waged today.

******

Book gems of 2016
An occasional series
Jan. 3: Antiquity, Civil War, World War II, and space
June 22: Presidents and the political world
June 29: Texas and Texas history
July 6: Latin America
July 13: Slavery and the Civil War era
July 20: World War I and II, science, culture, and literature

Book gems of 2016: Part 1

IMG_1977

As you plan your reading for 2016, consider these eight recently published or forthcoming titles. Watch for more recommendations and book reviews in the coming weeks.

ANTIQUITY
Mary Beard, classicist and author of the blog A Don’s Life, offers SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (Liveright, 608 pp., $35), a perceptive tour of the birth of Rome, the political entity, from the shadows of obscurity and its circuitous evolution into the Roman Republic. Step by step, she interrogates the traditional academic assumptions of its leaders, origin myths, and governing structures and analyzes them, often through the prisms of recent archaeological and historical discoveries, and presents a fresh and comprehensive history of Rome before its imperial era.

Richard Alston’s Rome’s Revolution: Death of the Republic and Birth of the Empire (Oxford University Press, 408 pp., $29.95) examines the chaotic and blood-soaked transition of the Roman Republic to Roman Empire. Another civil war erupted in 44 BC following the senatorial assassination of Julius Caesar, and in the end three men were left standing — Octavian, Mark Antony, and Lepidus. They agreed to share power and administer separate parts of the Roman world. Octavian governed Rome and the west. Antony took the eastern territories (basing himself in Alexandria, where he met Cleopatra), and Lepidus took the rest of Africa west of Egypt. Ultimately, however, Roman rule could not be shared, and Octavian eventually eliminated his partners, terminated the 500-year-old republic, and assumed supreme power as emperor of a new Roman Empire. Alston’s story effortlessly swings back and forth between experiences of Romans on the street and Romans in the halls (and bedrooms) of power as they all experienced, whether they realized it or not, one of the most significant political revolutions in human history.

CIVIL WAR
Simon Cameron, Abraham Lincoln’s first secretary of war, is remembered for little more than his departure under the shadow of corruption, incompetence, or intransigence. Paul Kahan’s Amiable Scoundrel: Simon Cameron, Lincoln’s Scandalous Secretary of War (University of Nebraska Press, 408 pp. $36.95) confronts the fog of historical negativity swirling around Cameron and argues that not only was Cameron a product of his time, his time was partly a product of him. Before joining Lincoln’s Cabinet — an intelligent political move on Lincoln’s part — Cameron was a political powerhouse in Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, present at the birth of the Republican Party, a key voice in formulating Northern military strategy, and an early supporter for inclusion of black Americans in the ranks of the Union forces. He witnessed, was a part of, or a target of the most important political and military debates before and during the early months of the Civil War. Kahan’s portrait of Cameron and his times reminds us to not overlook Cameron’s crucial influence and historical importance and to remember the larger political forces Lincoln needed to succeed.

As powerful men influenced historical events, even more powerful women influenced the men. Candice Shy Hooper focuses on four of these women in Lincoln’s Generals’ Wives: Four Women Who Influenced the Civil War — for Better and for Worse (Kent State University Press, 440 pp., $39.95). Jessie Fremont (wife of John C. Fremont), Nelly McClellan (wife of George B. McClellan), Ellen Sherman (wife of William T. Sherman), and Julia Grant (wife of Ulysses S. Grant) watched their husbands rise up the ranks of Union command, worried for their safety as they fought the biggest and bloodiest battles in the history of the Western Hemisphere, traveled around the war-torn country, and offered their opinions and guidance as politics and war coalesced into the same battlefield over supreme power. Hooper deftly (and amusingly) explores how the wives’ personalities and outlooks resembled those of their spouses. They viewed Lincoln either with contempt or respect. They encouraged their husbands to either undermine or support him, ultimately intensifying either their husbands’ intransigence, and thereby dooming them to removal from command, or challenging them to do better, thereby securing their husbands’ places in the pantheon of U.S. military history.

Kelly D. Mezurek’s For Their Own Cause: The 27th United States Colored Troops (Kent State University Press, 344 pp., $37.95) promises to go beyond the traditional unit history to illustrate why black Americans volunteered to fight in the Union Army, how they endured racism and unfair treatment and assignments, and what they expected from the democratic republic they had bled for and died to save. The free Ohio men that comprised the 27th USCT fought in North Carolina and Virginia, serving from April 1864 to September 1865, months after the Confederacy collapsed. They returned to Ohio determined to build better and stronger communities for their children, linked to the promises of the the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Their story further brightens the scholarly illumination of black veterans’ excruciating struggle to secure equal rights for all Americans and ultimately realize the promise of American democracy.

Richard M. Reid’s African Canadians in Union Blue: Volunteering for the Cause in the Civil War (Kent State University Press, 308 pp., $28.95) offers an exciting and fresh perspective on black Union soldiers who joined their American counterparts in the fight for freedom in North America. The transnational perspective sparks new considerations of the nature of black Northern societies that stretched far beyond international borders and cultures. It also contributes to the larger conversation about why men and women fought on either side in the Civil War. Reid’s Canadian soldiers join the array of other foreign soldiers — including Latinos from Mexico, Cuba, and the Caribbean — who fought their own larger world war for freedom and democracy.

WORLD WAR II
The process of intellectual preparation for the wars of the future is a complicated landscape for any historian to analyze and illustrate. But John M. Lillard’s Playing War: Wargaming and U.S. Navy Preparations for World War II (University of Nebraska Press, 224 pp., $39.95) offers the ideal vantage point for both scholars, students, and enthusiasts of military history. While other studies might underestimate the Naval War College’s interwar contribution to the U.S. Navy’s eventual strategies and tactics, Lillard argues that the College’s multi-level war games, experiments with new technologies, and perceptive simulations of the future wars all lay at the heart of U.S. victory in 1945.

SPACE
Astronauts inspire us like none others. Their scientific, technological, and intellectual achievements are unrivaled, their bravery in the face of certain death is unforgettable, and their patriotism is unassailable. They are the first to admit that what they achieved was the result of their participation in efforts that involved thousands of men and women around the world. They are also the first to remind their admirers that not everyone survived the journeys into history. Colin Burgess, Kate Doolan and Bert Vis collected the stories of sixteen Americans and Russians who died during their nations’ efforts to reach the moon in a new edition of Fallen Astronauts: Heroes Who Died Reaching for the Moon (University of Nebraska Press, 448 pp., $36.95). Some died in training accidents, others on the launch pad, and one died in an automobile accident. Fallen Astronauts promises to deepen the reverence for those who lost their lives, for those who dared to move forward, and for those who made it to the summit, never forgetting those they lost. Heroism transcended nationality, ideology, or culture.

******

Book gems of 2016
An occasional series
Jan. 3: Antiquity, Civil War, World War II, and space
June 22: Presidents and the political world
June 29: Texas and Texas history
July 6: Latin America
July 13: Slavery and the Civil War era
July 20: World War I and II, science, culture, and literature

Undiscovered countries: The books we need

Insightful celebrations of worthy works, considerations of upcoming titles, and general musings on great writing will all meet here on a regular basis.

image1

Stillness of Heart‘s range of popular and academic book criticism widened and deepened in recent years, and many more reviews are on the way. Insightful celebrations of worthy works, considerations of upcoming titles, and general musings on great writing will all meet here on a regular basis.

As always, the Stillness of Heart community of writers, readers, intellectuals, historians, journalists, and artists welcomes your ideas and recommendations. Tell us what we should be reading.

*****

Some of 2015’s best Civil War books … so far
Cold Harbor to the Crater: The End of the Overland Campaign, edited by Gary W. Gallagher and Caroline E. Janney
Defining Duty in the Civil War: Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front, by J. Matthew Gallman
The Civil War and Reconstruction in Indian Territory, by Bradley R. Clampitt
The World the Civil War Made, edited by Gregory P. Downs and Kate Masur
Fortune’s Fool: The Life of John Wilkes Booth, by Terry Allford
The Smell of Battle, the Taste of Siege: A Sensory History of the Civil War, by Mark Smith
The War That Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters, by James M. McPherson
Learning from the Wounded: The Civil War and the Rise of American Medical Science, by Shauna Devine
Originally published in July 2015
“Publishers in 2015 offer excellent work that both casual and serious readers of the Civil War should know about.”

The Silent Enemy
Polio: An American Story, by David M. Oshinsky
Originally published in December 2014

“The United States battled polio long before it ever faced the Soviet hegemonic threat, but only during the Cold War did the U.S. achieve significant victories in the battle against the virus.”

From a flame into a firestorm
A consideration of the French Revolution and its unexpected consequences.
Originally published in September 2014
“Why the French Revolution devoured its own people”

Dealing with the real America
Puerto Rican Citizen: History and Political Identity in Twentieth-Century New York City, by Lorrin Thomas
Originally published in August 2014
“Dealing with Puerto Rico means dealing with the key issues of the 21st century. Few in the U.S. government may have the stomach for that rollercoaster.”

The wars over the war
Hospital Sketches, by Louisa May Alcott
Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War, by Charles B. Dew
The Revolution of 1861: The American Civil War in the Age of Nationalist Conflict, by Andre Fleche
The Union War, by Gary W. Gallagher
The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians 1861-1865, by Mark Grimsley
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs
“The North American Crisis of the 1860s,” by Patrick J. Kelly, in The Journal of the Civil War Era
“Who Freed the Slaves?” by James M. McPherson, in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society
“Who Freed the Slaves? Emancipation and Its Meaning,” by Ira Berlin, in Union & Emancipation: Essays on Politics and Race in the Civil War Era
Originally published in July 2014

“Nine key books and articles taken together can explain what led to the first sparks of civil violence and how those sparks ignited what evolved into the bloodiest and most important war in U.S. history.”

Endless Borderlands
Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, by Gloria Anzaldua
Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands, by Juliana Barr
Walled States, Waning Sovereignty, by Wendy Brown
Pacific Connections: The Making of the U.S.-Canada Borderlands, by Kornel Chang
The Comanche Empire, by Pekka Hämäläinen
A Tale of Two Cities: Santo Domingo and New York after 1950, by Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof
Bridging National Borders in North America: Transnational and Comparative Histories, edited by Benjamin H. Johnson and Andre R. Graybill
Migra!: A History of the U.S. Border Patrol, by Kelly Lytle-Hernandez
The Line Which Separates: Race, Gender, and the Making of the Alberta-Montana Borderlands, by Sheila McManus
Border Dilemmas: Racial and National Uncertainties in New Mexico, 1848-1912, by Anthony P. Mora
Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality and the Law in the North American West, by Nayan Shah
Line in the Sand: A History of the Western U.S.-Mexico Border, by Rachel St. John
Bárbaros: Spaniards and their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment, by David Weber
“On Borderlands,” by Hämäläinen and Samuel Truett, in the Journal of American History
“From Borderlands to Borders: Empires, Nation-States, and the Peoples in Between in North American History,” by Jeremy Adelman and Stephen Aron, in American Historical Review
Originally published in June 2014
“Fifteen essays and books explore the borderlands field with passion and intelligence, daring their readers to leave behind their old worlds and follow them into new ones.”

The Battle for Boricua
Reproducing Empire: Race, Empire, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico, by Laura Briggs
Originally published in January 2014
“Is Puerto Rico the battleground for America’s intellectual future?”

Torn in the USA
Polio: An American Story, by David M. Oshinsky
Make Love, Not War: The Sexual Revolution: An Unfettered History, by David Allyn
Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939, by Lizabeth Cohen
Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class, by Jefferson Cowie
In Search of the Black Panther Party: New Perspectives on a Revolutionary Movement, edited by Jama Lazerow and Yohuru Williams
Quixote’s Soldiers: A Local History of the Chicano Movement, 1966-1981, by David Montejano
“Resistance in the Urban North: Trumbull Park, Chicago, 1953-1966,” by Arnold R. Hirsch, in the Journal of American History
“Crabgrass-Roots Politics: Race, Rights, and the Reaction against Liberalism in the Urban North, 1940-1964,” by Thomas J. Sugrue, in the Journal of American History
Originally published in September 2013
“Life, liberty, and the doomed pursuit of happiness.”

Nixon lurking in the shadows
Richard M. Nixon in books, in the news, on TV, and in my dreams
Originally published in December 2011

“Richard Nixon was in my dream last night. The post-presidency Nixon. The bitter, self-pitying, damned Nixon, coiled in the shadows of La Casa Pacifica in San Clemente, dark eyes glaring at the world as it spun on without him.”

Homo universalis
A reflection on my intellectual ambitions.
Originally published in July 2011
“I’ve always been blessed with a hunger for knowledge, a curiosity that often flares into full-blown passion for new arenas of experience, a curiosity perhaps sparked by a bittersweet frustration that I don’t know as much about literature, science, mathematics, history and culture as I think I should.”

Endless borderlands

Fifteen essays and books explore the borderlands field with passion and intelligence, daring their readers to leave behind their old worlds and follow them into new ones.

IMG_2335


Fifteen essays and books explore the borderlands field with passion and intelligence, daring their readers to leave behind their old worlds and follow them into new ones. A review essay by Fernando Ortiz Jr.

*****

Works reviewed in this essay

Adelman, Jeremy, and Stephen Aron. “From Borderlands to Borders: Empires, Nation-States, and the Peoples in Between in North American History.” American Historical Review 104, no. 3 (June 1999): 814-841.

Anzaldua, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1987.

Barr, Juliana. Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

Brown, Wendy. Walled States, Waning Sovereignty. New York: Zone Books, 2010.

Chang, Kornel. Pacific Connections: The Making of the U.S.-Canada Borderlands. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2012.

Hämäläinen, Pekka. The Comanche Empire. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009.

—. and Samuel Truett. “On Borderlands.” The Journal of American History 98, no. 2 (2011): 338-361.

Hoffnung-Garskof, Jesse. A Tale of Two Cities: Santo Domingo and New York after 1950. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2010.

Johnson, Benjamin H., and Andre R. Graybill, eds. Bridging National Borders in North America: Transnational and Comparative Histories. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.

Lytle-Hernandez, Kelly. Migra!: A History of the U.S. Border Patrol. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2010.

McManus, Sheila. The Line Which Separates: Race, Gender, and the Making of the Alberta-Montana Borderlands. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.

Mora, Anthony P. Border Dilemmas: Racial and National Uncertainties in New Mexico, 1848-1912. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2011.

Shah, Nayan. Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality and the Law in the North American West. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011.

St. John, Rachel. Line in the Sand: A History of the Western U.S.-Mexico Border. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. 2011.

Weber, David. Bárbaros: Spaniards and their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006.

*****

I. Introductions

The borderlands mark divisions of land on maps. They mark divisions of races, communities, economies, and families. But borderlands are also more than dividers. Borderlands are where culture and history collide, dance, and coalesce. They are where nation’s futures are conceived, where risks are taken, and where ideas are born. Borderlands cradle both conflict and peace, friction and abrasion, the past and future. Borderlands are gateways through which to view national, cultural, racial, and imperial histories with fresh and sharper eyes. Fifteen essays and books explore the borderlands field with passion and intelligence, daring their readers to leave behind their old worlds and follow them into new ones.

For the uninitiated, borderlands are dark landscapes. But lighting the way are Jeremy Adelman, Stephen Anon, Benjamin Johnson, Andrew Graybill, Samuel Truett, and the wonderfully-named Pekka Hamalanien. By combining three essays from 1999, 2010, and 2011, their analyses form a grand introduction to the field.

Graybill and Johnson ask why historians take the borders for granted. They worry that that the lines on maps imply inevitability. They fret that the borders do not evoke or inspire historical curiosity into the regions they cut through. They hold up borderlands studies as the antidote to that narrow vision and lack of curiosity.

Adelman and Anon explain that the borderlands approach was meant to challenge Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis, which looked east to west, by turning the axis north to south. Rather than considering unilateral European conquest, the field considered how indigenous and European civilizations met and mixed, bilaterally conquering each other. It implied that nation-building did not end once the necessary territory was declared conquered. The borderlands approach, which inherently challenged historians’ traditional reliance on a nation-state perspective on the world, also embraced border zones once imperial lands became modern nation-states.

In 2011, Hamalanien and Truett critically noted that Adelman and Anon ignored other processes that affect borderlands — cultural shifts, warfare, malleable concepts of nation (like indigenous territories), and natural pressures on societies, like landscape changes and epidemics. They pointed out that borderlands inherently challenge master historical narratives anchored to centers of political and cultural power. Ascribing importance to borderlands questioned the supreme importance of those centers, and of nation-states as a whole. Borderlands historians were willing to consider that perhaps non-state actors made equally significant contributions to the overall political or social entity.

Perhaps historians, borderlands proponents argued, needed to listen with equal care to voices from both the centers and the margins. Power and national identity when viewed through that prism becomes ambiguous and historically revitalized. Borderlands become the alternative centers of nation and empire. The borderlands approach also acts as a spotlight to capture movements between political entities, societies, and cultures that were previously unknown or understudied. It spotlights the violence of that friction and abrasion that takes place between competing peoples desperate for food, water, legitimacy, or shelter. This array of introductory essays urged historians to challenge themselves to find these perspectives.

II. Imperial borderlands

Borderlands are born when two or more powers encounter each other. The Spanish New World burned with borderland dynamics. David J. Weber’s Barbaros explores the Indian-Spanish contact zones, details how Spain attempted to administer them, and concludes that even when the Bourbons reformed Spanish America, the region was never completely conquered. Reforms to the military and church networks were not fully implemented, control and structure never consolidated. Consequently, the borderlands region remained violent, dynamic, and, most importantly, influential to the entire bureaucracy. Indian action dictated imperial reaction.

Beyond the warmth of steady and strong Spanish control, colonists lived difficult lives. Dominant Indian powers manipulated colonial communities, turning them into supply depots or shelters, or forced them to pay tribute, while others simply ravaged poorly protected colonies. Reformers wanted the frontier turned into a borderlands region, where commerce, Christianity, and peace reigned, all on Bourbon Spanish terms, which were never achieved except on paper.

But Bourbons focused on building relationships with Indians, reforming them from barbarians into Christian men, thereby building cultural and economic bridges into stronger indigenous networks. As the Spanish elements grew stronger, enlightened attitudes reverted to racism, rejecting the gradual incorporation of Indians.

Pekka Hamalainen’s The Comanche Empire argues that the Comanches were “an indigenous empire.” They were an association of tribes, he claims, that gradually built themselves into a force that dominated what today is the Southwestern United States and northern Mexico, a force so powerful that it effectively obstructed the expansion of French, Spanish, Mexican, and U.S. power for almost two centuries.

The Comanche Empire, he explains, did not simply exist in an Adelman/Anon borderland of negated imperial power and enhanced indigenous influence — they created a new space where the indigenous Comanches dominated, embraced, and transformed the isolated colonialists.

Key to their steady growth and dominance was the willingness to open their culture to new ideas, languages, and religions, which provided them with new domestic strategies, intelligence on distant neighbors, and conduits into useful economic networks.

Acknowledging Comanche power and its crippling influence on Spanish and Mexican control, he asserts, explains how the young U.S. consumed half of Mexico in the late 1840s. The tragic irony is that the U.S. quickly turned its guns on the Comanches to consume their land and cleanse the landscape of non-whites and non-Christians. Comanche greatness required extreme measures to defeat it.

Juliana Barr examines in Peace Came in the Form of a Woman the gender and kinship expectations Europeans and indigenous faced when interacting with each other in colonial Texas dominated by Indian standards.

Women played central roles in virtually every equation. Spaniards scratching out communities in Indian-controlled territory initially refused to marry Indian women, losing out on the economic advantages Indians placed on kinship connections. Without kinship connections, Indians viewed Spaniards as outsiders. Only by marrying women from competitor French families did they finally tap into those economic networks. Spaniards captured Apache women when Apaches attacked them. When Apaches and Spaniards allied against common enemies, Apache women became the connections between both groups. Women from all indigenous groups symbolized peace offerings, peace emblems, and peace envoys.

Spaniards and Indians also communicated with displays of gender. Martial displays signaled masculinity. They shared masculine codes of honor. A military assembly signaled trouble, but when masculinity was paired with femininity, the assembly signaled peace.

III. Northern perspective

The Line Which Separates and Pacific Connections, respectively authored by Sheila McManus and Kornel Chang, highlight how the Canadian and U.S. power centers struggled to control their borderlands and underestimated the effect the borderlands had on those power centers. Both warn that in the historical search for the source of national character, the borderlands and the methods used to control those borderlands cannot be ignored.

Many excellent books in the historical borderlands field typically focus with a racial lens on the U.S. borders with Latin America. McManus and Chang make invaluable contributions to the U.S. borderlands field simply by focusing instead on the U.S-Canada border and the unique contests for its future. They construct their histories from opposite directions — McManus looking west from U.S. and Canadian capitals and Chang looking east from the Pacific region.

McManus argues that Canada and the U.S. post-structurally reimagined their respective western societies as proving grounds where potential national values were conceived, tested, and sharpened against unwelcome cultures and races, and held up for all citizens to adopt. Their border along the 49th parallel was key to those “nation-making efforts” because it politically delineated where one nation-state ended and the other began. It symbolized their capacity to control who crossed that border, who lived in those critical regions, and what values governed their lives.

Chang argues that the regions along the 49th parallel should not be seen as border zones but as transnational and transpacific crossroads. Chang expands the north south/east-axis of the McManus book to include multiple continents, empires, and commodity chains. Instead of Ottawa and Washington, D.C., or Alberta and Montana, Chang examines Seattle and Vancouver, recasting the Pacific Northwest and the Pacific coast as buzzing economic and imperial hubs. The nation-states’ challenge was to control that chaos to their advantage by employing institutions governing immigration, monitoring borders, and manipulating migration.

One of many rivers of migrants into Canada and the U.S. streamed from South Asia. An examination of cultural influences they brought with them would be fascinating enough. But Nayan Shah takes several steps beyond that in Stranger Intimacy to examine erotic, social, and economic relationships between the immigrants and a variety of other groups throughout Western communities of workers.

His South Asians brought with them into western U.S. and Canadian regions borderlands sensitivities as colonized members of the British Empire, as English speakers amid Mexican and Chinese workers, and as men who moved across racial boundaries put in place by the societies their labor was meant to expand. Using legal and police records produced by the clash of immigrant actions and their societies’ reactions — arrests for sexual activities, questions over immigration status, concerns over white public safety — Shah produces a network of racial and legal borderlands the immigrants overcame or failed to overcome.

Domestic racial attitudes against South Asians’ supposed demoralizing effects on white families tolerated white violence. That violence, coupled with legal surveillance and oppression drove immigrants’ contacts with each other into secret places, turning their stranger interactions into stranger intimacies with glances, movements, and other secret signals. The homosocial regions the legal system identified became border zones of state surveillance, racial oppression, and assumption of criminal activity between legitimate and illegitimate societies. The intensity of sexual oppression bolstered normative white identities and further emphasized the deviancy of foreign entities.

IV. Special cases

Euro-American control over the sections of former Mexico is a vital topic in borderlands studies. In Border Dilemmas, Anthony Mora focused on how Euro-Americans used literature and letters to steadily undermine their cultural, political, and economic control of New Mexico.

They portrayed New Mexican women as sensual beasts, businesswomen as prostitutes, and men as savages who could not control their society. Euro-American colonists, Mora explains, saw themselves as the ones to bring civilized order to this chaos. By sensualizing and dehumanizing the men and women, Euro-Americans justified their invasions of Mexican territory, their racist attitudes toward the Mexican inhabitants, and their attempts to dominate and transform the societies upon which they would build a virtuous American Eden.

By labeling Mexican businesswomen as prostitutes and ignoring the economic agency they enjoyed in Mexican society, Euro-Americans could strip from them any semblance of economic legitimacy or social value, permanently damage their community standing, and generally enhance the threatened patriarchy. By characterizing Mexican men as weak or corrupt, Euro-Americans could portray themselves as saviors of Mexican womanhood, now recast as victims of male Mexican vices. Charitable and heroic white men would save these women with marriage, absorb their Mexican blood (descended from quality European blood, surely) into their white bloodlines and families, thereby improving the overall New Mexican community while conveniently ignoring the insecurities in the white U.S. South over racial mixing with black slaves. Mora captures with subtle humor the ridiculous ironies and hypocrisies at work.

Euro-American attempts to enforce “gendered divisions of space,” Mora explains, were key to their control. Women belonged in the privacy and purity of the home. Mexican women also belonged in the home, but in the homes of white women, where they would learn under white tutelage how to become proper American housewives.

They would share the gendered space and occupy appropriate racial roles within domestic walls. Mora connects this racism to U.S. devotion to domestic power and, by extension, to civilizing power. As white women domesticated the home, they also domesticated (tamed) the white men taming the borderlands. They symbolized the white race reaching into the frontiers of their new empire, bringing domestic stability and the values of a proper white home to savages.

The values of white patriarchy only intensified the existing Mexican patriarchy. Mexican elites saw self-serving opportunities to play the Euro-American game over the New Mexican chessboard. New Mexican women were marginalized socially, sexually, and economically, with little or no role in society except as emblems and tools of the patriarchal nation-building enterprise their men purported to lead. Even the oppressed did their own heinous oppressing.

Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands/La Frontera sees the borderlands marking divisions in the hearts and minds of the people who populate them. The men and women who exist on the fringes of nation, religion, and race live with divisions within themselves. Anzaldua urges these borderland citizens to be proud: The Chicano borderlands are where national and racial futures are born. They are special places for homosexual men and women, Indians, the socially and intellectually liberated. It’s a place of many tongues, religions, and talents. Any minority will find a home there because they are borderlands themselves — they exist in multiple worlds simultaneously, always adjusting their gradients to blend in with the larger, more dominant colors. They are the future race of a better nation and society, without constructs, limitations, discriminations, or oppression.

Anzaldua holds herself as the example. She is a gay mestiza who speaks not just English and Spanish but variations of both. She refuses to adhere to expectations of how a mestiza should behave, think, or live. She erases the borderlands within her by embracing what they are expected to keep separate.

Perhaps securing political legitimacy for the borderlands citizens begins there. Borderlands citizens must connect themselves somehow with the political cores of their societies, through moderate allies, social upheavals, or war. Only then can they change their nation from within. Society eventually changes to accept gay men and women, and to view men and women and all races equally. Those who refuse to change are the ones marginalized, dismissed, and rejected. An equitable and just society – perhaps that is the ultimate goal for all borderlands citizens. Buried in the ashes of their anguish are the elements of eventual social greatness.

Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof’s A Tale of Two Cities follows Dominican people as they moved from the countryside to capital city Santo Domingo to the New York neighborhood of Washington Heights and back to Santo Domingo. Within these transnational currents he finds Dominicans navigating the fault-lines of culture, race, and economics in both the United States and the Dominican Republic. Dominicans in both cities were elements of the same transnational entity, confronting different manifestations of the same imperialist power, racially differentiating themselves from other minorities, and struggling to live up to their ideals of progress and culture.

Working-class Dominicans struggled to find and then improve their place in the Dominican Republic or the U.S. The book’s bottom-up approach is structured along two ideals: progress (certain actions would improve one’s life, social standing, and national well-being) and culture (perceived values and the standard that decided who belonged and who did not).

The author gives tremendous agency to Dominicans but also points out the irony in their outlooks. When modernization projects stripped economic opportunities from sugar plantations and ranches, rural people flooded Dominican cities to find new economic opportunities. They embraced the progreso/cultura ideals and demanded paved roads and sanitation in their barrios. Men condemned gangs and women condemned prostitution, but gangs were also seen as a potential defensive force against U.S. incursions and women asked prostitutes for sex advice.

In the U.S., Dominicans combined progreso/cultura virtues — improving their economic lives while also protecting their Dominican national values — by extending their sense of home northward to encompass New York. Dominicans saw little need to assimilate because in their minds they had never left the Dominican Republic. Dark-skinned Dominicans faced racial/ethnic discrimination from Puerto Ricans, African Americans, and Anglos as they made their own distinctions between themselves and Haitians. Dominicans embraced the U.S. consumerism as they blamed the U.S. for the materialism and delinquency they saw in Dominican society.

V. The meaning of borders

Borderlands don’t exist without borders. Rachel St. John’s Line in the Sand offers a multifaceted biography of the western U.S.-Mexico border, from El Paso to the Pacific Ocean. The line is a consequence of military conquest, local warfare, political and economic ambitions, and state-sanctioned policing, much more than the natural divider of the Rio Grande.

The line changed in significance over time. For criminals it was the doorway to freedom. For lovers of vice, it was the gateway to illegality. For U.S. politicians, it was a triumph of a superior society over its inferior neighbor. Indian raids necessitated borderland security forces. Borderland commerce and railroads created twin cities. Nation-state efforts to define and enforce it symbolized the inherent weakness of centered-power perspectives ignoring the significance of borderland entities.

As for the force deployed to regulate who moves across that line and who doesn’t, in Migra! Kelly Lytle Hernandez considers the U.S. Border Patrol as part of state-sanctioned violence against Mexican communities naturally flowing through the artificially imposed borderlands between the U.S. and Mexico. Bi-national economic and political demands coupled with the individual demands of its personnel guided the evolution of the Border Patrol as a predatory borderlands entity. Examining this aspect of borderlands existence further illuminates how borderlands and their inhabitants are perceived and rejected or accepted by their nation-states, and the role of violence in attempting to assert the nation-state’s sovereignty over its territory and society. It also highlights Mexico’s postwar partnership with a foreign security force in an effort to control their northward flow of its own people.

The Border Patrol historically worked with borderlands businesses to ensure a steady supply of cheap Mexican labor while enforcing white standards of behavior among races and genders. Officers shaped official U.S. immigration policies to suit local situations and their own interests, interweaving border control objectives with community and economic life. The focus on Mexican rather than Canadian criminality has more to do with the communities dark-skinned people entered than with the actual act of undocumented crossing.

Wendy Brown examines physical borders and the borderlands they mean to enforce in Walled States, Waning Sovereignty. Wall-building projects throughout the globalized, Internet-dominated world, she argues, is a symptom of a larger insecurity over the loss of nation-state control over territory, people, resources, and security. The concept of sovereignty — of control — and its separation from what it means to be a nation-state is what drives pathetic construction work on the U.S.-Mexico border, and throughout the U.S.

What is to be contained is held up as pure, and then the potential foreign threats are identified, and then the wall is promoted as the solution. Even within the beacon of Western democracy, the rich seal themselves off from the poor, businesses wrap themselves in porous digital security blankets, and religious sects build compounds — retreats — in which to properly indoctrinate their flocks. The psychological comfort of walls, borders, lines, and zones infers a stable order is in place. Control is recovered.

Hamalanien and Truett encourage borderlands historians to embrace the inherent chaos in borderlands. That instability had unintended consequences and created unexpected opportunities. Indigenous groups play roles in creating empires or use their own to control their regions. Marginal groups influence the core. Ignored voices participate in the national discussion. New historical roots are discovered. These fifteen works demonstrate the value borderlands studies bring to the historical field. What may appear to be chaos to outdated historical views is beautiful intellectual symphonies to the cutting-edge borderlands lovers.