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Edward Linenthal
Editor, Journal of American History

Last modified: Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Journal of American History: ‘Borderlands’ history comes of age

Sept. 28, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A special section on "the brave new world of borderlands history" is featured in the latest issue of the Journal of American History. It includes articles on the U.S.-Mexico border since World War II, the tension between trans-Pacific migration and national authority in the 1800s, the flight of escaped U.S. slaves to Canada and other topics.

The quarterly Journal of American History is published by the Organization of American Historians, based at Indiana University Bloomington.

Journal of American History

The cover of the latest Journal of American History is a mid-20th century photo of the Mexico-U.S. border at Nogales.

Print-Quality Photo

In the September 2011 issue's lead essay, Pekka Hämäläinen of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Samuel Truett of the University of New Mexico assess the state of the field of borderlands history, probing its past, present and possible futures.

They write that borderlands history has moved from the margins to the mainstream. Once concerned with stories at the frontiers of nation and empire, it now inhabits "ambiguous and often-unstable realms where boundaries are also crossroads, peripheries are also central places, homelands are also passing-through places, and the end points of empire are also forks in the road."

In other articles and essays:

  • Geraldo L. Cadava of Northwestern University compares nearby Arizona and Sonora communities and demonstrates that many lines cut through the U.S.-Mexico border at once, refracting shared senses of identity and experiences of alienation.
  • David A. Chang of the University of Minnesota reveals a world in which villages and small settlements in Gold Rush-era California, Hawai'i and China were nodes in a web of cosmopolitan borderlands.
  • Benjamin H. Johnson of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee explores "racial fusion" ideas embraced by early 20th century Mexican intellectuals and their influence on later Mexican-American civil rights advocates.
  • Seema Sohi of the University of Colorado examines efforts by Asian Indian immigrants to circumvent discriminatory U.S. immigration practices in the early years of the 20th century.
  • Gregory Wigmore of the University of California, Davis, demonstrates that fugitive slaves who traveled the Underground Railroad followed in the footsteps of an earlier generation of freedom seekers who crossed the U.S.-Canada border following its establishment in 1796.

In the JAH Podcast for September, John Nieto-Phillips, associate editor of the journal and associate professor of history at Indiana University Bloomington, speaks with Samuel Truett about the state of borderlands history. The podcast and more information are available online at