In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • The Line Which Separates: Race, Gender, and the Making of the Alberta–Montana Border
  • Susan Armitage
The Line Which Separates: Race, Gender, and the Making of the Alberta–Montana Border. By Sheila McManus (Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 2005) 240 pp. $69.95 cloth $29.95 paper

McManus' book about a small section of the United States–Canadian border has larger implications; it is a model study about how we draw lines—on the landscape, among races, between genders—and attach cultural meaning to them. No geographical features mark the boundary between Montana and Alberta, the focus of her study. The territory was the homeland of the Blackfoot Indians, a seminomadic buffalo-hunting people who were among the last native people to have sustained contact with Euro-Americans. The tasks of the U.S. and Canadian governments were (1) to create a border where none naturally existed, (2) to contain and distinguish "American Indians" from Canadian First Peoples, and (3) to foster settlement on unpromising land. Considering these standard western issues in new ways, McManus lucidly demonstrates the cultural assumptions about race, gender, and nation on which policies were based.

In six paired chapters, she first examines the creation of the physical boundary at the 49th parallel through surveys and mapmaking and the land policies designed to maintain distinct ideas of "nation" north and south of it. In the second set of chapters, she shows how early governmental treaties and policies distinguished between different groups of Blackfoot and penned them into reservations/reserves and then imposed gendered white cultural norms—monogamy, farming, domesticity—upon them. In the third set of chapters concerning white settlement, McManus examines the issues of gender and race in the recruitment policies of both governments and demonstrates how central white women were in maintaining these cultural norms.

Each of the three pairs—mapmaking and nationbuilding, Indian policy and native resistance, settlement policy and the responses of settler women—are different topics, requiring different kinds of sources and interpretive strategies. Only McManus' firm understanding of cultural theory makes the three topics cohere. She begins with the insight that both the U.S. and Canadian governments saw their western regions as key sites for "nation-making" (xii). Then she draws on the work of Foucault and Anderson to explain how the imposition of an imaginary line on the map created two national communities.1

For her discussion of the rules imposed on the Blackfoot, McManus relies on the insights of cultural geographers such as Gregory and Jackson who have examined the production of gendered and racialized space.2 [End Page 304] She borrows from feminist postcolonial scholars such as Stoler to show how the land policies of both governments were driven by assumptions about whiteness and gender.3 Throughout, she clearly demonstrates the multiple interconnections between nation, race, and gender, while offering detailed analyses of topics as diverse as mapping, oral testimony as a source for Indian resistance, and nuanced readings of the personal letters of white settler women.

The skill and clarity of McManus' exposition makes The Line Which Separates required reading not just for borderlands historians but for all historians who seek to understand how we make distinctions—that is, for all of us.

Susan Armitage
Washington State University


1. Michel Foucault (trans. Alan Sheridan), The Birth of the Prison (New York, 1977); idem (trans. Robert Hurley), The History of Sexuality. I. An Introduction (New York, 1990); Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London, 1991; orig. pub. 1983).

2. Derek Gregory, Geographical Imaginations (Cambridge, Mass., 1994); Peter Jackson, Maps of Meaning: An Introduction to Cultural Geography (New York, 1989).

3. Ann Stoler, Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault's 'History of Sexuality' and the Colonial Order of Things (Durham, N.C., 1995)



Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 304-305
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.