- Bridging National Borders in North America: Transnational and Comparative Histories by Benjamin H. Johnson and Andrew R. Graybill
As I contemplated this collection of eleven essays about North American borderlands, I was tempted to pose the question: What is a non-borderland and what distinguishes it from the theme of these varied studies? I suppose my location in St. Louis, Missouri, is about as close to being a non-borderland as it is imaginable to be in the United States. Here it is possible to go for months, or possibly even a lifetime, [End Page 220] without being formally introduced to the salient characteristics of borderlands, which for me happened originally as a graduate student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor back in the late 1960s. In that age innocent of cable television, it was a revelation to receive Canadian broadcasts beamed from across the border in Windsor, Ontario. Today local satellite and cable television companies routinely feature channels from other countries, even other continents, and thus international radio and television broadcast can no longer be considered one of the identifying features of North America’s borderlands. That I am reminded of such differences is a tribute to the provocative nature of these eleven essays.
Can this compilation be considered the definitive word on American borderlands scholarship? In truth, the subject is too large for a single volume to encompass no matter how widely ranging it may be, and the subject of borders and borderlands only keeps expanding as scholars discover and explore new aspects of it. Back in Michigan in the 1960s I was only dimly aware of a trans-national region that could be defined as a northern borderland, though I contributed a bit to that concept by choosing to write a doctoral dissertation on the comparative history of labor in the northwestern corner of the United States and across the border in British Columbia—even including a bit on New Zealand and Australia. At the time it seemed that the borderland attracting the most intense scholarly scrutiny was the Spanish one formed by the intersection of American Southwest and Mexican (or Latin American) North where fruitful study had been pioneered as early as the 1920s by historian Herbert Eugene Bolton and his students. The northern borderland with Canada seemed neglected by contrast. Today it is accurate to note that the United States has Pacific (Asian) and Atlantic (European) borderlands that attract scholarly attention as well.
The essays contained in this volume explore many aspects of borderlands and transnational study as viewed through the medium of a variety of disciplines, not just history. And each is amply documented in a way that should facilitate further scholarship. Moreover, the volume’s two editors, Johnson and Graybill, both associate professors of history at the time of their collaboration, have co-authored an excellent overview essay called “Borders and their Historians in North America.” Students new to the field as well as established scholars will find the overview essay together with the rest of the anthology to be highly informative and likely to stimulate further scholarship in this area. Judged by these essays, by the way, it appears that the study of America’s Canadian borderland is rapidly catching up with that of the hitherto much more intensely studied southwestern borderland.