- Entangling Migration History: Borderlands and Transnationalism in the United States and Canada ed. by Benjamin Bryce and Alexander Freund
This volume represents the latest contribution to a growing body of scholarship that extends the study of migration in North America beyond analyses of single groups of migrants, such as the Loyalists or New England-bound French-Canadians who have received so much scholarly attention. The recent literature does not reject these types of studies, but instead integrates them within broader conceptual frameworks attentive to transnational connections, the special dynamics of borderlands regions, and the multiple scales at which migration systems develop, from the local to the global.
Entangling Migration History is a worthy addition to this scholarship, and offers a model for incorporating multiple theoretical approaches and spatiotemporal scales within a single volume. The collection of eight essays brings together transnational, comparative, and borderland approaches to the study of migration to Canada and the United States, though its chapters venture far beyond the two countries of Northern North America. It is bookended by a foreword by Dirk Hoerder and an epilogue by Erika Lee, which are helpful in contextualizing the book and pointing towards future research. Benjamin Bryce and Alexander Freud’s introduction provides a useful primer on transnationalism, comparative history, and borderlands studies, and introduces the concept of “entangled history.” Building on theories of histoire croisée and histoire comparée, such an approach “embraces all scales, … decenters the nation,” and encourages attention to migrants, networks, and the unfolding of historical processes across national borders (p. 2-3). [End Page 695]
The first chapter, by José C. Moya, is a comparative study of early modern migration in Canada and the Americas as a whole and produces some intriguing conclusions. Most notable is his use of demographic data from a Université de Montréal project to argue that indentured servant migration to New France represented a much smaller percentage of total migrants than previously thought, and was less statistically significant than indentured migration elsewhere in the Americas. The datedness of some of Moya’s secondary sources may provoke the raising of Canadianists’ eyebrows—multiple citations of Harold Innis, H. Clare Pentland, and John Bourinot’s 1909 Canada under British Rule are particularly glaring examples—but the chapter’s contributions far outweigh these concerns, and point to exciting possibilities for further comparative work in Canadian migration history. Bruno Ramirez’s essay also takes a comparative perspective, examining migration across the Mexico-U.S. and Canada-U.S. borders from 1915-1965. The chapter goes beyond the comparative frame by positioning both movements within a single system of North American migration. This turns out to be a particularly fruitful approach, allowing Ramirez to posit Canada and Mexico as fulfilling different but complementary immigration needs for the U.S. economy of the 1910s and 1920s. Mexican migrants primarily filled the demand for manual labour in American resource extraction economies (including agriculture), while Canada sent a much higher percentage of professionals, students, and “skilled” workers to the U.S. than any other immigrant-sending country. Ramirez also provides useful comparisons of the effects of immigration restriction and kinship networks on both groups of migrants.
Given the book’s sensitivity to multiple and overlapping geographic scales, space is naturally a central concern. Randy William Widdis provides an excellent introduction to what he calls a “spatial grammar framework”—helpful reading for historians trying to think spatially—and applies the approach to an analysis of cross-border migration around the turn of the twentieth century. David C. Atkinson’s chapter continues the theoretical discussion and presents the 1907 anti-Asian riots in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Bellingham, Washington, as occurring within borderlands of various scales: from the local communities where neighbourhoods were divided between Asians and whites; to national borderlands between alienated westerners and eastern federal governments; and to regional, imperial, and global levels.
Some of the contributions in Entangling Migration History push the definition of borderlands beyond the material spatial realm. Grace Peña Delgado...