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Line in the Sand: A History of the Western U.S.-Mexico Border

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Line in the Sand details the dramatic transformation of the western U.S.-Mexico border from its creation at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848 to the emergence of the modern boundary line in the first decades of the twentieth century. In this sweeping narrative, Rachel St. John explores how this boundary changed from a mere line on a map to a clearly marked and he Line in the Sand details the dramatic transformation of the western U.S.-Mexico border from its creation at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848 to the emergence of the modern boundary line in the first decades of the twentieth century. In this sweeping narrative, Rachel St. John explores how this boundary changed from a mere line on a map to a clearly marked and heavily regulated divide between the United States and Mexico. Focusing on the desert border to the west of the Rio Grande, this book explains the origins of the modern border and places the line at the center of a transnational history of expanding capitalism and state power in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Moving across local, regional, and national scales, St. John shows how government officials, Native American raiders, ranchers, railroad builders, miners, investors, immigrants, and smugglers contributed to the rise of state power on the border and developed strategies to navigate the increasingly regulated landscape. Over the border's history, the U.S. and Mexican states gradually developed an expanding array of official laws, ad hoc arrangements, government agents, and physical barriers that did not close the line, but made it a flexible barrier that restricted the movement of some people, goods, and animals without impeding others. By the 1930s, their efforts had created the foundations of the modern border control apparatus. Drawing on extensive research in U.S. and Mexican archives, Line in the Sand weaves together a transnational history of how an undistinguished strip of land became the significant and symbolic space of state power and national definition that we know today.


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Line in the Sand details the dramatic transformation of the western U.S.-Mexico border from its creation at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848 to the emergence of the modern boundary line in the first decades of the twentieth century. In this sweeping narrative, Rachel St. John explores how this boundary changed from a mere line on a map to a clearly marked and he Line in the Sand details the dramatic transformation of the western U.S.-Mexico border from its creation at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848 to the emergence of the modern boundary line in the first decades of the twentieth century. In this sweeping narrative, Rachel St. John explores how this boundary changed from a mere line on a map to a clearly marked and heavily regulated divide between the United States and Mexico. Focusing on the desert border to the west of the Rio Grande, this book explains the origins of the modern border and places the line at the center of a transnational history of expanding capitalism and state power in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Moving across local, regional, and national scales, St. John shows how government officials, Native American raiders, ranchers, railroad builders, miners, investors, immigrants, and smugglers contributed to the rise of state power on the border and developed strategies to navigate the increasingly regulated landscape. Over the border's history, the U.S. and Mexican states gradually developed an expanding array of official laws, ad hoc arrangements, government agents, and physical barriers that did not close the line, but made it a flexible barrier that restricted the movement of some people, goods, and animals without impeding others. By the 1930s, their efforts had created the foundations of the modern border control apparatus. Drawing on extensive research in U.S. and Mexican archives, Line in the Sand weaves together a transnational history of how an undistinguished strip of land became the significant and symbolic space of state power and national definition that we know today.

30 review for Line in the Sand: A History of the Western U.S.-Mexico Border

  1. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    A Harvard professor, Rachel St. John, has just published a useful and comprehensive short history of the western U.S.-Mexico border (meaning from El Paso to San Diego.) It is a tale that approaches geography as a multiform kind of space: social space, indigenous space, national identity space, commercial space, smuggling space, and so forth. Early on, as history records, the United States found ways to take what we call the northern portion of the U.S.-Mexico border from Mexico by purchase, diplom A Harvard professor, Rachel St. John, has just published a useful and comprehensive short history of the western U.S.-Mexico border (meaning from El Paso to San Diego.) It is a tale that approaches geography as a multiform kind of space: social space, indigenous space, national identity space, commercial space, smuggling space, and so forth. Early on, as history records, the United States found ways to take what we call the northern portion of the U.S.-Mexico border from Mexico by purchase, diplomacy, and political supremacy based on population. Thereafter, both Mexico and the U.S. found the new border between our two countries hard to define as a literal line in the sand and even more difficult to define as an emblem of state power: my law is the only law on this side...your law is the only law on that side. Having worked and lived on the border for a number of years, I know what a rough, ambiguous and violent place it can be. There are things I have seen in the canyons north of Tijuana, right at the U.S. border, that have no place in what 99.9% of Americans would think to be American. Subsequent wallbuilding has quieted some of the action, but there is an ethical ugliness to the way we have approached migration and smuggling that is harsh and constant. One doesn’t have to know what to do to change things, although I have a few notions, to recognize that there is something wrong all along the border, and not just the western border. Better books to reveal the harsh realities of the border’s past and present are novels like Cormac MacCarthy’s Blood Meridian and Roberto Bolaños’ 2666. Both excel in depicting mindless violence, generally driven by greed but going beyond that. So reading Blood Meridian and 2666 is one prescription I’d offer for a national elevation of consciousness about the border. We in the U.S. need to face the fact that our insatiable appetite for drugs, cocaine, etc., is what fuels the astonishing violence and corruption that travels from our border all the way to Bolivia. The only way to change this is through the earliest kinds of childhood intervention and family support programs. Bad neighborhoods, broken families, and bad schools breed drug use. Good neighborhoods, ostensibly united families, and good schools breed drug use, too. Every family in American with young children needs help facing the torments and temptations of illicit drugs. Until we slow down consumption, we won’t slow down the killing on our own streets and further south. Illegal immigration is another important issue that breeds great misery both north and south of the border. Right now we’re in an ebb tide because jobs are scarce in the U.S. construction industry and enforcement is up, but that will change. Right now, then, would be a good time to face the fact that it would be better for Mexicans (and others) to enter the U.S. under organized worker programs--we’ve had them before--than to play cat and mouse with desperate souls in the deathly deserts of the southwest. Walls can’t be built high enough when the jobs are here to feed families. As Janet Napolitano said once, “Show me a fifty foot wall and I’ll show you a fifty-one foot ladder.” By the same token, I have seen massive walls on the border smashed through by even more massive bulldozers. Brazen? You bet. The border is a life and death proposition for hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people. But again, my practical thoughts aside, I point to the value of fiction versus history in exploring certain complex events and regions. The St. John book is informative, but not moving. The Bolaños and MacCarthy novels are riveting revelations and summons to action.

  2. 5 out of 5

    John

    I read the first half of this and skimmed the second, because the first half was more interesting to me. It relates to my field, the northeastern Canada/US border. What were these boundaries like when they were just imaginary, unpoliced lines running through desert or forest or mountains? It is always fascinating to me to read about borders and the persistent idea that it is easy to draw "natural" borders between two countries. There has always been this notion among mapmakers and peace treaty n I read the first half of this and skimmed the second, because the first half was more interesting to me. It relates to my field, the northeastern Canada/US border. What were these boundaries like when they were just imaginary, unpoliced lines running through desert or forest or mountains? It is always fascinating to me to read about borders and the persistent idea that it is easy to draw "natural" borders between two countries. There has always been this notion among mapmakers and peace treaty negotiators that natural borders just HAVE to exist, and all one needs to do is find and trace them. When really, unless you are talking about an island, natural borders are kind of a myth. This is an academic history, but it should be useful for anyone interested in the evolution of the border. It is funny today to realize that for many decades the Mexico/US border was really not policed. Both Mexicans and Americans could cross at will. And as St. John points out, a number of transnational communities grew on the border because of that permeable boundary. There were free trade zones along the line, and businesses that employed citizens of both countries at once. Then over time, the line solidified. First it was Chinese, excluded from the US and trying to get in through Mexico, that American border agents were trying to stop. Then later, during the Mexican Revolution and the Great Depression, the border became more solid for Mexicans and Americans. That's when the fences started to go up. You can read in this book about a time when you could just walk across the street in Nogales, Mexico, and go to a saloon in Arizona. Then St. John includes a photo of the first fence. And now if you look on Google Maps, there's a great big wall.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Will

    An excellent overview of how the US-Mexico border emerged from the deserts of northern Mexico and the Southwest US and became a point of national focus in forming both the US and Mexican states. Touching on geography, economics, immigration, and the daily lives of those living in the border region, this book offers a starting place for understanding how a theoretical line in the sand morphed and gave birth to the heated debates over The Wall today.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Snade Snapper

    I was forced to read this.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    A concise, approachable history to the people and politics of the US-Mexican border.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Marks54

    This is a history of the part of the US - Mexican border west of the Rio Grande river from its initial specification and ratification by treaty after the Mexican war and the Gadsen Purchase up until the 1930s. The book presents an evolving view of the border world from the wild west to the Guilded Age to Prohibition to the Depression. Theer are interesting points and the book is well written (it is clearly a dissertation that has been worked up into a book). Not a lot that is surprising but lots This is a history of the part of the US - Mexican border west of the Rio Grande river from its initial specification and ratification by treaty after the Mexican war and the Gadsen Purchase up until the 1930s. The book presents an evolving view of the border world from the wild west to the Guilded Age to Prohibition to the Depression. Theer are interesting points and the book is well written (it is clearly a dissertation that has been worked up into a book). Not a lot that is surprising but lots of good stuff to know and consistent with what was happening in the US and the world overall during the period. I suspect the author should be sending residuals to Trump for the nenewed interest in the border and immigration, but as the author shows, there have been ugly politics around the border for a very long time.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    A highly readable overview of the history and development of the U.S.-Mexican border, starting with the Boundary Commission shortly after the conclusion of the Mexican-American war, covering the Gadsden Purchase, forward to the 20th century, and present calls for a wall along the entire length of the border. The author gives the history, with nuanced insight and without an agenda. The text shows that the border, and how to control it, has been subject to debate many times. Feelings of anti-immig A highly readable overview of the history and development of the U.S.-Mexican border, starting with the Boundary Commission shortly after the conclusion of the Mexican-American war, covering the Gadsden Purchase, forward to the 20th century, and present calls for a wall along the entire length of the border. The author gives the history, with nuanced insight and without an agenda. The text shows that the border, and how to control it, has been subject to debate many times. Feelings of anti-immigration and tight border security have waxed and waned in response to larger social and economic conditions in the U.S.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jason S

    A very well written book describing the history of the US Mexico border from the Mexican American war until the Great Depression. Interesting chapters on vice zones during prohibition and on the development of immigration regulations.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Linda Heffernan

    Lots of stuff I didn't know before. Lots of stuff I didn't know before.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kent

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mika Kennedy

  12. 5 out of 5

    Leah

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alex Coopersmith

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tina

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sean

  16. 4 out of 5

    Brent

  17. 4 out of 5

    Linda

  18. 4 out of 5

    Dale Levine

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mary Churay

  20. 4 out of 5

    Katharina

  21. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

  22. 4 out of 5

    Lindsey

  23. 5 out of 5

    David

  24. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Gordon

  25. 5 out of 5

    Linette

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rejo Reta

  27. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Henning

  28. 4 out of 5

    Antonio

  29. 4 out of 5

    Justin Salgado

  30. 4 out of 5

    Michael O'Brien

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