Check out GPRS PhD Candidate Andrew Klumpp’s lastest post over at the US Intellectual History blog. The Midwestern “Heartland” has a contentious and “hardscrabble” history — a different kind of borderlands. You’ll never think of small town Iowa in the same way…
In 1850, Rembrandt Peale, one of the last living portraitists of George Washington, painted his 80thcopy of one of his most famous depictions of America’s first President. This painting – called Patriae Pater – was originally created in 1824, and its name is a variation of the Roman appellation: Father of the Country. Although Washington passed in 1799, his role as the inaugural leader of America was still being celebrated in 1850, and portraits of him – like the Patriae Pater copies—were still being commissioned. The celebration continues today. Here’s why:
When Washington took office in 1789, he came with a well-established track record of prioritizing the needs of the country before his own. He exhibited this most aptly in his conduct as Commander of the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Although Washington masterfully projected confidence and competence in public settings, he privately anguished about the ways to lead those who entrusted their lives and fortunes to him. This apprehension infused his style of leadership with a rare sense of sobriety and magnanimity.
Those who served in the Continental Army saw myriad examples of Washington using his power to protect and serve. One poignant example is described in Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch’s recently released book called The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington. Meltzer and Mensch describe the famous episode of August 1776 when the British possessed control of New York and continuously thwarted attempts from the American forces to gain control over it. Once it became clear that Washington’s opponents outmaneuvered him, it seemed that he had only two choices: attack or surrender. The first option meant certain death or capture for his men, and the other meant placing his men at the mercy of their enemies. Washington considered and executed a third option — a great escape. He arranged for all of his men to secretly take boats across the East River from Brooklyn Heights into Manhattan. What makes Meltzer and Mensch’s account of the story worth discussing is that they emphasize Washington’s decision to be the last person in the army to take a boat to safety. He ensured that his troops evacuated first.
Such instances of valor and unselfishness were what made Washington respected among his troops and venerated among the American public. They also led to comparisons of Washington to well-known Classical figures from ancient Greece and Rome who gained their reputations by their virtue. This perception of Washington was promoted by America’s leading intellectuals who sought to construct a new American government based on the idea of meritocracy – a proven ability to lead –instead of presumption – a desire to lead without having earned the right to do so. Painters of Washington, like Rembrandt Peale, were a part of the intellectual class that used words and images to teach Americans the importance of picking leaders who possessed the merit to govern.
With full knowledge that subsequent Presidents would not always be military heroes or even veterans, the founders bequeathed elections to us as a mechanism for deciding who would best represent the interests of the nation. Their hope was that we would overcome our own personal biases and petty preferences in order to choose presidents and other elected officials who could serve the common good.
To be sure, George Washington was not perfect. No politician will ever be. We human beings share a penchant for error.
However, what made Washington remarkable as a general and as a President was his desire and determination to overcome his shortcomings in order to rise to the great challenges of his time.
By the time that the fighting of the Revolution began, Washington was the most famous man on the American continent. Because of this, he could have become a great tyrant who worked for political expediency and political glory.
However, instead of resting in fame, Washington chose to prove to his fellow Americans that he was worthy of their trust by behaving with personal honor. His conduct as general and later as President solidified something greater than fame. Washington earned respect and the right to be the sole American bestowed with the honor, Patriae Pater.
On October 19th-20th, the Transatlantic History Student Organization put on their 19th annual graduate student conference at the University of Texas at Arlington. Highlighted by an engaging roundtable, keynote address from Dr. Nayan Shah, and exciting new research from graduate students in the field of Transatlantic History, the conference proved to be an excellent professional experience where I made great connections.
The conference kicked off on Friday night with a roundtable that directly tackled the theme of the weekend, “Subversive Spaces, Subversive Bodies.” With several discussants, including Drs. Stephanie Cole and Patryk Babiracki, the topics ranged from race to gender to the role of the state. One topic they deliberated that I found particularly engaging was the difference between subversive zones and borderlands. I had always considered those two concepts regarding their location in geographic space: the borderlands as an area that no state has yet to be able to fully establish its authority and subversive zones as areas within an established state where people are able to practice subversive activity. Their discussion got me thinking about how subversive zones exist within the borderlands, as people coalesce to challenge and subvert power in various forms, regardless of the state. It was a fun, engaging, and well-organized roundtable that, frankly, I could have listened to for another hour.
Immediately following the roundtable, Dr. Shah took the floor and presented his research on hunger strikes as a bodily form of protest in prisons. One of the key concepts of his work is the notion of the carceral control of food. Life in a prison is organized primarily around meal times and the primary power of the prison is that it can dole out and withhold food as it pleases. He argued that when political inmates went on hunger strike, it severely undermined the power structure within the institution. The prison’s control of food no longer mattered to the protester. If the hunger strike became public, it further undermined carceral control, thus making hunger strikes an important weapon of political prisoners throughout the twentieth century.
In thinking about his presentation and the topic of bodily forms of protest, my mind immediately turned toward more extreme protests, like bodily mutilation or self-immolation. When I asked him about it during the Q&A, Dr. Shah patiently went through the many forms of bodily protest that occurred in prisons but came back to his argument that hunger strikes were the most effective at undermining carceral control. It was a convincing argument and the talk overall was a rewarding experience.
On Saturday, the degreed professionals took a back seat and the graduate students got to shine. The first panel of the day, titled “Reinterpreting the Body: Gender, Race, and Youth Construction,” contained three insightful papers. One that stood out because it seemed quite relevant to the public activities of white supremacists today was Derrick Angermeier’s “The Germans are Beating Us at Our Own Game: The Path from Southern Eugenics to Transatlantic Nazism.” He argued that, while Nazism undermined scientific Eugenics in the South, white supremacy remained a welcome pathway for racial expression in the United States. He dubbed the post-World War II American white supremacist movement as “transatlantic Nazism” because it shared so many features with its German cousin, particularly the symbolism, like the use of the iron cross. Angermeier’s presentation was both engaging and a little bit scary considering some of the parallels he made to current events.
The second panel, “Policing the Body Politic,” only had two presenters but they both provided unique perspectives on their topics. Heather Lane enlightened us on the debates within police forces across the Atlantic about systematizing human identification. While fingerprinting ultimately won out, different systems of measurement were championed across the western hemisphere which led to considerable confrontations among police forces. Aleksei Rubstov similarly tackled the issue of police monitoring and identification but flipped it to show how police identified social networks within protest movements in Moscow. One of the highlights of Rubstov’s presentation was his beautiful visualization of those networks and how they connected or did not.
I was in the third panel, “Buying In: Subverting Economy, Citizenship, and Expectations.” After we three panelists all presented, I understood the real value of a graduate student conference. Throughout the conference, a panel chair commented on each paper and most of them provided an incredible amount of constructive feedback. Our panel was no exception as Dr. Christopher Morris gave us all individual comments that, for me at least, will make not only that paper better, but help me think through my entire dissertation. I also made excellent professional connections with the other members of my panel.
Overall, the Transatlantic History Student Organization put together a wonderful conference, which makes it clear how a graduate student conference made it to its nineteenth year. I encountered engaging academic discussion, received amazing feedback, and created a couple important professional connections that I hope lead to future conference panels.
Before California’s gubernatorial primary election, four Democrats and two Republicans faced off in a televised debate on January 25, 2018. Moderators Jorge Ramos and Ilia Caldéron asked candidates Antonio Villaraigosa (D), Delaine Eastin (D), Gavin Newsom (D), John Chiang (D), John Cox (R), and Travis Allen (R), about many issues, including immigration in general and in particular—they asked questions on sexual assault against undocumented women, on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and on immigrant farm work. Candidates Chiang and Cox alluded to the Bracero Program, a guest-worker program enacted between 1942-1964, during the debate. The discussion demonstrated how the program is remembered and how guest workers should be treated. The comments suggest the United States should remember workers’ hardships, so they are treated humanely when legislators propose immigration policies.
A fourteen-year old, Benjamín Zepeda, asked the candidates, “How can you help families like mine that are scared to be separated due to deportation?” this prompted Chiang’s indirect reference to the Bracero Program. As he highlighted immigrants’ contribution to California’s development, he recalled that during World War II the nation invited Mexicans to labor in our farms. Acknowledging the country’s failure to advocate for fully just immigration policies, he declared that our economic future would be shaped by immigrants. In recalling braceros’ contributions, the candidate pledged his support for immigrants because our country should represent dignity, decency, and respect for all people. He accordingly vowed to solve such issues with all governors by pushing Washington D.C., to enact comprehensive immigration reform. Thus, Chiang’s comments alluded to the significance and importance of the Bracero Program. 1
Chiang’s statement referring to this country’s failure in advocating for just immigration policies had merit even in regard to the Bracero Program, whose resurrection is sometimes promoted as a solution to current immigration problems. The binational agreement originated when the agribusiness and railroad industries lobbied Congress for a guest-worker program. President Franklin Roosevelt subsequently signed an executive order which caused Mexico and the United States to create the Bracero Program from 1942-1951; Congress later extended the program from 1951 to 1964. Contracted Mexican workers, known as Braceros, traveled from their homes to migratory stations in Mexico before reaching the border. Then, they traveled from the stations to U.S. reception centers where they were formally contracted. Braceros were to be paid a minimum wage, provided with housing, given food, and promised a small pension from deducted funds in their paychecks.2
The program brought numerous laborers to the United States; however, there were not enough jobs for them, which led the applicants to take desperate measures. For example, on June 13th, 1958 a bracero bought a peer’s identity, so he could move up in the waiting list. Contracted by the Ventura County Citrus Growers Committee, the bracero, after his six-month contract, used the peer’s name again. Migratory officials, however, found that he was using the fraudulent identity. Thus, Mexicans who could not attain a contract through formal measures used such informal means and increasingly crossed the border as undocumented immigrants. The Eisenhower administration, subsequently, enacted Operation Wetback in 1954 which resulted in the deportation of over a million Mexicans. Mexican officials were upset at the deportations as they argued that the U.S. had invited workers to cross the border, then punished undocumented workers, instead of the employers who hired them.3
Moderator Ilia Caldéron later in the debate asked John Cox, “Do you know that more than 60% of the people harvesting fruits and veggies here in California are undocumented immigrants? Isn’t it pro-business to give them a legal status?” The candidate answered by sympathizing with Central Valley Farmers. According to Cox, the farmers advertised higher wages; however, they continued to endure labor shortages. The candidate then argued for a labor importation program, basically another Bracero Program already shown to be flawed. He claimed that Latinos came from dysfunctional and corrupt countries such as, Mexico, Honduras, Venezuela, and Guatemala. Cox continued by describing them as nations where special interests, cronies, and monopolists receive government favors. The candidate ended by stating that Latinos come to the United States because it is a country of laws. But some farmers’ actions during the program tell a different story.4
The Bracero Program demonstrated that the United States often acted as a nation without laws, as the government frequently served farmers’ interests despite written agreements. For example, in November 1942, a frost damaged pea crops in the Imperial Valley of California. At the time, braceros were contracted to harvest peas, but were instead ordered to tie carrots. In addition, farmers paid braceros and domestic workers six cents per bushel instead of the normal eight-cent piece rate which challenged the prevailing wage agreement in the program. Objecting against such “cheap” labor, discontented domestic workers organized a strike on January 9, 1943 advocating for the original rate. In response, the California Farm Labor Transportation Program and the Imperial Valley Farmers Association worked together to deport braceros who refused to be strikebreakers. Thus, forty workers were deported between January 9 and February 3. The tying season finished before the strike gathered momentum.5
The United States, nevertheless, continued to break laws. Before 1952, the U.S president and the Mexican government informally re-approved the Bracero Program. Once President Harry Truman signed Public Law No. 78, the program required Congress’s approval every two years. The next renewal was accordingly discussed in 1954. Although both countries had failed to come to an agreement in early 1954, U.S. Border Patrol officials encouraged Mexicans to cross the border under an undocumented status. Tony Gose, a resident from the Imperial Valley, verified this claim in a House Agriculture Committee report. On one occasion, he witnessed a Mexican official grab a former bracero to prevent him from being hired as an undocumented laborer. A U.S. official, however, in a tug of war fashion, grabbed the laborer in an attempt to take him from the Mexican agent. Finally, both governments after tense negotiations agreed on a new renewal in 1954.6
After the program, society has demonstrated that braceros have been remembered, but policymakers need to study their experiences more closely. Providing assistance for such study, the National Museum of American History has created the Bracero History Project to tell the complex history of braceros. Also, the Bracero Justice Movement has sought to recognize the exploitation and injustices guest workers faced, as well as to recuperate pensions and wages withheld from them. Policymakers should remember that braceros often found ways to alleviate the wrongs they experienced. They also developed agency when confronting state power in ways that might give politicians pause in promoting new guest worker programs As Mireya Loza argues in Defiant Braceros, braceros participated in deviance and defiance when they participated in the vice and sex industries along the border. Their shared leisure experiences gave them agency but also demonstrates that the importation of temporary male workers might be less preferable than admission of permanent residents in families.7
Policymakers, nevertheless, must agree that the United States and California was built on the backs of immigrants, that our country represents dignity, decency, and respect for all people, and that our nation should recognize and avoid repeating historical injustices when composing new immigration laws.
Univision Noticias, “Forum with California’s gubernatorial candidates 2018.” YouTube video, 1:36:14, January 25, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcWa-X0RxwA&t=2044s&index=13&list=WL. ↩
Henry P. Anderson, The Bracero Program in California. (New York: Arno Press, 1976),43, 108. ↩
Peter N. Kirstein, “Agribusiness, Labor and the Wetbacks: Truman’s Commission on Migratory Labor,” The Historian, vol. 40. no. 4 (1978): 651; Richard B. Craig, The Bracero Program Interest Groups and Foreign Policy (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971), 4. ↩
Univision Noticias, “Forum with California’s gubernatorial candidates 2018.” ↩
Don Mitchell, They Saved the Crops: Labor, Landscape, and the Struggle Over Industrial Farming in Bracero-Era California (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012), 35-36; Warne D. Rasmussen, A History of The Emergency Farm Labor Supply Program 1943-47(Washington D.C., Agriculture Monograph No. 13, U.S. Department of Agriculture Bureau of Agricultural Economics, 1951), 202. ↩
“Valley Hopes for Border Labor Pact,” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 1, 1954; “Violence Halts Wetback Crossing,” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 25, 1954; “Policy Shift Traps Mexican Farm Workers,” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 26, 1954; Robert S. Robinson, “Taking the Fair Deal to the Fields: Truman’s Commission on Migratory Labor, Public Law 78, and the Bracero Program, 1950-1952,” Agricultural History84, no. 3 (Summer-2010): 394-398.; House of Representatives, Committee on Agriculture, Mexican Farm Labor. 83rdCong., 1954, 67, 69. ↩
Mireya Loza, Defiant Braceros: How Migrant Workers Fought for Racial Sexual and Political Freedom, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2016), 17, 173, 182. ↩
When Julie Andrews sang My Favorite Things in Roger and Hammerstein’s 1965 musical, The Sound of Music, she really wasn’t singing about things.
Well, at least not in the sense that we are used to talking about them. This was not a tune about buying or collecting “stuff.” No. This was no ode to materialism.
Instead, Andrews was singing about how the sight of certain things gave her a sense of pleasure and delight because she associated them with ideas and values that she esteemed.
Arguably, the extraordinary power of sight is what keeps the 126-year-old Vogue magazine publishing its famous September issue despite the tentative status of print culture in American society and in the world.
Background- What is the September Issue?
It’s no secret that a panoply of digital news and entertainment sites have caused print publications to struggle. Last September, The New York Times discussed the crises of the print world in an article called “The Not-So-Glossy Future of Magazines.” The Times seemed settled on the idea that print culture was fighting an inevitable decline, and it explained, “Magazines have sputtered for years, their monopoly on readers and advertising erased by Facebook, Google and more nimble online competitors.”
Two years ago, The Times mentioned some of the specific obstacles that affected Vogue’sparent company, Conde Nast. According to NYT, “Its digital business is up nearly 70 percent…but that component, as with virtually every other legacy media company, represents a much smaller percentage of overall revenue, which has declined in recent years.”
Despite these realities, Vogue still continues to print a large, ornate, and expensive commemorative edition of the magazine each September.
This yearly commemorative edition is not merely a guide for style and self-presentation. It is an attempt to provide an analysis of American culture while simultaneously making cogent assessments about important international issues.
Vogue’seditor, Anna Wintour explains: “I think we’re living, in terms of media, in a very democratic age, but I think that we still look at everything through the lens of Vogue and through our own point of view. Vogue…can help guide enormous audiences through this fascinating world.”
In other words, Vogue still feels like it has something unique to offer its readers. This something is an intricately illustrated periodical that uses aesthetics as an impetus for describing, explaining, and editorializing changes in the national and international spheres.
This month’s issue celebrates global beauty and the democratization of decisions regarding what is legitimately considered a style trend. Vogue explains that the proliferation of digital media and social media sites have allowed those outside of the fashion industry and outside of the Western World to make important contributions and commentary about what is virtuous, appropriate, and/or attractive.
What is Inside this September Issue?
One of this month’s stories discusses the politics of clothing in Muslim societies and promotes a Muslim fashion exhibition at San Francisco’s de Young Museum with articles of clothing from research conducted in Indonesia and Malaysia. The article depicts the myriad ways in which Muslim women express their personal identities through their garb. It also mentions that the exhibit displays documentary photographs of women who protested the wearing of a chador, a traditional cloth worn over the head and upper body, during the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
Another story discusses dinners for refugees that are hosted by a food-event, start-up company called Komeeda. The organization sponsors “refugee-chef dinners,” that allow those who have fled from their countries to introduce their plights and their countries’ cuisines to American participants. Dinners have occurred in the Lower East side of New York, Austin, TX, and Washington D.C. Vogue reports there is a French catering company called Les Cuistots Migrateurs that has done something similar in Paris, Lyon, Madrid, and Rome.
There is also an article advocating the global initiative of raising the minimum age of working models to eighteen to combat the emotional turmoil and sexual abuse known to be pervasive in the modeling world.
The September Issue has lighter touches, as well. There are profiles of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new director, Max Hollein, and the man recently responsible for designing Serena’s Williams court ensembles that have been praised throughout the sports and aesthetic worlds, Virgil Abloh.
And, of course, there is an essay written by the cover star, Beyoncé, who waxes poetically about the evolution of her mind, soul, and body. She recently gave birth to twins, and like her friend Serena Williams, who also gave birth within the last year, Beyoncé experienced complications in childbirth. Both she and Williams have advocated societal acceptance of women’s bodies post childbirth.
Additionally, Beyoncé uses the pages of Vogue to express her unequivocal belief that modern communication platforms must express the voices and the struggles of those marginalized within the United States and around the world.
All of these articles are illustrated, and Vogue argues that printed illustrations are the best ways to ensure that the messages of the brand continually resonate with its readers.
Vogue’seditor, Anna Wintour puts it this way: “I think what you have to do in print is to create even more memorable images and more memorable pieces because what one consumes online or in social [media] has a much shorter shelf life, so to speak, so what print has to have is no more weight, but it has to be something that you can’t find so easily online. It has to really stand for print.”
There is a desire by Wintour and her staff to appeal to their readers at a level beyond the simple transmission of rhetoric. They want their readers to remember the people, the values, the events, and the moments that they believe are notable. And with all the print and digital competition that is constantly vying for the modern consumer’s attention, it helps to have an intricately illustrated “cheat-sheet” to refer to and to collect for posterity.
Examples of Iconic Images in American Culture
In using print images to commemorate important people and moments of American culture, Vogue is continuing a tradition within America of representing and commemorating the country’s most poignant times visually. Below are a few iconic examples:
This photo was taken on September 14, 2001, three days after the historic terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. President George W. Bush flew to New York and stood at Ground Zero where the World Trade Center’s twin towers lay in ruins. Bush climbed on top of some rubble and placed his arms around one of the fire fighters, took a bull horn, and began thanking and encouraging the first responders on the scene. His famous line, “I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you! And the people who knocked down these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”created a defining moment in his presidency and was a crucial step in solidifying support for the war on terror.
This image was taken on January 20, 2009 during the inaugural ball of President Barack Obama, the country’s first African-American president. It captures a private moment between the President and the First Lady, Michelle Obama, and contributed to the popular belief that America’s new president wasn’t just smart; he was “cool.”
This image was taken on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, TX only a few moments before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, which resulted in America’s loss of “Camelot.”
For many, this photograph of 9-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phúc, running while burned and naked in 1972 represented the horrors of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, despite the fact that this particular incident of horror came from a napalm bombing carried out by a South Vietnamese Air Force pilot. The photo earned a 1973 Pulitzer Prize.
This photograph reminds us that the results of an election cannot be known until every vote is counted. The prevailing wisdom of the time was that President Truman would lose the presidency to New York governor, Thomas Dewey. The day after the election, November 3, 1948, President Truman delighted in being underestimated.
This Pulitzer Prize photo by Joe Rosenthal illustrates the raising of an American flag by five Marines and a Navy corpsman who were ordered by a commander to hoist the flag to encourage American troops and to discourage the Japanese enemy.
These images affirm that visuals are as much a part of American history as our ideas, our rhetoric, and the moments that embody, challenge, and shape us. Vogue realizes this and is continuing to contribute to our visual history. For this reason, the September issue still matters.
Sydney Ember and Michael M. Grynbaum, “The Not-So-Glossy Future of Magazines.” The New York Times. September 23, 2017.
Alexandra Steigrad, “Anna Wintour on Vogue at 125 – and Defining Print in the Digital Age.” Women’s Wear Daily.September 13, 2017.
Kenneth T. Walsh, “George W. Bush’s ‘Bulhorn’ Moment.” U.S. News and World Report. April 25, 2013.
Julia Azari, “A Challenge for Obama’s Successor: Being a Casual, Cool President.” Politico Magazine.
“JFK and the Public View,” The Kennedy Era: A CYOU project about John F. and Robert F. Kennedy. (pages.shanti.virgnia.edu) A University of Virginia site. The article sites the original publication that used the Camelot reference. Life Magazine. December 6, 1953.
“Confronting the Myths of the ‘Napalm Girl.’ “ The Baltimore Sun. March 31, 2017. The article discusses the initial article that it printed about this image on June 9, 1972.
In Professor Ariel Ron’s Graduate Colloquium,
U.S. History, 1812-1877, I wrote a historiographical paper on the early development of agriculture in California. Since I wanted to broaden my understanding of U.S. agriculture, I knew that I wanted to continue to research themes that related to agriculture in forthcoming courses. Thus, I met with Professor Crista DeLuzio on a September evening to discuss my intentions for her fall colloquium on U.S. History from 1877-1929. In her office, we discussed my research interests, which helped me choose a topic for my historiographical assignment. During our conversation, I realized that I wanted to study women’s role in agricultural labor during the decades surrounding the twentieth century. I presented my idea to Professor DeLuzio and she approved my topic. As the semester progressed, I found only a handful of books and articles that addressed the subject in depth. Historians, of this field, raised questions about women’s role in agriculture. For example, what was the role of African American women in agriculture? How did women affect family farms? How did women’s labor differ throughout the United States? How did women perform agricultural labor alongside their husbands and sons? Ultimately, I was surprised to find that there are few works that discusses women’s role in agricultural labor from 1870-1920.
Marion Barthelme’s Women in the Texas Populist Movement: Letters to the Southern Mercuryreveals the speeches, essays, and letters women wrote to the influential Southern Mercury. The Farmers’ Alliance recognized the Southern Mercury’s significance in advancing policies of the Populist Movement. In her work, Bartheleme publishes the original documents, so readers can understand how women felt about everyday experiences. Women wrote letters that discussed themes such as: politics, farm life, women’s suffrage, education, clothing, temperance, as well as other matters. Through government advancements of the nuclear family, women were often characterized as individuals who focused on the nurture of their households. However, Texan women worked outside of their homes by helping men in fields and pastures. Women collected goods in gardens and pastures to exchange them for necessary commodities. During periods of economic downturns, however, women continued to financially struggle. While they kept on working in and outside of the home, their work did not bring them the financial security they needed. Thus, through Barthelme’s work, I was able to observe one trend of women in agricultural labor.[i]
From Mary Neth’s Preserving the Family Farm: Women, Community, and the Foundations of Agribusiness in the Midwest, 1900-1940, I learned about women’s agricultural labor in a different region. Neth acknowledges the gender inequalities that existed even in most cooperative family farms; however, men, women, and children cast aside such inequalities to preserve their farms as agribusiness grew in the Midwest. While historians have characterized such instances as opportunities for women’s resistance, Neth argues that Midwestern women put their families before themselves. By participating in field labor and family care, women created commodities such as poultry flocks and eggs for their families as well as the market. Also, young boys and girls dug and planted potatoes, picked berries, and set tobacco. Families utilized these subsistence mechanisms to stabilize their household budgets, so they would not be bought off by agribusiness agents. Neth describes how certain commodities required women’s labor. For example, in Wisconsin, mothers and daughters gathered tobacco. Since farmers could not afford to employ many laborers, all family members often worked together in tobacco fields. Thus, families kept some of their purchasing power by not hiring additional labor. Women’s work in pastures and field was clear. In times of government surveys of agricultural production, however, women reported that they only helped in production. Therefore, women’s full participation in agricultural production was unintentionally overlooked.[ii]
By the turn of the twentieth century, women’s role in agricultural labor significantly increased during World War I. Cecilia Gowdy Wygant’s Cultivating Victory: The Woman’s Land Army and the Victory Garden Movement examines British and American women’s role in agricultural labor during both World Wars. Wygant argues that between 1900 and 1950 both British and American governments utilized images of agrarian women as symbols of nationalism which questioned their roles in farming and gardening. Once the U.S. joined the Allies in World War I, the federal government created the Women’s Land Army of America (WLAA). The WLAA trained women, so they could serve as agricultural workers. Women’s groups and college campuses created agricultural training programs for women with the WLAA’s help. For example, the University of Virginia taught women how to plow, harrow, till land, and prepare land by horse-drawn plows. Women who completed the training were known as “farmerettes.” Through such endeavors, women contributed to the war effort by producing food for their respective nations. More importantly, women’s strong participation in agricultural labor reinterpreted women’s role in agriculture as well as society. For example, the WLAA recommended better labor standards for agricultural laborers. They advocated for better cleanliness in living quarters to protect workers and the food supply. Also, the group called for improved boarding, compensation, and working conditions when they were employed. Women used these organizations to change some of the unfair practices in agriculture. While they were not always successful, their activism altered perceptions of normal agricultural practices such as conditions of living quarters.
While these were not the only books I reviewed for my historiographical paper about women’s role in agricultural labor during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, they were the most influential. I learned a great deal from this assignment. However, I concluded there are still many questions that should be addressed about this topic. What was the role of women in agricultural labor in regions such as the Southwest or the Southeast? Did these roles vary by ethnic groups? How did women’s roles change through their participation in agricultural labor? While I have not solely focused on such questions, I will continue to observe how the scholarship has changed. As my research continues, I may be able to answer some of these questions in the future.[iii]
[i]Marion K. Barthelme, Women in the Texas Populist Movement Letters to the Southern Mercury (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1997), 3,4,7,12, 14, & 17.
[ii]Mary Neth, Preserving the Family Farm: Women, Community, and the Foundations of Agribusiness in the Midwest, 1900-1940(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), 2,7, 12, 19, 20, 21, 23, 31,39.
[iii]Cecilia Gowdy-Wygant, Cultivating Victory: The Women’s Land Army and the Victory Garden Movement (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013), 4,8,11,31,32,44,51-53, & 63.
Kyle B. Carpenter is a PhD Candidate in SMU’s William P. Clements Department of History
I study European-born immigrants who traveled to Rio Grande Borderlands in the mid-nineteenth century. This past month, I sat down with the records of United States consular dispatches from Matamoros, Mexico to see if the consulate recorded any intersections with Europeans in the region. While I found a few choice documents for my own research, I came across a lot of interesting material within the consular dispatches that I wanted to get out there in case any other historians are interested in the topic. What I have noticed, at least in the context of Matamoros between 1826 and 1867, is that consuls individually and the consulate in general often acted as agents for U.S. imperial ambitions. They denigrated the local Mexican population and Mexican government, imposed upon Mexican law outside of necessary U.S. interests, and regularly called for U.S. forces to intervene in Mexican territory.
The United States consulate system was designed to protect American seaman from injustices imposed by foreign powers as well as extend commerce and preserve trade for U.S. mercantile interests. Even though the consuls in Matamoros executed that agenda, they tended to partake in a few extracurricular activities to push the United States to extend beyond its territorial boundaries. For example, Daniel W. Smith represented the United States as consul in Matamoros and remained one of the longest standing consuls in that port discharging those responsibilities from 1826 to 1842, which was no small feat in the age of executive patronage. In 1829, he crafted a report to then Secretary of State Martin Van Buren complaining about Mexican officials practicing extra judicial policies in which he concluded that, “The most intelligent natives of this country manifest an anxious solicitude that something decisive may be effected in relation to our commercial intercourse. They have been often heard to remark…that under the Administration of General Jackson it would be sooner and better adjusted.” This statement offers a wealth of detail to unpack. First, by the term “natives,” Smith was describing Mexicans. However, by using that careful choice of words he takes away their ownership of the land and associates Mexicans with Native Americans, who Jackson was at the time forcing to remove from their Eastern lands. Smith’s statement also implies that the Mexican government was incapable ensuring profitable trade and the best of the Mexican population would prefer to live under Jackson’s administration. Smith would continue to suggest that the Mexican government was incapable of protecting commerce and that the whole region would greatly benefit from more sound government, like that of the United States.
Even after the United States’ successful conquest of the Southwest in the U.S.-Mexico War, consuls continued to push for expanding U.S. power beyond the border. Thomas Slemons, U.S. consul in Matamoros in 1848, declared that the United States should waste no time claiming sovereignty over the entire Rio Grande so that “it opens to our commerce and agriculture a valley almost equal to that of the Mississippi.” Further, he notes that the continued development of American towns along the river would ensure that the United States would control the commerce of all of Northern Mexico.
Slemons’s soft colonialism turned into overt calls for the use of more military force by the time Richard Fitzpatrick took over the consulate. In 1860, Fitzpatrick witnessed the peak of the Cortina raids north of the Rio Grande and the outbreak of a violent civil conflict within Matamoros and could not withhold his vitriol for Mexico. Penning a letter to Secretary of State Lewis Cass, the fiery consul claimed, “These people are and always have been deadly hostile to every American (unless he is a negro or mulatto)…It is an entire mistake if our government believes that the people of this country are or ever will be friendly to Americans…if our government intends to protect the lives and property of our citizens it must be done by force, for it cannot be done by treaty stipulations.” In this letter, consul Fitzpatrick clearly implies that the United States needs to invade Matamoros because he believes Mexicans to be an inferior people who have no regard for their American superiors. By demanding violent interference, Fitzpatrick hoped for military occupation and possibly further conquest below the Rio Grande.
The above mark just a few examples I found in the consular dispatches of one port in Northern Mexico and even there I have barely scratched the surface. The historiography on the United States consulate system remains quite sparse, at least in my cursory review of it. Considering that it has officially been in existence since 1792 and created abundant sources that are well organized and easily accessed, the consulate system marks a gaping hole in American historiography. Gautham Rao’s history of the U.S. custom houses could even provide an excellent model for how to tackle such a large bureaucracy. I think it’s a worthwhile and significant topic, not to mention the documents are quite entertaining to read.
 Daniel W. Smith to Martin Van Buren, July 01, 1829, “Despatches from United States Consuls in Matamoros, Mexico, 1826-1906,” Microfilm Mf79.01, reel 1, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.
 Daniel W. Smith to Louis McLane, January 01, 1834 & Daniel W. Smith to John Forsyth, January 01, 1835, Ibid.
 Thomas Slemons to James Buchanan, November 12, 1848, , “Despatches from United States Consuls in Matamoros, Mexico, 1826-1906,” Microfilm Mf79.01, reel 3, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.
 For more on these conflicts see Jerry Thompson’s book Cortina: Defending the Mexican Name in Texas, (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2007).
 Richard Fitzpatrick to Lewis Cass, January 06, 1860, “Despatches from United States Consuls in Matamoros, Mexico, 1826-1906,” Microfilm Mf79.01, reel 4, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.
 An added note: Fitzpatrick was from South Carolina and quit his post as U.S. consul in November to join the Confederacy.
 Gautham Rao, National Duties: Custom Houses and the Making of the American State (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).
“What do you think about Trump’s border wall?” As an historian of the Rio Grande and its environment I get that question often. While discussions vary in length and detail, they all conclude in the same way: it is complicated. Contemporary issues, such as funding and politics in and between the United States and Mexico, make the reality of a contiguous wall from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean difficult although not impossible. Along with these present-day problems, historical perspectives on the relative novelty of borders and the efficacy of walls also beg the question: would a wall even work as intended, namely at stopping people from illegally entering through the southern border of the United States?
One of the things I tell people is that borders—lines that separate one political entity from another—are relatively new historical developments. Yes, people and empires have designated territories for themselves for millennia. These areas, however, collided into one another, blurring the lines of control and creating places where little to no power existed, empirical or otherwise. Borders changed all of this. Beginning in the seventeenth century, burgeoning nation-states went through the process of what Peter Sahlins calls the “territorialization of sovereignty.” Essentially, nation-states wanted and established geographical definition of their jurisdiction with lines separating one state from another.
For the United States and Mexico, these lines were part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Signed on February 2, 1848, the treaty not only ended the Mexican-American War, but also set the boundaries between the two nations from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific. Establishing the border on paper was easy; making it a reality was much more difficult. The United States purchased more land in 1853, pushing the southern border of what would be Arizona further into Mexico. The Rio Grande—a meandering, shallow, and flood-prone river—constantly shifted, making Article V of the Treaty of Guadalupe, which stipulated that the boundary line would follow the deepest channel of the river, a logistical nightmare. Determining the border took decades, with legal battles over tracts of land lasting well into the twentieth century. The U.S.-Mexico border, then, is in its historical infancy.
If borders in general and the U.S.-Mexico border specifically are relatively new historical developments, walls are most certainly not. If anything, they have seemingly existed since time immemorial, with Hadrian’s Wall, the Great Wall of China, and the Berlin Wall all attesting to the long-held belief in separating one area from another. Vestiges of these walls still exist, along with a simple question: did they work? In some ways, the answer is obvious. By their very nature, walls provide a physical barrier between two places, making it difficult for people who wish to cross, legally or otherwise. Moreover, walls, and–as is often the case now–fences, usually have very real and often violent consequences. Take, for example, the Berlin Wall, where between 86 and 262 people died and another 75,000 were arrested, serving prison sentences for up to eight years for “deserting the public.” At the same time, people still found their way across the heavily fortified and guarded wall, with tens of thousands of East Berliners managing to escape “by climbing over the wall, digging under the wall, flying over the wall, [and] hiding in secret compartments of cars.”
As for the United States, the extant border fence covers about 650-700 of the roughly 2000 mile border between the United States and Mexico, with statistics showing that it has greatly reduced the inflow of illegal immigration over a ten year period. From 2005 to 2015, the number of successful illegal entries of Mexican immigrants dropped from 1,900,000 to 200,000, roughly a 90% decrease. In the year since Trump has taken office, attempted illegal crossings from Mexico have hit a 46 year low, with U.S. border patrol agents arresting 310,531 people through September 30, 2017 (the end of the U.S. government’s fiscal year). Between the current border fence, Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, and a steadily decreasing trend of illegal immigration, a wall along the 2000-mile border would most likely further deter people from entering into the United States via the border.
But even if the wall were to be built, and even if it decreased immigration, would it really “work”? That obviously depends on the definition of “work.” For Americans who want stricter immigration policies, Trump’s wall probably seems like a reasonable, if not genius, idea. For those Americans, however, who believe in more open borders and/or loose immigration policies, the wall in all likelihood seems like a poor solution to a humanitarian problem. As historian Rachel St. John states, “whether or not they successfully reduce the number of unauthorized entries by immigrants and smugglers, fences [or walls] are a failure of relational power.” For some people, then, erecting walls or threatening to build them only exacerbates problems, propagating “Us vs. Them” rhetoric and deteriorating international relations.
Trump’s proposed border wall has multiple issues to address before it can become a reality. Hopefully he and his administration can look to the past to make a more informed decision about the future of the U.S.-Mexico border, taking into consideration the rather novel idea that borders must be protected and that walls are the best way of doing so. Former Arizona Governor and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Ann Napolitano once said, “Show me a 50-foot wall, and I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder.” Regardless of the barrier, people will still come. Maybe we should leave walls in the past and look for a better way to protect national borders.
 Peter Sahlins, Boundaries: The Making of France and Spain in the Pyrenees (Berkeley and Los Angeles: The University of California Press, 1989), 8.
 Helmut Langerbein, “Great Blunders?: The Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, and the Proposed United States/Mexico Border Fence,” The History Teacher Vol. 43, No. 1 (November 2009), 22.
Kyle B. Carpenter is a PhD Student in SMU’s William P. Clements Department of History
Just two weeks after the annual meeting of the Society for U.S. Intellectual History, this year’s Southern Historical Association annual meeting was in Dallas, just two train stops from the SMU campus. I attended Friday’s slate of roundtables, lunches, and panels and found them all quite engaging. A huge program that included a wide range of topics made it difficult to choose which sessions to attend. In the end I chose to start the day with a roundtable on Atlantic Revolutions, spend lunch networking, and finish with a panel on slavery and capitalism. Within each experience, scholars engaged in healthy academic debate that provided great lessons for a graduate student learning how the profession works.
After registering and meandering through all the publisher booths in the main hall, I sat in on a roundtable about the legacy of revolutions in the Atlantic world. Cynthia Bouton kicked off the discussion with her exploratory paper on the role of subsistence in the Caribbean during the era of revolutions. Looking at Haiti particularly, she questioned the role French colonies played in the French Revolutionary program based on the food commitments France made to the island. Building on Michel-Rolph Trouillot, she posited that peripheries drove the centers since they demanded constant attention and maintenance. Manuel Covo, in his paper, asked similar questions about the relationship between Haiti and France, but in the context of the historiography of each nation’s revolution. Noticing that Haiti rarely appears in the French national narrative, he made a call for more global histories, especially regarding the age of revolutions. Also with a nod to Trouillot, Covo claimed that national histories and historiographies too often obscure important trends, themes, and arguments made on the global stage. Caitlin Fitz shifted the discussion to the United States and its role in this period. She provided insights into how Americans viewed the Latin American revolutions, specifically the abolitionist trend that went with them. She concluded that the seeming U.S. support for Latin America’s revolutions was quite shallow as Americans tended to focus on how those revolutions related to the American Revolution. Since Latin America’s push for abolition did not seem to threaten American slavery in the eyes of Southern slave holders, it was easy to support their movements until the Panama Conference drove Latin American abolition to the U.S. political stage. Finally, Lester Langley provided his thesis that the entire Western Hemisphere needs to be studied and taught as a coherent unit. The discussion after the papers proved quite lively as the presenters debated the role the American Revolution played to initiate change while also maintaining slavery as a cornerstone institution in the United States.
For lunch, the Southern Historical Association provided graduate students the opportunity to sit down with established scholars and discuss academic branding. I sat with Drs. Andrew Torget and Max Krochmal alongside five other graduate students in similar fields. The conversation supplied many helpful tips for young historians to make their way in the profession. Dr. Torget gave insightful points about maintaining and protecting an online presence. He offered the simple suggestion that a well-kept website does a lot of the grunt work of making one’s professional history and accomplishments easy to access and consume without the drawbacks that come with social media. Dr. Krochmal gave the equally helpful advice that the networks young historians make with their peers often prove to be the most rewarding down the line. Overall, the lunch provided a wonderful experience to learn from established scholars and meet fellow graduate students from other institutions interested in similar topics as me.
The last panel I attended for the day featured the topic “The Culture of Capitalism and Slavery.” All the papers added significantly to the discussion of that contentious field. Ian Beamish showed that, in fact, planters kept terrible accounting records, meaning they likely did not contribute specifically to modern corporate accounting as the historiography previously hypothesized. Justene Hill presented her research that suggests that ideas of efficiency and paternalism combined in the discourse of the slave economy which fed into the proslavery arguments of the mutual dependence of slaves and slaveowners and slavery as a positive good. John Lindbeck, in the last paper of the panel, connected evangelicalism to the ideas of slavery and capitalism. He argued that planters ran efficient evangelical finance networks to create “God’s proslavery kingdom.” The kinship and finance networks planters built in the church tied faith and family to the business of slavery. Afterward, the discussion revealed the divide among historians about the validity of the study of capitalism and slavery. While the panelists fielded questions about the definitions of capitalism and paternalism, the debate spilled out into the crowd as individuals provided their own commentary to the questions asked. The fireworks that concluded the panel provided insights into how historians work out contentiousness in their field.
I really enjoyed my day at the Southern. I made good connections with other scholars and learned a lot about individual topics as well as how the profession works. The grad lunch provided the most rewarding personal experience since the setting broke down many of the social barriers to initiate conversation, but the roundtable and panel demonstrated the quality of historical work being done and how conference presentations help make an individual’s scholarship better and more polished. I look forward to presenting my own work at the Southern in the future.