david chang on concow indians, native hawaiians, and south chinese


David A. Chang, ‘Borderlands in a World at Sea: Concow Indians, Native Hawaiians, and South Chinese in Indigenous, Global, and National Spaces’, Journal of American History 88, 2 (2011).


The 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s were marked by two movements that were causally related yet contradictory: huge waves of global migration in tension with nation-states’ increased efforts to consolidate authority over their borders. Three villages and hamlets—one at Irish Creek in El Dorado County, California; one at Waiākea in Hilo, Hawai‘i; and one at Wushi in Xiangshan, China—exemplify this tension and illustrate its meanings. Tracing the connections that linked these three places demonstrates the utility of using borderlands to understand the complex relationship between global migration and restrictive border making in the nineteenth century. Each of these places might be considered a borderland, and examining them as such can demonstrate how borderlands scholarship turns our attention to important yet easily neglected meeting places in history and opens our eyes to the complexities and ambiguities of social relations in those places.

Studying these places can also point to the importance of resisting two limitations of the term “borderlands.” First, the word privileges contact between two nation-states. While binational contact is important, the emergence of the modern world saw the construction of spaces where global history became local: often more than two countries were in social and economic contact, rendering the coherence of national boundaries uncertain. Rather than studying places such as the U.S.-Mexican borderlands as the region surrounding one border, we can usefully conceive of them as nodes in a network of global processes and can use the sites’ global connections to understand these processes. Second, a nation-state focus in borderlands history risks obscuring the histories of indigenous peoples whose lands had been colonized or were at risk of colonization, such as nineteenth-century American Indians and Kānaka Maoli (one of the principal Hawaiian-language terms for indigenous Hawaiian people).

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