Seeing the World in Borderlands History: The Tangled Tales of an English Globetrotter Who Became a Mexican Peasant

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 9:10 AM
Scottsdale Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Samuel Truett, University of New Mexico
This paper will take as its point of departure the border crossings of a nineteenth-century globetrotter, John Denton Hall.  Hall’s path led from England, through the imperial and indigenous borderlands of the Indian Ocean and South China Sea, through the California gold fields, to the borderlands of northern Mexico.  Seeking a fortune at the global edges of empire, Hall became tangled up in the world, living out his life as the peasant villager Juan Denton.  His story opens up a way of thinking about borderlands history that breaks out of older north-south U.S.-Mexico binaries.  By tangling his border-crossing life with that of his family and his nineteenth-century cohort, I seek to situate borderlands history in a larger geographical context—one that connects the intimate spaces of Europe, Asia, Australia, the U.S. West, and northern Mexico, and underscores the value for historians of engaging what sociologists and anthropologists call local-level transnational life.  By tracing his local “entanglements” across the world, I also ask how borderlands historians might reorganize their narratives (as have scholars such as Linda Colley, Natalie Zemon Davis, and Martha Hodes) around the border-crossing trajectories of specific individuals and their intimate transnational networks.  How might borderland historians attempt—by taking on a traveling companion, as it were—to circumvent traditional itineraries (ways of seeing global flows and networks) suggested by imperial, national, migrant, and world systems paradigms?  By tracking the life and times of a single globetrotter, I ask how one might map a more idiosyncratic path into world history, to see how larger collectivities at the same time organized and failed to organize border-crossing relationships.
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