Borderlands, The

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Borderlands, The

The Borderlands is a term popularized by historian Herbert Eugene Bolton (1870–1953) for those parts of the United States once occupied by Spain. It refers to an area mostly south of an imaginary sagging line from the Chesapeake Bay west to San Francisco Bay and sometimes includes the northern states of Mexico. Thanks to explorations undertaken by Hernando de Soto, Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, and Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo between 1539 and 1543, Spaniards had a remarkably accurate early idea of the vastness and variety of the region. Spanish occupation flowed from the Caribbean and central New Spain, driven piecemeal by the search for exploitable resources, Christian missionary zeal, concern for the defense of the more central provinces, and advantage in the imperial contest for North America. Through almost three centuries, the Caribbean rim and the northern frontier of New Spain remained a thinly peopled fringe of civil outposts, missions, and presidios. From the humid Gulf Coast of greater Florida, Louisiana, and Texas, through the arid, basin-and-range high desert of New Mexico, and on up California's foggy shore; from hunting-fishing-gathering Karankawas, Seris, and Chumashes, through Plains Apaches, Comanches, Navajos, and Pimas, to the Pueblo dwellers of New Mexico and Arizona; from St. Augustine (1565) and Santa Fe (1610), through El Paso (1683), Pensacola (1698), and San Antonio (1718), to Tucson (1776) and San Francisco (1776), the only thing that binds the Borderlands together is the history and heritage of the colonial encounter between Spaniards and Native Americans.

Although many scholars have abandoned the term Borderlands and indeed the concept of the region, no one has devised an acceptable alternative. Studies of the western Borderlands (from Texas and the Mexican state of Tamaulipas to both Californias) have proceeded with little attention to the eastern Borderlands (the coastal Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana) and vice versa. Recently, however, a reunification seems to be taking place. Indicative of the trend are David J. Weber's The Spanish Frontier in North America, 1513–1821 (1992); the three-volume Columbian Consequences, edited by David Hurst Thomas and subtitled, respectively, Archaeological and Historical Perspectives on the Spanish Borderlands West (1989), Archaeological and Historical Perspectives on the Spanish Borderlands East (1990), and The Spanish Borderlands in Pan-American Perspective (1991); and the SMRC-Newsletter, published since 1967 by the Southwestern Mission Research Center in Tucson and which includes studies about the Borderlands from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Since the late 1980s, two notable Hispanic-Latino thinkers writing inside the United States have given new vigor and direction to this ideological construct by politicizing it. Gloria Anzaldúa, writing from a Chicana vantage point in her Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987), juxtaposes the Nahuatl term nepantla, to be divided, with the Spanish term mestizo for racial fusion. In his Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking (2000), Walter Mignolo, a professor at Duke University, takes Anzaldúa's nepantlismo as a starting point and develops a hypothesis of global colonialities from it. Renewed interest in globalization dating from the 1992 quincentenary of Columbus's arrival in the new world implies further interest in a politicized Borderlands theory.

See alsoBolton, Herbert Eugene; United States-Latin American Relations; United States-Mexico Border.


Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute, 1987; 2nd edition, 1999.

Badger, R. Reid, and Lawrence A. Clayton. Alabama and the Borderlands: From Prehistory to Statehood. University, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1985.

Bannon, John F. The Spanish Borderlands Frontier, 1513–1821. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1974.

Bannon, John F., ed. Bolton and the Spanish Borderlands. Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1964.

Bolton, Herbert E. The Spanish Borderlands: A Chronicle of Old Florida and the Southwest. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1921.

Hadley, Drummond. The Voice of the Borderlands. Tucson, AZ: Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2005.

Keating, Ana Louise. Entre Mundos/Among Worlds: New Perspectives on Gloria E. Anzaldúa. New York: Palgrave, 2005.

Mignolo, Walter. Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Stoddard, Ellwyn R., Richard L. Nostrand, and Jonathan P. West, eds. Borderlands Sourcebook: A Guide to the Literature on Northern Mexico and the American Southwest. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1983.

Thomas, David Hurst, ed. Spanish Borderlands Sourcebooks, 27 vols. New York: Garland, 1991–1992. Consists mostly of reprinted documents and articles.

                                        John L. Kessell

                                      Thomas Ward