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Level 5

5AAH1075 The U.S. Mexico Borderlands

Credit value: 15
Module convenor/tutor: Dr Christine Mathias
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2 hour seminar (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x 1,500 word formative essay, 1 x 3,000 word essay (100%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Assessment pre 2019/20: 2 x 2,500 word essay (50% each)

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

This module will introduce students to the history of the area surrounding the present-day political boundary between the United States and Mexico. How did this peripheral region, far from the centres of state power, become a place of great interest for those who sought to sustain and resist that power? As we grapple with that question, students will learn to think historically across and about national borders. We will begin with the first contacts between Spanish explorers and native peoples and continue through NAFTA, the war on drugs, and the contemporary migration crisis. We will look for common trends in regional history that nation-based surveys and nationalistic media coverage tend to overlook. Simultaneously, we will chart the emergence of the border as a political boundary, a social space, and a cultural entity.

Discussions will progress chronologically, focusing on three central themes: (1) competition for land and resources; (2) cultural contact, conflict, and change; and (3) the rise of the nation-state. We will use the word frontier to refer to an incomplete process of conquest and the place where cultures meet. We will understand native peoples as protagonists of their own histories, focusing not simply on how natives reacted to European incursions but also on how they understood and explained those experiences. We will study the various ways that the Spanish Empire, the United States, and Mexico attempted to impose and enforce their borders, and consider the usefulness of the term borderlands to describe this region before and after the current U.S.-Mexico border was charted in 1854.

Materials include primary source documents, fiction, song lyrics, photographs, and films, as well as historical scholarship. We will experiment with innovative techniques to interrogate various types of sources, and evaluate the methods and sources used by other scholars. Knowledge of other languages is not required or expected, but students will have the opportunity to read some texts in Spanish. Ultimately, students will develop their historical reasoning abilities in order to better understand and engage with the world today. 

Provisional Teaching Plan

  1. Frontiers, Borderlands, and Historians
  2. Native America and the Spanish Empire
  3. Frontier Violence
  4. Mexico, Texas, and the United States
  5. Borderland Economies
  6. Revolution in Mexico
  7. Border Enforcement and Migration
  8. Environmental Change, Urbanization, and Trade
  9. Race and Identity
  10. Borders and Walls 

Suggested introductory reading 

This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory.

David Weber, The Spanish Frontier in North America: The Brief Edition (New Haven, 2009).

Oscar J. Martínez (ed.), U.S.-Mexico Borderlands: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (Lanham, 2006).

Samuel Truett and Elliott Young (eds.), Continental Crossroads: Remapping U.S.-Mexico Borderlands History (Durham, 2004).

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