The June 2023 issue of the Journal of American History is now available at Oxford University Press Online. This issue features articles by William S. Kiser (Texas A&M-San Antonio), Cooper Wingert (Penn State, Richards Center), Wendell Nii Laryea Adjetey (McGill University), and Mia Martin Hobbs (Deakin University/University of Melbourne), as well as book, movie, digital history, and public history reviews.
The Business of Killing Indians: Contract Warfare and Genocide in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands
In the nineteenth-century U.S.-Mexico borderlands, bounty systems motivated the enslavement and murder of Indians. Mexican bounty laws inform understandings of Native American genocide in several ways: the programs involved a decentralized state outsourcing institutional violence to private parties; most killers were not citizens of the states for which they contracted; and the principal actors found motivation not just in racial hatred but also in personal financial gain in the form of plunder, slaves, and bounties. William S. Kiser extends historiographic discussions beyond the United States and its colonial antecedents to analyze the conditions under which genocides occurred across North America.
Fugitive Slave Renditions and the Proslavery Crisis of Confidence in Federalism, 1850–1860
Using a new database of cases that were brought under the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act and an accompanying digital mapping project, Cooper Wingert enters a crowded and long-running conversation about the coming of the Civil War. Historians have long dismissed slaveholders’ complaints about the fugitive crisis as overblown rhetoric rather than as central to secession. Although the number of successful escapes remained relatively small out of an enslaved population approaching 4 million, the federal government’s struggles to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act in northern communities shook slaveholders’ confidence in federalism. Wingert shows that even before the formation of the Republican party or the election of Abraham Lincoln, the fugitive crisis prompted slaveholders to reevaluate how secure slavery could be in a decentralized federal system.
Bridging Borders: African North Americans in Great Lakes Cities, 1920s–1940s
From the Underground Railroad to the Great Migration, the Great Lakes region has served as an integral site of activism and self-making for Black people in the United States and Canada. Wendell Nii Laryea Adjetey illuminates the dynamism—and internationalism—in the approaches Black people took to understand their subjectivity and imagined freedom in this borderlands region in the interwar period. Because mobility was paramount to Black people’s self-determination during and after enslavement, their ability to move and travel throughout Great Lakes cities in these years illustrates how diasporic imaginaries and transnationalism helped them combat racism, resist state and imperial hegemony, and assert their citizenship. Adjetey positions African North American history as inherently transnational and diasporic. Moreover, by privileging the U.S.-Canadian borderlands, he encourages inquiry into the ways that African North Americans have historically negotiated between two distinct yet similar majority Anglophone regimes founded on settler colonialism and chattel slavery.
Healing Journeys: Veterans, Trauma, and the Return to Vietnam
From 1981 to the mid-2010s, thousands of U.S. veterans returned to Vietnam on “healing journeys.” Drawing on original oral history interviews and media archives, Mia Martin Hobbs historicizes their journeys, and in so doing untangles distinct concep- tualizations of Vietnam War trauma, each generating different approaches to healing: from antiwar atonement, to exposure therapies, to battlefield pilgrimages commemorating the war as a “noble cause.” Historians of the war will recognize that each conceptualization of trauma and healing reflected a key historiographical interpretation of the Vietnam War. Ultimately, however, the story of healing in Vietnam was defined by the media, which communicated a flattened narrative arc of morally ambiguous suffering and heroic victimhood. Through this narrative, the United States positioned normalized relations and Vietnamese reconstruction as a story of U.S. redemption.