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What’s in the June Issue of the Journal of American History?

The June issue of the Journal of American History is now available online and in print. Included are articles by William S. Kiser, Cooper Wingert, Wendell Nii Laryea Adjetey, and Mia Martin Hobbs’s Editor’s Choice article, “Healing Journeys’: Veterans, Trauma and the Return to Vietnam.” The pieces explore topics ranging from Native American genocide in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands and the digital mapping of fugitive slave cases, to conceptualizations of trauma during the Vietnam War and the transnational and diasporic dimensions of African North American history in the Great Lakes region. The June issue also contains reviews of books, movies, and digital and public history projects.

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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.

Cooper Wingert’s article enters a crowded and long-running conversation about the coming of the Civil War with fresh sources and methods: a new database of cases brought under the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act and an accompanying digital mapping project. 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.

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—of how Black people in a borderlands region understood their subjectivity and imagined freedom 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 the interwar years illustrates how diasporic imaginaries and transnationalism helped them combat racism, resist state and imperial hegemony, and assert their citizenship in the Detroit-Windsor, Buffalo-Toronto corridors. Contributing to the expansive literature on U.S. and African American history, Adjetey positions African North American history as inherently transnational in orientation and diasporic in scope. 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, specifically the racial subordination and subjugation of enslaved Africans and their descendants.

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 conceptualizations 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.

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