In this paper I review some of the understandings of frontiers and borders in a deep global and historical perspective to shine some light on contemporary issues. In particular I seek to sort out what is really new in the 21st century, what is typical of the modern era – modern as in the modern world-system – and what is a continuation of older processes that may stem back as far as the invention of the state at Ur some five millennia ago. I must caution, however, that this account is colored by the larger project of which it is a part. That project is a broad comparative study of frontiers, driven by variance maximizing strategy to begin to define the “universe” of frontiers (for elaboration of this theme see Hall 2009). This project is a first step in trying to extract salient characteristics of frontiers that might be useful in a boolean analysis (Ragin 1987) of frontiers, akin to John Foran’s (2005) of third world revolutions.
comparisons of the American Southwest, a frontier at least with respect to
European states since 1542 or so – and much older if one looks at inter-polity
frontiers among indigenous populations since well before European intrusion. The
two areas New Spain/Southwest United States and what might be called greater
In comparing these two regions I underscore my own argument (Hall 1989, 1998) and Yang’s argument (2009) that any frontier, especially these two can only be understood in the contexts of their larger, global interactions, but equally so analysis requires careful attention to specific, local contexts and interactions. Indeed, a first general lesson from this – and potentially many other – comparisons is that to neglect either the local or the global hinders comprehension of complex social interactions.
I begin with brief accounts of each region, then turn to a listing of similarities and differences, then focus on comparisons among pre-modern, proto-modern, and modern frontiers. I use these comparisons then to extract some border lessons and questions about contemporary frontiers and borders.
Yang 2009, Map 6.1, ca.
Southwest China, essentially what eventually became
Yang, 2009, Chap 2, Maps 2.1, 2.2, 2.3: Southwest Silk Road in the Qin-Han Period (221bce-220ce), in the Nanzhao-Dali Period (8th cent – 13th cent), and in in the Yuan-Ming-Qing Period (1271 – 1912)
the thirteenth century various local kingdoms were able to use geographic,
climatic, and geopolitical conditions to maintain a degree of autonomy from
other states, especially
As long as
those goals were met, local rule prevailed. The succeeding Ming Dynasty sought
stronger conquest of the region in order to avoid a dependency like that of the
Southern Song had experienced with
Up to this
time rule was primarily indirect through local, native or indigenous, leaders.
Yang argues that “Sinicization and indigenization were two sides of the process
through which a middle ground was negotiated” (2009, p. 102). Chinese had long ruled
frontier peoples based on native customs, but with the intentions of
“civilizing” (sinicizing) them eventually. This took approximately five
The parallel strategies of direct and indirect administrative systems continued through the Mongol Yuan period and extended into the Ming Dynasty. Centralized, province-wide administration was built on governors who were appointed to rule sub-regions. In rural areas that had a preponderance of indigenous populations native chiefs were placed under the rule of these officials. While local leaders were required to pay tribute and meet other obligations, this did not eliminate continuing interactions including payments to other states in Southeast Asia.Slowly the Ming and Qing Dynasties adopted the gaitu guiliu policy that sought to transform native chief into a part of the imperial administration. Gradually, the domination of ethnicity over administration in the native chief areas changed to a system in which ethnicity became a subdivision of administration. This was facilitated many imperial regulations and practices such as regulating the inheritance of chieftainship and taking sons of chief to Chinese schools (central or local) to train them in Chinese language and administrative processes. Upon their return they became agents of sinicization.
process, however was not one-sided. Yang argues that sinicization and
indigenization were sides of the same coin. They contributed to the emergence
of Yunnanese as provincial identity and in turn became an avenue for the
absorption of some Yunnanese practices into Chinese identity and culture. By
the end of the Ming Dynasty immigration, settlement of soldiers, and movement
of traders, Han people became the largest ethnic population in
presence of large mining communities led to types of urbanization different
from those in the
the economy became redirected to
In the Qing
Dynasty immigration to
mining was the primary force toward industrialization. Reduction of Japanese
copper supply heightened interest in Yunnanese copper. While Chinese
administrations generally discouraged concentration of miners as potential
sources of unrest, they were necessary in
“The Greater Southwest”: A Brief History 
Defining the “Greater Southwest,” like defining
The Southwest is a distinctive place to the American mind but a somewhat blurred place on American maps, which is to say that everyone knows that there is a Southwest but there is little agreement as to just where it is... . The term "Southwest" is of course an ethnocentric one: what is south and west to the Anglo-American was long the north of the Hispanic-American... .
Reed (1964:175) facetiously defined the Southwest as
reaching from Durango to Durango (
Hall 1989, Map III.1, pg. 35: The Southwest: A Context for Definition
approximately the first three centuries of European domination, the American
Southwest was the northwestern frontier of
entered the area in the 1530s and colonized
Continual lack of state support pushed the military to supplement its pay with booty taken during conflicts. Indeed, occasionally obtaining spoils of conflict were a major motivator of it. The main resources available from nomadic groups were captives to be used as domestic servants or sold to the miners in the south. Horses, and to a lesser extent guns, gradually spread to indigenous peoples, despite Spanish efforts to monopolize both. Again, acquiring horses and guns were a major motivator of indigenous raids. Nomads who wanted horses or guns to defend themselves against raids by rivals had little to trade but captives taken from their own enemies. Raids by on indigenous group on another prompted vengeance by kinsmen, which quickly led to a state of endemic warfare. The continuous trade in captives, the shortage of military resources, and Spanish civil-ecclesiastic bickering reinforced engendered endemic warfare among indigenous groups, and between them and Spanish settlers. Oppression, both economic and religious, of Pueblos during the seventeenth century led to a rebellion (Pueblo Revolt) in 1680 which drove the Spaniards from New Mexico for thirteen years.
European rivals and Church worry over the few Christianized Indians left behind
prompted reconquest and recolonization of
Viceroys of New Spain needed to pacify the frontier, but had limited resources
to do so. Endemic warfare was a major obstacle and source of expense. Even after
the late eighteenth century reorganization of the frontier provinces (Bourbon
tried to settle nomadic groups into compact farming communities in imitation of
Spanish villages. This process had worked in central
Few nomads were sedentarized effectively, but they did become somewhat more centrally organized, that is they developed somewhat more institutionalized forms of leadership. This pressure was strongest on Comanche bands (Kavanaugh 1996; Hämäläinen 2008), while an opposing divide and conquer strategy promoted fragmentation of Apache bands.
Comanches, who occupied territory at and beyond the edge of the northern frontier, were able to trade with Plains groups and some Europeans to obtain guns. There are some reports, disputed by some scholars, that Comanches brought French flintlocks to the Pecos (NM) trade fairs. Settlers eagerly sought such guns to circumvent the official restriction of firearms to the military. Comanches obtained horses in return and also from Apaches and other groups. Comanches quickly became very successful mounted hunters and warriors by capitalizing on their middle position in the horse and gun trade. They developed extensive trade networks of their own and came to dominate the region north and west of the New Mexican frontier (Hämäläinen 1993, 2003, 2008).
governor de Anza (1778-1787) repeatedly defeated Comanche bands and banned
trade with them, while
Initially Apache groups gained advantage over other groups by early possession of horses. In the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries they had developed semi-permanent villages on the Plains allowing organization of large war parties. However, they had poor access to guns, because Spanish policy attempted to restrict guns to the Spanish army. Later Apaches gave up this village living and gradually were displaced from the Plains by Comanches who had better access to guns. Large horse herds became necessary for fighting, and pushed toward a more nomadic life.
were forced southwest from the Plains their raids made trade and communications
between the far north and the interior provinces of
Thus, Apache social ecology differed significantly from that of Comanches. Apaches competed directly with Spanish settlers for resources. Their trade was local and typically played one Spanish community against others. Settled Apaches and settlers resented the cost of help given to those recently pacified.
In late eighteenth
century peace became precarious, but differently for Apaches and Comanches.
Apache population decreased during war and increased during peace. Apaches
hindered Spanish development. Comanches thrived under the subsequent alliance
Slowly the frontier became more tightly incorporated into the Spanish Empire, and became more fully peripheralized. The change was moderate because frontier policy needed to balance competing goals. Still there was some development.
independence trade along the Santa Fe Trail from
American conquest (1846-1848) transferred much of northwest
four major differences under American control. First, all territory became part
of the national state. Second, the
numbers of Europeans, most for the
blocked westward expansion into
Apaches lived in a large number of small bands scattered over a diverse territory making their final subjugation comples. That history is difficult to summarize. Unlike Comanches, Apache had long been a barrier to trade, and had developed a very effective raiding mode of production. They did not depend on any one food source and could change targets frequently.
Because of competition
with new settlers military pressure grew.
After the Civil War nomadic groups were forced on to reservations eliminating or severely modifying traditional lifestyles. Nomadism, barter, raiding, and sale of captives could not coexist with more intensive uses of natural resources. Farming, ranching, and mining were seen to use the land “more efficiently” than foraging or gardening. The American state did not tolerate such "inefficient" use of resources – a thinly disguised rationale for seizing Indian territories. Native Americans had two choices: join the lower class of a capitalist state, or die resisting. Many chose the second option. Only where Americans had no desire for the land did native groups get reservations where they became "captive nations" and welfare recipients.
had different effects on Comanches and Apaches. First, they had different
degrees of ecological and political flexibility. Comanches depended heavily on
the buffalo. Intentional destruction of the buffalo herds destroyed their base
of adaptation. Apaches had more diverse survival strategies. For Comanches the
slight increase in centralization and intense dependence on the buffalo made them
more vulnerable to rapid defeat. Apaches could disperse and avoid annihilation.
Over centuries they had become adept at forming new alliances, using multiple
survival strategies, and adapting to rapidly changing circumstances. Second was
geopolitical location. Comanches blocked expansion and communication across
In the late nineteenth centure the Dawes Act, also knows as the General Allotment Act  “freed surplus” Indian land by forcing Indians on reservations to take up farming, often with allotments that were far too small for the sparsely watered west. Also during the time the government under direction of Louis Henry Pratt sought to “kill the Indian, but save the man” with required education in boarding schools that sought to eliminate indigenous languages and cultures. While originally intended as a liberal, humane reform as opposed to outright genocide, this policy was disastrous. One of it major, unintended side effects was to facilitate organization of nationwide Native American associations (Adams 1995; Wilkins 2006).
processes were episodic and sporadic, but tended to become stronger. The
introduction of horses and guns in the Spanish era made pre-contact practices
impossible. The contemporary groupings of indigenous peoples in the Southwest
were constructed during this era. The
This example suggests that incorporation into any world-system is problematic: (a) according to the type of system doing the incorporating; (b) with respect to social organization of incorporated groups; (c) with respect to the conditions of the incorporating system; and (d) with respect to a variety of local factors. The degree to which an area or group is incorporated into a world-system defines the context within which local changes may occur. Local actions are major factors in the costs of incorporation. Incorporation is a matter of degree and is not fully elastic. Sometimes changes engendered by incorporation they are difficult or even impossible to reverse, as with the consequences of the spread of horses.
This account shows that incorporation begins with early contact. Second, incorporated groups, even nonstate societies, play an active role in the process. Third, incorporation is a variable and sporadic. Finally, more than economic reasons prompt attempts at incorporation.
I will now turn to comparison of the two southwests, then to some more general conclusions about the twenty-first century.
The Two Southwests: Comparisons and Contrasts
Some key similarities between the two regions are that both
supplied valuable goods, and avenues of trade to other areas for other goods. Both
have highly variegated topography. Both have a high density of indigenous,
non-state peoples. Both were avenues for the penetration of new ideologies in
the form of religions: Buddhism in Asia, Christianity in the
There are some other similarities that seem to be quite common in frontier areas.
Traders intermarried with local women to gain better access
to local networks. This was also officially promoted for soldiers in
For both it
was quite late in the incorporation process that local population was surpassed
by immigrants from the incorporating state. Doubly so in the American
Southwest: for Spanish populations versus indigenous populations, and under the
also key differences. Most obvious is the much greater time depth of the
indigenous populations were quite different. In the U.S. Southwest the most
complex societies were the
These comparisons make clear that the concepts of nation-state and precise borders are quintessentially modern. Setting precise borders is a continuing project even while borderlands remain, like the frontiers that preceded them, frontier zones.
Even though separated by over a millennium, there were similar processes, though the particulars varied immensely. According to Yang:
The power struggles among Han
Yang also points out an important difference on the effects of the frontier regions on the central or core states:
Yunnan silver in the Ming period,
copper cash replacing cowry currency during the Ming-Qing transition, and
Yunnan copper in the Qing period, collectively demonstrated the central
penetration over the frontier on the one hand and the significance of a
frontier in the Chinese world-economy on the other hand. Thus,
This is an important contrast, albeit slightly overstated.
There were effects of the Southwest on the now capitalist world-system, albeit
considerable lower and indirect. By annexing the land from
remains a somewhat open question whether the roots of these differences lies in
the differences between ancient and modern frontiers, or in the relative power
of the state with respect to the frontier, or in a combination, or in something
else. It is not clear whether the gap in power between
draws the following comparisons between the
difference is the role of disease, especially tropical and sub-tropical
diseases on contact, conquest, and colonization. In the Southwest, as
incorporating states –
difference is that indirect rule was used for a much longer time, and used more
complex relations than in northwest
Yang (2009, pp. 205-6) asks “But was
What then might we learn from all this for twentieth century border issues?
Lessons for Borders & Frontiers
So how should be make comparative studies of frontiers?
Clearly, variations can be spatial, temporal, physiographic, or organizational,
different kinds of native peoples, and different sorts of settlers. These are
all factors that must be considered in comparisons. Also important are type of
cycle, phase of cycle, type of boundary, and state of the world-system(s) that
are shaping frontiers and that frontiers are influencing. It would also seem
reasonable to consider whether the frontier was on the edge of a world-system,
whether it be at the bulk goods, political-military, luxury goods or
informational edge or along some internal boundary. Internal boundaries could
be between states or groups in similar positions within the world-system (e.g.,
core, periphery, or semiperiphery) or they could be between these different
zones. A reasonable working hypothesis would be that these two broad categories
of frontiers would exhibit different dynamics. Blackhawk’s (2006) study of the
very fringes of the Southwest frontier focuses on the very edge of the system,
whereas Reséndez’s (2005) study is concerned with the processes of identity
change within the system (when what is now southwestern
A subsidiary hypothesis might be that frontiers between different positions in a world-system might also differ. Here it is useful to recall Chase-Dunn and Hall’s (1997) argument that how many layers, and how differentiated they are in a world-system is an empirical as well as a theoretical problem.
studies of frontiers can be [re]interpreted as “incorporated comparisons”
(McMichael 1990) which are often a series of comparisons within an historical
trajectory of a case. In Colony and
Empire William Robbins (1994) examines the American West and argues that
far from being an open or free frontier, it was highly constrained by the
demands of assorted capitalist enterprises. This, of course, makes sense within
a world-systems framework. But it also sheds a different light on the common
claim that in
(2006) shows that violence served to ‘ethnically cleanse’ the
In analogous ways comparisons of modern and ancient frontiers show that genocide, ethnocide, culturicide, ethnogenesis, amalgamation, hybridization, and fractionation are common processes on many different frontiers. What remains to be studied systematically is how various local, regional, state-level, and world-system conditions and dynamics shape these processes. Again, states seem to be as important as mode of accumulation and local relations of production in shaping ethnic change.
Finally, the study of frontiers illustrates how much can be learned by the study of peripheral regions and peoples and their roles in system change. Indeed, some of these processes may be visible only in peripheral and/or frontier areas. This then becomes a method to explore how it is that actions and changes in peripheral areas (and semiperipheral areas) play important roles in world-system evolution. A key point here is that many if not most of these questions can only be asked from a world-system perspective, even if they must be answered in large part locally.
Given that humans now are facing an impending crisis, and most likely a bifurcation point (Wallerstein 2010, 2011a,b), further spurred by political and economic collapse. It is useful to examine past instances of similar major changes. Since, by their nature, the processes and results of such a bifurcation are not predictable, charting a predictable result is not possible. But we may be able to perceive the outlines of a “possibility space” of results which can suggest indicators of patterns and as cautionary tales. Two other sets of recent developments play into this.
Sing Chew’s work on “dark ages” (2001, 2008, 2009). Dark ages may be
intermediate between a complete bifurcation and what we might call “routine
change,” or what until now have been more or less routine cycles in
world-system processes. In his third volume (2009) Chew sketches some
insightful comparisons among the onsets of dark ages. While by no means
certain, climate change, decline of oil, rise in spills, and as the 2011
Add to this Glen Kuecker’s (2007) analysis of a “perfect storm” of political, economic, demographic, and ecological changes leading to global collapse. Much like Joseph Tainter’s (1988) analyses of past collapses, and even “dark ages,” it is very unlikely that core states will be able to continue to function and that they will be hurt the most severely. Kuecker builds on this (Kuecker and Hall 2011) drawing on Chase-Dunn’s analyses of semiperipheral marcher states (1988; Chase-Dunn and Hall 1997, ch. 5; and Chase-Dunn et al. 2006, 2010; Hall et al. 2009 ) to argue that peoples living in semiperipheral and even especially peripheral areas will have the highest likelihood of survival. This is both because they are often less embedded in the current system, and have often been able to been able to maintain lifeways that are significantly different from the variety of lifeways found in core areas. Chief among these are indigenous peoples, who have preserved lifeways that are the most different, and often most challenging to the current world-system (Hall and Fenelon 2004, 2005a, 2005b, 2008, 2009). Indeed Wallerstein says:
The so-called forgotten peoples (women, ethnic/racial/religious “minorities,” “indigenous” nations, persons of non-heterosexual sexual orientations), as well as those concerned with ecological or peace issues asserted their right to be considered prime actors on an equal level with the historical subjects of the traditional antisystemic movements (2011, p. 34, emphasis added).
It is important to underscore that they are not predictors, nor saviors. Rather, they maintain lifeways that may be suggestive of alternatives to the current system. They cannot be copied directly. Rather, how and why they have been able to preserve lifeways that do not meld with the current, neoliberal, modern world-system can be studied for clues to developing new ways of living and developing a new world-system.
This, then brings us, back (at last!) to the issues of borders and frontiers. These survivors are, and have been for millennia, most common in frontier regions of states and especially of world-systems. That is where the evidence is. For sure we can learn from studies of the rapid changes – and the more common static quality of repeated processes – of contemporary borders. Indeed, following the argument above these are the areas where survival and development of a new world-system are most likely. But we must be cautious to not get bogged down in studying elements that are simply repeated, albeit with their own special features, of older cycles. Here again, comparison with past frontiers can be very useful. As already argued, such comparison can help us identify what is actually new and what are only permutations of old processes.
comparison sketched here between the U.S. Southwest and Southwest China (
One also thinks of Warren Wagar’s oft discussed (1996) Short History of the Future (1999), wherein he suggests possible forms of organization that transcend the state. Some of these processes can be studied through examination of contemporary borders. Still, there are myriad other possibilities as yet unexplored. The possibilities of such discoveries and understandings are a fundamental value of continued examinations of border processes.
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 This section draws heavily on Bin Yang 2009 and his 2004 & 2011 articles. Also useful were Crossley et al. (2006) and Liu (2011), Liu and Shaffer 2007, Manning (2005), and Giersch (2001).
 The distinctiveness of
 This section draws heavily on Hall (1989, 1998) and the sources cited therein which document most of the claims made here. Blackhawk (2006), Brooks (2002), Carter (2009), Hämäläinen (2008), Kessell (2002, 2008), Reséndez (2005), and Weber (1982, 1992) were major sources for more recent information.
Carter (2009) for further details, and Crown and
 These were vital to the Spanish Empire since the
silver mines in north central
 Nomadic does not mean random. It means moving through a known territory, often along well-know paths.
sort of frontier violence is actually quite common see,
 Ecueracapa (Leather Jacket) was an important leader of a large Comanche band known as the Buffalo-eaters (Cuchantica or Cuchanec). When he died, of wounds received in a campaign against Apaches, a replacement was elected by an encampment of some 4500 Comanches.
 In 1786 Comanche population was between 20,000 and 30,000. By1866 Comanche population was estimated at 4,700; by 1882 it was 1,382. By the early twentieth century Apache population was 14,873 whereas Comanches numbered 1,171. While population data are often problematic, the differences are clear: Comanches suffered much more precipitous losses than Apaches did.
 The ways in which incorporated peoples resist incorporation and the degree to which they can negotiate the terms of incorporation has come to be more widely studied, and has been found to be very wide-spread for any type of world-system (Kardulias 2007).
 There is an extensive literature the role of disease
 This section draws heavily on Hall 2009.