Friday, December 3, 2021

Booknotes: Illusions of Empire

New Arrival:
Illusions of Empire: The Civil War and Reconstruction in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands by William S. Kiser (Univ of Penn Press, 2022).

With a number of excellent studies already to his credit, all published over the past decade (I've reviewed two of them here and here), William Kiser has rapidly become one of the leading scholars of the Civil War-era American Southwest. His latest book, Illusions of Empire: The Civil War and Reconstruction in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, is exceptional in being the "first study to treat antebellum U.S. foreign policy, Civil War campaigning, the French Intervention in Mexico, Southwestern Indian Wars, South Texas Bandit Wars, and U.S. Reconstruction in a single volume, balancing U.S. and Mexican source materials to tell an important story of borderlands conflict with ramifications that are still felt in the region today."

Kiser's study "adopts a multinational view of North American borderlands, examining the ways in which Mexico's North overlapped with the U.S. Southwest in the context of diplomacy, politics, economics, and military operations during the Civil War era." Remarkably, he's able to achieve that impressive breadth in less than 200 pages of narrative.

With western frontier borderlands history continuing to be a popular scholarly purusit, the volume "examines a fascinating series of events in which a disparate group of historical actors vied for power and control along the U.S.-Mexico border: from Union and Confederate generals and presidents, to Indigenous groups, diplomatic officials, bandits, and revolutionaries, to a Mexican president, a Mexican monarch, and a French king. Their unconventional approaches to foreign relations demonstrate the complex ways that individuals influence the course of global affairs and reveal that borderlands simultaneously enable and stifle the growth of empires." Scholars of the international dimensions of the mid-century civil wars in the US and Mexico, citing among other things the frustrations involved in Napoleon III's "Grand Design," would certainly agree wholeheartedly with the last sentence.

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