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A Savage Land: Violence and Trauma in the Nineteenth-Century American Southwest

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This dissertation seeks to understand two universal experiences that have pervaded human society since man first climbed out of the trees: violence and trauma. Using theories gleaned from the Holocaust

This dissertation seeks to understand two universal experiences that have pervaded human society since man first climbed out of the trees: violence and trauma. Using theories gleaned from the Holocaust and other twentieth century atrocities, this work explores narratives of violent action and traumatic reaction as they occurred among peoples of the nineteenth-century American Southwest. By examining the stories of individuals and groups of Apaches, Ethnic Mexicans, Euro-Americans, and other diverse peoples within the lens of trauma studies, a new narrative emerges within US-Mexico borderlands history. This narrative reveals inter-generational legacies of violence among cultural groups that have lived through trauma and caused trauma within others. For both victims and perpetrators alike, trauma and violence can transform into tools of cultural construction and adaptation.

Part I of this work establishes the concept of ethnotrauma-- a layered experience of collective trauma among minority populations under racial persecution. By following stories of Mescalero, Chiricahua, and Warm Springs Apaches in the nineteenth-century Southwest, this dissertation reveals how Apaches grappled with ethnotrauma through generations during times of war, imprisonment, and exile. These narratives also reveal how Apaches overcame these legacies of pain through communal solidarity and cultural continuity. Part II explores the concept of perpetrator trauma. By following stories of Mexican norteños, Mexican-Americans on the US-Mexico border, and American settlers, the impact of trauma on violators also comes to light. The concept perpetrator trauma in this context denotes the long-term cultural impacts of committing violence among perpetrating communities. For perpetrating groups, violence became a method of affirming and, in some cases, reconstructing group identity through opposition to other groups. Finally, at the heart of this work stands two critical symbols-- Geronimo, victim and villain, and the land itself, hostile and healing-- that reveal how cycles of violence entangled ethnotrauma and perpetrator trauma within individuals struggling to survive and thrive in a savage land.

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Date Created
  • 2020

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Alternative slaveries and American democracy: debt bondage and Indian captivity in the Civil War era Southwest

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This dissertation analyzes two regional systems of involuntary servitude (Indian captive slavery and Mexican debt peonage) over a period spanning roughly two centuries. Following a chronological framework, it examines the

This dissertation analyzes two regional systems of involuntary servitude (Indian captive slavery and Mexican debt peonage) over a period spanning roughly two centuries. Following a chronological framework, it examines the development of captive slavery in the Southwest beginning in the early 1700s and lasting through the mid-1800s, by which time debt peonage emerged as a secondary form of coerced servitude that augmented Indian slavery in order to meet increasing demand for labor. While both peonage and captive slavery had an indelible impact on cultural and social systems in the Southwest, this dissertation places those two labor systems within the context of North American slavery and sectional agitation during the antebellum period. The existence of debt bondage and Indian captivity in New Mexico had a significant impact on America's judicial and political institutions during the Reconstruction era.

Debt peonage and Indian slavery had a lasting influence on American politics during the period 1846 to 1867, forcing lawmakers to acknowledge the fact that slavery existed in many forms. Following the Civil War, legislators realized that the Thirteenth Amendment did not cast a wide enough net, because peonage and captive slavery were represented as voluntary in nature and remained commonplace throughout New Mexico. When Congress passed a measure in 1867 explicitly outlawing peonage and captive slavery in New Mexico, they implicitly acknowledged the shortcomings of the Thirteenth Amendment. The preexistence of peonage and Indian slavery in the Southwest inculcated a broader understanding of involuntary labor in post-Civil War America and helped to expand political and judicial philosophy regarding free labor. These two systems played a crucial role in America's transition from free to unfree labor in the mid-1800s and contributed to the judicial and political frameworks that undermined slavery.

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Date Created
  • 2016