Geographies of Power on Land and Water: Space, People, and Borders

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Sch of History, Archaeology & Religion


A number of distinct and usually separate avenues of scholarship examine early modern border spaces, sometimes characterized as lines and sometimes as zones, including Atlantic history, maritime history, the 'frontier' or continental history of North America, hemispheric histories of the Americas, and Native American history. Each of these approaches is defined by a distinctive geographic perspective and set of questions. This network is innovative in challenging participants to bridge across space and methodology, reorienting perspectives and facilitating a comparative analysis of the early modern origins of and contests over the borders and bordered spaces that inform immigration debates today.

With the discovery of routes to and around Africa and the Americas from the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries, the map of the world seemed to be redrawn, in the process casting up for debate which borderlines would persist. A range of people--political officials, merchants, and ordinary women and men--drew, debated, and denounced boundaries, observed or ignored them, fought over them, and forged networks that transcended them. Boundaries were meant to demarcate sovereignty and political control, assert claims to natural resources and inhabitants' loyalty, establish closed zones of economic activity, and in myriad ways determine who was in and who out.

Some borders today are readily visible: a concrete wall, a motorway barricade, an airport immigration officer. Early modern boundaries were more amorphous for three reasons: first, in a newly 'Atlantic' world, the definition and practice of trans-oceanic empires had to be reconfigured, involving perpetual contest between Natives and newcomers, centres and peripheries, and among imperial rivals. Native Americans, Britain, Spain, and the United States all claimed West Florida, for instance, during the eighteenth century. Second, and simultaneously, newly emerging notions of the nation-state provoked internal debate about who had the right to claim territory and what determined membership in a national community; the United States struggled with these questions from the 1770s to the 1860s. Third, on a practical level, such boundaries were often impossible to define or defend because they existed in places where people couldn't see or enforce them, like the interior of a continent where Native Americans such as the Chickasaws marked out borders that Europeans did not recognise. These problems meant that however they were drawn, boundary lines were impermanent, particularly in places beyond the direct military and administrative oversight of European empires.

Our network will bring together multiple scholarly conversations, to ask how early modern empires, on-the-ground inhabitants, and voyagers defined, defied, and took advantage of Atlantic World borders, be they on land or on water. We propose a network that will expand over time, bringing together scholars through three linked workshops. The first will take place at Temple University (Philadelphia, USA), and will feature a select group of participants, each of whom will commit to attending one of the two remaining workshops. This workshop will delineate additional questions that will help scholars think through best practices for working in these often disparate fields. The next workshop will take place at the University of Southampton (Southampton, UK), and will feature participants from the first workshop and additional attendees chosen through a call for papers. The last workshop will take place at the Institute of Historical Research (London, UK), and will focus upon early modern maps and mapping. In consultation with the IHR's archivists, each participant--including speakers from the first workshop and participants selected through a call for papers--will centre their paper on a historical map in the IHR collections. They will use the maps as tools to think through and ground their analysis about early modern borders.

Planned Impact

Beneficiaries beyond the academy include curators and museum professionals, the general public, further education students in the United States and United Kingdom, and policy-makers.

Curators and museum professionals will have the opportunity to shape academic knowledge exchange by participating in the selection of workshop participants for the third workshop, which will allow them to expand their audience for their archives' holdings of historic maps. This collaboration will, moreover, enhance the knowledge about and catalogue entries relating to the specific maps selected for workshop presentations.

The general public will gain a better understanding of historical and contemporary definitions of and discussion about borders and border-crossers--both through the exhibit that will accompany the final workshop, and through the social media presence attached to the network.

Students will be able to read about and engage with the knowledge produced by network participants via social media and blog posts. The PI writes for an established blog that will be used to reach this student audience. The Co-I has extensive experience running a module in which students study a historical problem and then prepare mock policy briefings for presentation to policy-makers. The Co-I will re-implement this module, and the PI will replicate it in Southampton's Year 2 Group Project module so that students in both countries can research histories of Atlantic World migrants. Students will then contribute to knowledge production by preparing policy briefings on historical topics of borders and immigration, which they will then present to local policy-makers.


10 25 50
Description First network workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Approximately 25 people gathered at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in July 2018 to begin our discussion of borders and the people who crossed them. This event also gave participants time to engage with the maps collections available at the American Philosophical Society.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018