Meet the Editors: A Conversation with Andrew R. Graybill and Benjamin H. Johnson on the David J. Weber Series in the New Borderlands History

We’re pleased to share a Q&A with Andrew R. Graybill and Benjamin H. Johnson, series editors of our David J. Weber Series in the New Borderlands History.

This series explores contested boundaries and the intercultural dynamics surrounding them and includes projects in a wide range of time and space within North America and beyond, including Atlantic and Pacific worlds. Series editors welcome outstanding works that “speak back” to the rich literature that has developed over the last few decades, using the concept of borderlands to examine, analyze, and interpret both the North American borderlands and other areas connected to continental processes of making and crossing borders.

We are also pleased to announce two new members of the editorial advisory board for the David J. Weber Series. They are:

  • Ruben Flores, University of Rochester
  • Debbie Kang, University of Texas, Dallas

This interview is part of our virtual exhibit for the Western History Association 2020 Conference, which is ongoing through October 17, 2020. Check out the UNC Press #WHA2020 virtual exhibit here.


Q: The series turned eight years old last month. In 2012, what did the landscape of borderlands history look like, and what was the series’ genesis?

A: The term “borderlands” has a long pedigree in the U.S. historical profession.  It was first developed in the 1920s by Herbert Eugene Bolton, who used the term to refer to the Spanish colonial possessions in North America that eventually became part of the United States.  Bolton and his many disciples intended the histories of these places to serve as a Hispanic counterweight to the Anglo-centric historiography of the United States then in vogue, challenging American historians to think of national historical origins and influences beyond the British Empire and the eastern seaboard of North America. 

By 2012, a rising generation of scholars had begun using the term to explore a geographically and temporally larger set of historical experiences, including the conquest and incorporation of Mexican-descent people into the United States, cross-border migration and trade, and efforts to regulate or restrict such border-crossing.  The idea of a “border” also seemed like a compelling metaphor for many identities and social relations.  This new work was heavily influenced by contemporary developments like migration and nativism, and was starting to engage in very fruitful ways with scholars of Asian migration and Indigenous history.  And some of us even figured out that there were borders other than merely the one shared by Mexico and the United States.  More and more courses were being offered in borderlands history, and scholars of regions other than North America were starting to engage with scholarship produced on this continent.  It was exciting!

Both of us had written first books in which borders figured prominently but weren’t the main subject of analysis—Johnson’s study of racial violence and Mexican American civil rights politics in South Texas and Graybill’s comparative work on the roles of the Texas Rangers and the Canadian Mounties in conquering and incorporating both ends of the Great Plains.  Graybill was a postdoctoral fellow at the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies in 2004-05 when Johnson was still on the faculty at SMU.  Our conversations drew us to think more deliberately about borders, and in a comparative way.  We co-edited Bridging National Borders in North America: Transnational and Comparative Histories, published in 2010 by a certain other university press in North Carolina.  When Graybill came to SMU in 2011 to direct the Clements Center, he viewed sponsoring a series as a way to extend this work and lengthen the intellectual reach of the Center, and—given the success of our previous collaboration—approached Johnson as a partner.

Q: What are some of the key moments and/or changes in the field that you think the series has captured or reflected?

A: In a broad sense, the series has been an important venue for the geographic expansion of the study of borderlands.  We were pleased to kick off the series with Elliott Young’s Alien Nation (2014), which examined Chinese migration and exclusion across the Pacific to Canada, the United States, Mexico, Cuba, and Peru.  Canada, whose southern border is critical to the country but arguably understudied, has been a continued presence in the series.  Julie Weise’s Corazón de Dixie (2015)frames the modern U.S. South as a kind of borderland.  And recently we’ve made our first foray into South America with Jeffrey Erbig, Jr.’s examination of Indigenous territoriality and imperial cartography in Where Caciques and Mapmakers Met (2019).

Indigenous history is incredibly dynamic these days, so it has been gratifying to see the intersection of Native and border histories in Michel Hogue’s Metis and the Medicine Line (2015), Maurice Crandall’s These People Have Always Been A Republic (2019), and in our two most recent books, Jeffrey Erbig, Jr.’s Where Caciques and Mapmakers Met (2020) and Ryan Hall’s Beneath the Backbone of the World (2020).  While the ethno-racial aspects of boundary policing and crossing have been prominent features of the field since its renewed dynamism early this century, recent years have seen increased attention paid to dynamics of sexuality and gender.  Holly Karibo’s Sin City North (2015), Mireya Loza’s Defiant Braceros (2016), Gina Martino’s Women at War in the Borderlands of the Early American Northeast (2018), and Miroslava Chávez-García’s Migrant Longing (2018) all engage these themes.  The importance of metropolitan areas in border dynamics are central questions of Karibo’s Sin City North and Jessica Kim’s Imperial Metropolis (2019). 

At the same time, there are still very important new things to be said about what might be called the “traditional” focus on the fractious and highly-policed modern U.S.-Mexico border, perhaps the time and place that comes most readily to mind when the term “borderlands” is invoked.  John Weber’s From South Texas to the Nation (2015), Andrew Torget’s Seeds of Empire (2015), and Julian Lim’s Porous Borders (2017), have all been enormously valuable additions to this field.

"These People Have Always Been a Republic" by Maurice Crandall

"Where Caciques and Mapmakers Met" by Jeffrey Erbig

"Beneath the Backbone of the World" by Ryan Hall

"Imperial Metropolis" by Jessica Kim

"Porous Borders: Multiracial Migrations and the Law in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands" by Julian Lim
A selection of recent publications in the David J. Weber Series in the New Borderlands History.

Q: The series is jointly sponsored by the SMU’s William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies. What role does the Center play in the series?

A: Let me start with a little history … Ben and I approached UNC as our first choice for the home of the Weber Series for a couple of reasons.  First, our series’ namesake, David J. Weber, had worked very closely with UNC Executive Editor Chuck Grench when Chuck was at Yale University Press (where he had acquired what turned out to be David’s last two books before moving to Chapel Hill in 2000).  From the Clements Center’s earliest days, Chuck had expressed interest in the projects of the Center’s postdoctoral fellows and so met regularly with David—usually at the WHA—to get the jump on acquiring some of our fellows’ monographs, which came to include Juliana Barr’s Peace Came in the Form of a Woman (2007) and Marc Rodriguez’s The Tejano Diaspora (2011), among others.  UNC thus made a lot of sense to Ben and me, for both sentimental and practical reasons (and above all because UNC is surely one of the two or three finest academic presses in the nation).

The Clements Center subvents the publication of all books in the series, with a small portion of the funds reserved for the author (usually applied to image permissions, the preparation of maps and the index, and so on) and the balance going to the Press, which helps offset the costs of production and keeps sale prices as low as possible.  While some of our titles, such as Maurice Crandall’s These People Have Always Been A Republic (2019), are works by former fellows, many others, including Miroslava Chavez-Garcia’s Migrant Longing (2018), develop entirely outside of the Clements Center.

Q: What can we expect to see from the series in the next year or two?

"West of Slavery: The Southern Dream of a Transcontinental Empire" by Kevin Waite

A: The next book in our series—Kevin Waite’s West of Slavery, which explores Southern aspirations for a continental empire—will appear in spring 2021.  We have a handful of others under contract, including an edited collection (our first) by Andrew Torget and Gerardo Gurza that considers the complex history of violence along the US-Mexico border (and which developed from a binational symposium underwritten by the Clements Center in partnership with the Instituto Mora in Mexico City).  We recently signed up Katherine Massoth’s first book, which explores gender and domesticity in territorial Arizona and New Mexico, as well as a pair of projects by senior scholars working in opposite corners of the nineteenth-century North American borderlands : Drew Isenberg’s study of squatters, slaves, and Indigenous peoples in the Southwest; and Andrea Geiger’s exploration of the imperial contest in the North Pacific between Great Britain, Japan, and the United States.  We are thrilled that another project—Erika Pani’s comparative analysis of the civil wars that convulsed Mexico and the United States in the mid-nineteenth century—stretches the series beyond the boundaries of the United States, continuing a trend begun by Where Caciques and Mapmakers Met (2020), Jeff Erbig’s new book about the Rio de la Plata borderlands in South America.

Q: What’s on your series wish list?

A: We have from the beginning conceived of our job as series editors as publishing the most provocative and compelling work exploring questions around making and crossing boundaries, rather than coming in with our own vision for the field and finding authors who see things similarly.  So in a sense we hope to learn from and even be surprised by the projects that come our way.  Having said that, we would be pleased if more mid-career and senior scholars, more environmental histories, and more projects examining places outside of North America made their ways onto our list.  We also view intellectual histories—tracing ideas and social movements across borders and boundaries—to be under-developed. Whatever the specific titles we publish, our expectation is that the methodologies, time periods, and places examined in the series will continue to be diverse.  Making and crossing boundaries are fundamental aspects of the human experience.


Andrew R. Graybill

Andrew RGraybill is professor of history and Director of the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University.




Benjamin H. Johnson

Benjamin H. Johnson is a Professor in History at Loyola University Chicago.




Please send proposals or ideas for the David J. Weber Series in the New Borderlands History to Andrew R. Graybill ( or Benjamin Johnson ( Proposals may also be sent to Debbie Gershenowitz, executive editor at the University of North Carolina Press, at