Those Left Behind: Statelessness and the Consolidation of National Territoriality

“Those Left Behind:  Statelessness and the Consolidation of National Territoriality”

The tide of nationalism and newly-independent nation states that swept the western hemisphere and much of the rest of the world in the nineteenth century created a set of border dynamics that are arguably still in play in the early twenty first century.  As scholars such as Saskia Sassen  and Charles Maier have noted, these states sought to assert exclusive territorial sovereignty in ways that empires and feudal societies often did not.  Their success created not only the free, rights-holding citizens at the center of nation-centered histories, but also stateless peoples whose territories were subsumed or bisected by international borders, and who in turn have often been marginalized in historical scholarship.

I would like to assemble a panel on peoples left stateless by the consolidation of 19th century borders.  Ideally the panel would include scholars working in distinct continents and working in different national academies.  I would deliver the paper described below.  If you are interested, please send a cv and a description (brief is fine) to me at the email below until September 1st.


Ben Johnson

Associate Professor, Loyola University Chicago


Louis Riel, Juan Cortina, and the Closing of North American Borderlands

Benjamin Johnson

This paper examines the defeat and national incorporation of two North American borderlands leaders and their communities in the mid-nineteenth century. Manitoba’s Louis Riel and South Texas/Tamaulipas’ Juan Cortina both bore arms against the central states claiming their homeland, justified their actions in terms of the Republican notions that undergirded those nations’ claims to sovereignty, expressed some willingness to acknowledge the legitimacy of the nations they fought against, and ultimately met unhappy ends. Their defeats – execution for Riel in 1885, imprisonment for Cortina from 1876 until shortly before his death in 1894 – marked the subordination of the communities that they represented to the central governments of Canada, Mexico, and the United States. The insistence of these governments on suppressing the uprisings led by Riel and Cortina marks the eclipse of fluid imperial notions of sovereignty, territory, and borders, with more restrictive ideas of national sovereignty and territoriality. Yet the ways in which Riel and Cortina embraced the ideology of liberal Republicanism even as they insisted on the rights of borderlands communities and individuals to form ties with different nations without giving up their distinct identities or rights of self-government remind us that the ties between Republican ideology, race, property, and nation-states were more malleable than we have thought.