On Comparative Methodology, My Book Manuscript, and Haake’s The State, Removal and Indigenous Peoples in the United States and Mexico

Back when I was working on my dissertation, I was put in contact with a scholar in Australia – Claudia B. Haake – as her recent monograph was relevant to my research in its content and methodology. Her book, The State, Removal and Indigenous Peoples in the United States and Mexico, 1620-2000, is a comparative treatment of the forced removals of Lenapes (Delawares) by the United States, and Yaquis by Mexico.  As 1/2 of my dissertation dealt with Yaquis crossing the U.S.-Mexican border into the United States, the related scholarship on Porfirian forced removal (enslavement, actually) of Yaquis to the Yucatan was an important backdrop for explaining the flight of Yaqui refugees to Arizona and other points north. The content of her book highlighted some very useful sources that I had yet to uncover.

Side Note:
I wonder why it hasn’t been more widely circulated and reviewed?  Perhaps it is the price (on Routeledge, its not cheap), or perhaps it is another case of comparative scholarship falling between the cracks of different fields. What is it? American Indian history, U.S. Federal Indian Policy history, Latin American history, Mexican history, Porfirian Policy History…etc…? It is all of them. But, many university courses on American Indian History, or Mexican History, might decide not to assign it as only 1/2 of the content is (supposedly) directly relevant to the course. In any case – its a shame.

In the years since, I have occasionally pulled it off the shelf and used it as a case study in comparative methodology. My whole schtick these last few years has been comparative borderlands history. I argue that by examining borderlands histories in tandem, new things are revealed that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.

A considerable struggle of comparative research – especially book-length work – is organization.  The case study model, where each case is studied discretely, helps develop narrative. This is how my “comparative” dissertation was organized.  After a couple introductory chapters, Part 1 presented Crees and Chippewas in the U.S.-Canadian borderlands and Montana, Part 2 presented Yaquis in the U.S.-Mexican borderlands and Arizona, and a brief final chapter offered a few comparative thoughts. Walking through each case study separately was an important step for me. I allowed me to dig into each separately and really digest their individual narratives. However, was the end product “comparative?” In a passive sense, yes. The introductory and concluding chapters offered comparative analysis. But, as a whole,  my dissertation was not actively comparative. As I prepare the manuscript for publication, entitled Native but Foreign: Transnational Cree, Chippewa and Yaqui Refugees and Immigrants in the U.S-Canadian and U.S.-Mexican Borderlands, 1880-present (with Texas A&M Press for their new “Connecting the Greater West” series), I have decided that I am not satisfied with that approach. I want active comparative analysis throughout. To accomplish that, I am taking the 2 case studies and blending them together in thematically and chronologically organized chapters.  The chapters takes the transnational Cree, Chippewa, and Yaqui narratives, and analyze them together as the narratives pass through similar processes, converge and diverge in revelatory ways. It is a beast of a rewrite, which partially explains why it isn’t yet on book shelves! I am convinced, however, that it will make for a more significant contribution to the field – both in terms of its content (woefully little has been written about the transnational experience of “foreign” Indigenes like the Crees and Yaquis in the United States) and for its methodology. In borderlands studies, very few people are tackling multiple borders or regions. I have written on this before, and will likely do so again.

So, how does Haake’s book stack up in that regard? What approach did she take? This post originated as a “From the Bookshelf” series post, but somehow devolved into something else…so I’d better get things back on track. Haake takes something of a hybrid approach. Chapters 1-5 cover the Lenape experience of removal and state relations in the United States.  Chapters 6-10 explore the history of Yaqui removal from Sonora to the Yucatan and beyond. To this point, the structure mirrors that of my dissertation.  However, where I only offered a brief concluding chapter with direct comparative ideas, Haake ends with 3 fully comparative chapters: 11. Removal in Comparative Context; 12. Survival of the Fittest?; and 13. Histories of Change and Survival. With three substantive chapters offering direct comparative analysis, I think she strikes a great balance.  Each case study was allowed to grow and develop on its own in the preceding 10 chapters, and with that foundation her 3 comparative chapters can stand secure – rooted in developed narratives. The book is not with out its flaws. As she tries to take on such large topics (and 2 of them) countless relevant tangential narratives go unexplored, informative historiographies are neglected, and counter-narratives are not considered. These smack of the worst kinds of graduate student book review complaints though, don’t they? Critiques of the book because of the book that it isn’t.

I think this is significant for the field of comparative research. As I go through the 500 pages of my dissertation, I have a lot of difficult decisions to make.  There are so many stories, fact, sources, ideas, trends, events, anecdotes, etc… that will be cut from the book manuscript in the name of drawing the 2 narratives into comparative dialog. This is hard to do. I love the research I did and the narratives I uncovered. To condense or narrow the scope of how I use them to meet the comparative model is painful.  BUT – I know there will be payoff in the end.  The end comparative product will be a fundamentally different piece of scholarship.  Many of the same stories and fact will be featured, but they will be used to shine light on new ideas. This is both was discourages and motivates me. The process is grueling and intellectually terrifying. I hope I’m up for the challenge.

So – hats off to Claudia Haake for accepting the challenge of comparative scholarship and pulling it off well. Perhaps her hybrid approach of both individual case studies and comparative analysis is the way to go. Once my book is finished and out, perhaps we will have to come back and visit this question – perhaps compare the two models for their merits and drawbacks.

Add your thoughts!