Dr Taylor Spence

My historical research and writing seek to re-frame United States history as a colonial history in its own right. I believe that this approach makes sense both because the U.S. emerged from European colonial and imperial endeavors, but also because it helps explain the tensions and struggles the U.S. is experiencing today.  Tracing the colonial lineage of United States history reveals the centrality of the encounter between settler colonials, their states, and Indigenous, African, and mestizo women and men of the continent.  Borderlands, almost always situated in the heartlands of Indigenous societies, become the spaces for describing and analyzing this colonial encounter.  Borderlands theory and method, as well as post-colonial theories of the subaltern, the body, geophysical space, and the archive, are useful tools for getting at these histories.  A post-colonial analysis of U.S. history more clearly demonstrates how systems of patriarchy, race ideology, agri-culture, and class distinctiveness have functioned to construct power and privilege, as well as to maintain the status quo.  Seeing U.S. history as a colonial history breaks down the mystification of American Exceptionalism with the aim of seeing the history of the U.S. and its people, and the people of North America, in all of their separateness and distinctiveness.  It also brings the U.S. into closer dialog with other nations that have emerged out of imperialism and colonialism worldwide.

Current Book Project

 The Endless Commons: Dominion, Possession, and Land-Rights in the Borderland of North American Empires, 1783-1848 (Jeffersonian America, Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, Fall, 2017)

My book shifts the political history of the Early American Republic away from Atlantic seaboard city-centers to the Revolutionary borderland, the contested space created with the drawing of the border between the old British Empire and the new United States after the American Revolution. This borderland, a place I call “Cataraqui” – meaning “fort in the water” – had long been the site of imperial rivalries and European-Indigenous alliances.  But with the Revolution the border region transformed into a political crucible where settlers on either side of the border and their respective states worked out the concrete meanings of the lofty rhetoric of the “Rights of Man.” Through a series of revolts, rebellions, and one revolution, settlers and their states worked out the “rules” for taking land and other resources. In suppressing these uprisings the United States, British Canada, and the Seneca Nation of Indians transformed their stated political ideologies in different yet related ways to reflect a new settler-driven culture of North American expansion.

Next Book Project

Gambling on Conquest: The Pre-emption-Claims Marketplace and the Settler Colonial State, 1787 – 1800

This project documents for the first time the trading and sale of individual pre-emption claims: the right to be the first purchaser of a piece of North American land not yet for sale. Settlers created these claims by illegally squatting on Indigenous lands, then filing their claims with the government, arguing that by right of occupation and improvement they should be able to purchase them. They then speculated in these claims, buying and selling them in an informal marketplace.  In gambling on whether their claims would convert to real estate, these settlers in essence created a “futures” market, which when documented, will reveal one unacknowledged economic substructure of American conquest, and demonstrating the complex ways that settlers shaped the expansion of the settler colonial state.

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