Frontiers in the Gilded Age: Adventure, Capitalism, and Dispossession from Southern Africa to the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, 1880-1917 (Yale University Press, 2019)
The surprising connections between the American frontier and empire in Southern Africa, and the people who participated in both
In the late nineteenth century, the U.S.-Mexican borderlands constituted one stop beyond the United States where Americans chased capitalist dreams. Crisscrossing the American West, southern Africa, and northern Mexico, Andrew Offenburger examines how frontier spaces could glitter with potential and grandiose dreams, expose the flawed and immoral strategies of profiteers, and yet reveal the capacity for resistance and resilience that Indigenous people summoned when threatened. Through a series of stories, Offenburger explores how a shared frontier ideology shaped a global system.
Select Articles and Chapters
Millenarianism in Iowa and the Eastern Cape: Thinking through Field of Dreams and the Xhosa Cattle-Killing Movement
This untraditional academic paper was part of a “favorite films” special issue of English Studies in Africa. Written in the first person, it explores the similarities and differences between agrarian revolt in South Africa's Eastern Cape in the 1850s, on the one hand, and the Farm Crisis in Iowa during the 1980s as represented in Field of Dreams, on the other. While at first thought it may seem absurd to consider a maligned nineteenth-century Xhosa prophetess alongside plain-old Kevin Costner, the comparison draws out key themes in colonialism and tradition, and it makes connections between history, film, and commemoration.
"When the West Turned South: Making Home Lands in Revolutionary Sonora," Western Historical Quarterly, Vol. 45, No. 3 (Autumn 2014)
This article connects the lives of an American schoolteacher and a young Yaqui girl in Sonora during the Mexican Revolution. It uses the "home lands" framework, first articulated by Virginia Scharff and Carolyn Brucken, to show how settlement and resistance operated through family structures and the making of itinerant home places.
Este artículo conecta las vidas de una maestra norteamericana con una niña yaqui en Sonora durante la Revolución Mexicana. El artículo se basa en la idea de "home lands," propuesta por Virginia Scharff y Carolyn Brucken, para analizar cómo el asentamiento y la resistencia operaron a través de redes familiares y la formación de hogares transitorios.
"Outlanders and Inlanders: Boer Immigration to the U.S.-Mexican Borderlands, 1902-1905," In Cannon and Embry, eds., Immigration in the Far West (Univ. of Utah Press, 2015)
In 1903, after suffering defeat in the South African War, several Boer families formed a small colony in Chihuahua, Mexico. The colony appeared to thrive for some time, but by 1905, most of its members moved north to southern New Mexico, California, and western Texas. This history teeters on the edge of several historiographies -- African, imperial, Mexican, and Western -- and would appear to constitute little more than a quirky episode in the history of the U.S.-Mexican borderlands. This article explains why the Boer colony is not a historical outlier; rather, it fits within a broader regional and chronological context. Analyzing the dynamics of daily life and also the ultimate failure of the colony brings together two literatures at a time when capitalist development in the United States influenced its southern neighbor.
"Cultural Imperialism and the Romanticized Frontier: From South Africa and Great Britain to New Mexico's Mesilla Valley," Amerikastudien / American Studies :: Vol. 59, No. 4 (Winter 2014 )
With the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 and the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, the United States acquired its last lands to comprise the lower forty-eight states. By the early twentieth century, immigrants to the region performed the everyday labor of cultural imperialism. This paper examines the lives, memoirs, and novels of two prolific but unknown immigrants who moved to New Mexico’s Mesilla Valley: Benjamin J. Viljoen and Edith M. Nicholl. Viljoen, a general from the Boer Republics, emigrated in 1903 after suffering defeat by the British Empire in the South African War. He wrote memoirs, articles, and novels relating to the war and his exile in the borderlands. Nicholl, a farmer and writer from an elite British family, first moved to Virginia and then to New Mexico in 1896. Her imperial pedigree gave her a unique perspective of the Mesilla Valley. When placed together, the lives and writings of Viljoen and Nicholl not only reveal the everyday imperial cultures in the Southwest; they testify to the subjectivity of frontier life, to its gendered spaces, and to its transmutability on both sides of the Atlantic.
"The Xhosa Cattle-Killing Movement in History and Literature," History Compass, Vol. 7 (September 2009)
In South Africa’s Eastern Cape frontier zone, a millenarian movement known as the Xhosa Cattle-Killing (1856-1857) devastated local populations and stunned observers. How could the messages of its prophetess, Nongqawuse, and the exhortations of her uncle, Mhlakaza, lead to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of cattle, to the death of tens of thousands of people, and to the subjugation of the Xhosa? Historians and authors of literary works have attempted to answer this question, and their explanations have followed the contours of South African history through three general phases. The first (1857-1947) characterized the movement as a failed revolt against British expansion and a necessary step in social and religious Darwinism. The second period (1948-1988) saw the continuation of these interpretations, and, with National Party rule and the rise of the Black Consciousness Movement, an increasingly radical group of historians brought about politicized and alternative interpretations embedded in Xhosa oral history. The third phase (1989-) began with the publication of Jeff Peires’ The Dead Will Arise, which renewed interest in the history and has inspired a new wave of historical critique.
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"Duplicity and Plagiarism in Zakes Mda's The Heart of Redness," Research in African Literatures, Vol. 39, No. 3 (2008)
Hailed as "the first great novel of the new South Africa," Zakes Mda's The Heart of Redness (2000) received widespread critical acclaim for intertwining numerous dualisms -- modernity/tradition, belief/disbelief, city/country, youth/elders -- to create a vibrant and complex postapartheid novel. The Heart of Redness acknowledges historian Jeff Peires' The Dead Will Arise (1989) as "informing" the novel's historical events, centered on the Xhosa Cattle-Killing Movement of the 1850s. Careful examination of the two books, however, reveals an abuse of textual borrowings and significantly undermines the novel's literary value. This article questions the use of historical materials in The Heart of Redness by surveying past syntheses of history and literature in writings on the movement, and by exploring issues of intertextuality and plagiarism in African literature. Based on this analysis, The Heart of Redness should be understood in terms of duplicity, in both meanings of the word: as a novel that explores binary themes, but also as a derivative work masquerading plagiarism as intertextuality.
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"Smallpox and Epidemic Threat in Nineteenth-Century Xhosaland," African Studies, Vol. 67, No. 2 (2008)
A brief, broad survey of the presence of smallpox in Xhosaland, followed by a closer examination of the disease and two efforts to vaccinate during the 1850s, reveals how smallpox influenced historical developments during the 1850s in South Africa. A case study of Dr. John Patrick Fitzgerald's vaccination programs and his work with the amaXhosa shows the intricate ways that colonial medicine influenced and was influenced by indigenous populations. In South Africa's Eastern Cape, smallpox heightened tensions along the frontier during the time of Nongqawuse and contributed to the cataclysmic environment necessary for the millennarian movement known as the Xhosa Cattle-Killing.