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Communities of Violence in the Southwestern Borderlands

On April 2, 2014, Lance R. Blyth, Research Associate at the Latin American & Iberian Institute (LAII) and deputy director of the Office of History at U.S. Northern Command, will be honored by the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Study at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, for his book Chiricahua and Janos: Communities of Violence in the Southwestern Borderlands, 1680-1880 (University of Nebraska Press, 2012).

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Winner of the 2012 Weber-Clements Prize for Best Non-Fiction Book on Southwestern America, Blyth's study of Chiricahua Apaches and the presidio of Janos in the U.S.-Mexican borderlands reveals how no single entity had a monopoly on coercion, and how violence became the primary means by which relations were established, maintained, or altered both within and between communities, to include the Spanish-Mexican settlement of Janos in Nueva Vizcaya, present-day Chihuahua, and the Chiricahua Apaches.

Blyth's research considers how "for more than two centuries violence was at the center of the relationships by which Janos and Chiricahua formed their communities. Violence created families by turning boys into men through campaigns and raids, which ultimately led to marriage and also determined the provisioning and security of these families, with acts of revenge and retaliation governing their attempts to secure themselves even as trade and exchange continued sporadically. This revisionist work reveals how during the Spanish, Mexican, and American eras both conflict and accommodation constituted these two communities that previous historians have often treated as separate and antagonistic. By showing not only the negative aspects of violence but also its potentially positive outcomes, Chiricahua and Janos helps us to understand violence not only in the southwestern borderlands but in borderland regions generally around the world."

The $2,500 Weber-Clements Book Prize honors fine writing and original research on the American Southwest. The competition is open to any nonfiction book, including biography, on any aspect of Southwestern life, past or present. According to the Clements Center, the judging committee wrote: "Chiricahua and Janos begins with the foundational premise that violence can build as much as disrupt communities. From this premise, it constructs a riveting narrative about how the communities, economies, and families of Chiricahua Apaches and Spaniards at Janos presidio in northwestern Nueva Vizcaya (Chihuahua) became intricately entwined through two centuries of reciprocal violence and accommodation. Built upon careful research, interdisciplinary source-mining, and convincing arguments, the writing and telling of this story is entirely engaging as Blyth balances the perspectives, purposes, and lifeways of the twin communities forged in a crucible of war."

Blyth continues his historical research of the Southwest as he writes "Kit Carson and the War for the Southwest: Separation and Survival along the Rio Grande, 1862-1868," a chapter in the book "The West and the Civil War: Testing the Limits" (Berkeley: University of California Press, forthcoming 2015), edited by Adam Arenson and Andrew Graybill.

According to Blyth, the LAII's designation of Research Associate has served "as an invaluable appointment for me as it has allowed me to continue to pursue my own historical research and writing even as I am employed outside of the academy as a historian with the federal government."

Image: Excerpt of cover image for Chiricahua and Janos: Communities of Violence in the Southwestern Borderlands, 1680-1880.

--Posted Wednesday, March 26, 2014.