This is installment one in what I hope will become a series of blog posts featuring works by our faculty in American Studies. First up: Dr. Holly Karibo, History.
Dr. Karibo received her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto in 2012 and specializes in Border Studies with a focus on the North American Borderlands. She also teaches courses in Introductory American History, The History of the Present, and History and Gender (aka AMST/HIST 4553 Gender in America). In this piece she describes her first book, Sin City North: Sex, Drugs, and Citizenship in the Detroit-Windsor Borderland (UNC Press, 2015).
One of the prominent themes of the 2016 election has been the extent to which many Americans still hold deep-seated anxieties about their nation’s borders. These concerns are not new. Fears of ‘infiltration’ from the outside played a prominent role in American politics throughout the twentieth century. National boundaries, though, are not just sites that invoke heated political debates. To the people who live, work, and cross through border regions on a regular basis, they are also close-knit communities and sites of intercultural exchange. My book, Sin City North, explores these seemingly differing impulses: the desire to build economic and social bridges with our closest neighbors and the drive to build walls that further the divide between us.
Though ‘the border’ is often used as shorthand to describe the region that connects the US and Mexico, Sin City North highlights the history of the two northern bordertowns: Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario. As a Michigan native who grew up in close proximity to the Canadian border, I became fascinated by the long and rich history that united these two cities. In particular, I was interested in tracing the rise of underground economies that flourished in the border cities. Between the Prohibition era of the 1920s and the tourism boom of the 1950s, economies based on sex, booze, drugs, and gambling developed on each side of the national line. The very brazenness of these illicit economies prompted moral reformers and politicians to try to eliminate them from the border cities. The book traces the battles over the place of illicit industries in the social and cultural life of these northern bordertowns. The book makes clear that debates about bordertowns—and the goings on therein—are always political. They are at their heart about who does or does not belong in the nation—who does or doesn’t count as a productive and full citizen.