This dissertation examines the transnational networks and patterns of mobility and exchange that constituted the U.S.-Canadian borderlands in the Northern pacific in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. During this period, various groups, among them Chinese merchant contractors, Japanese and European migrant workers, white labor activists, and South Asian anticolonial revolutionaries, in pursuing political and socio-economic agendas on both sides of the international line, created and sustained a transborder world of motion in the Pacific Northwest. This study considers how the manifold movements and circulations underpinning this dynamic borderland society were embedded in a wider Pacific world system of migration, trade, and communication connecting the U.S. Northwest and Canadian West to a myriad of sites in Asia and the South Pacific. In doing so, I bring together the local sociopolitical relationships of a North American borderland with the transnational movements, networks, and discourses of a Pacific World.
At the same time, this dissertation explains how these growing transpacific connections and movements led, paradoxically, to increasing pressures on the Canadian and U.S. states to nationalize their respective space and society in North America. Considering Asian migrants socially undesirable and in some cases politically subversive, North American regimes adopted legal, bureaucratic, and legal measures to restrict and regulate their transpacific as well as the transborder movements.
This bi-national effort to systematically control the transnational movement of Asians involved the construction of transpacific borders—a process that included enforcing an imaginary line between the Asia-Pacific world and the North American West, as well as consolidating a territorial boundary between the United States and the Canada. These new border controls and restrictions however, rather than the simple culmination of state policies, were instead the outcome of everyday contests between workers, contractors, smugglers, entrepreneurs, and state officials. Drawing from archival records in the Canada, Britain, and the United States, this study examines the role of transpacific and transborder labor recruitment, labor activism, anti-Asian agitation, radical politics, and state practices in the creation of the U.S.-Canadian border at the turn of the twentieth century.