Alexis McCrossen
Land of Necessity
ince the early 1850s when the nearly 2,000-mile-long bound-
line between the United States and Mexico was drawn
and the ‘‘American System of Manufacture’’ using interchange-
able, standardized parts was perfected, the convergence of
broad demographic, economic, political, and international de-
velopments in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands unleashed neces-
sity, a force as strong as desire in forging a culture and society
rooted in the imperatives of market-oriented consumption.
Though its importance is uncontestable, scholars have hitherto
rarely explored the role of necessity in consumer culture. In-
deed, it is widely assumed that where necessity reigns, consumer
culture is anemic. This volume seeks to demonstrate otherwise,
not simply because privation defines the experience of many
borderlanders past and present, but because even amidst excess
(of time, money, things) necessity plays a defining role in shap-
ing social life and cultural patterns. In doing so, the contribu-
tors to Land of Necessity shed new light on the history of the
U.S.-Mexico borderlands, while also opening up new terrain for
scholarly inquiry into consumer culture.
The volume first took shape in the 2005–2006 Symposium
of the William P. Clements, Jr., Center for Southwest Studies,
which is associated with Southern Methodist University and
directed by its founder, the historian David Weber. In the fall
of 2005, the contributors to this volume (with the exception
of Robert Perez), Valerie Millholland, the editor of all things
Latin American for Duke University Press, and I met at SMU’s
satellite campus, Fort Burgwin, near Taos, New Mexico. We
met for several days on end, discussing early drafts of our
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