Now I Walk on Foreign Soil: Settler Colonialism in Argentina’s Southern Borderlands, 1867-1899

Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Joseph, Gilbert


“Now I Walk On Foreign Soil: Settler Colonialism in Argentina’s Southern Borderlands, 1867-1899” examines the relationship between military violence, Indigenous resistance, and settler colonial state formation in Argentina. This dissertation charts how during the so-called “Conquest of the Desert” (1879-1885), formerly autonomous Indigenous peoples in the pampas and Patagonia were subjugated to Argentine state rule through military violence, and discursively erased from Argentina’s national community. Employing the methodologies of microhistory and ethnohistory, alongside the frameworks of settler colonial theory and genocide studies, it examines the intertwined forms of military and nonmilitary violence intended to physically and ideologically eradicate Indigenous people from Argentina. Furthermore, it analyzes many forms of Indigenous resistance to this project of settler colonial elimination, arguing that Indigenous interventions shaped the course of Argentine nation-state formation, even as these populations were being expunged from Argentina’s official narrative of national history. Each chapter reconstructs the lived experiences of individuals and groups who weathered this violent period in Argentine history. Chapters 1, 2, and 3 are primarily concerned with questions of frontiers, borderlands, and boundary lines. Chapter 1 reconstructs the interethnic character of Argentina’s southern borderlands in the mid-nineteenth century, and highlights the uneven impacts of Argentina's 1867 "Frontier Law" in the borderlands region. Chapters 2 and 3 narrate the so-called “Conquest of the Desert,” showing how these military campaigns attempted to redefine not only the geographic limits of the national territory but also the racial and cultural boundaries of Argentine national identity. These chapters also examine various national policy decisions regarding the frontier, showcasing the disconnect between state fantasies of territorial control and on-the-ground dynamics of resistance and contestation. Chapters 4 and 5 turn to themes of displacement, confinement, and assimilation. These final two chapters follow the trajectories of Indigenous people who were imprisoned during the military campaigns. These captives, many of them women and children, were trafficked throughout the country and subject to various schemes of unfree labor and forced assimilation. Although formally under the purview of the national government, these populations navigated a new social space in which they were increasingly treated as “remnants” of a disappearing past. Ultimately, this dissertation calls for a critical reexamination of the “Conquest of the Desert,” which has long been mythologized as the ultimate triumph of Argentine “civilization” over Indigenous “barbarism.” It recovers the centrality of Indigenous actors in shaping Argentine nation-state formation, and in doing so, counters a common myth of Argentina as a nation with no Indigenous past or present.

This document is currently not available here.