Borderlands are complex places, and they have inspired an equally challenging methodology. When done well, as in Katrina Jagodinsky’s Legal Codes and Talking Trees, a borderlands approach as a scholarly strategy reveals something central about a society by way of its fringes. In this case, the author uses six case studies of Indigenous or mixed-heritage women pursuing legal actions in US northern and southern borderlands—geographically distinct yet analogous places—to expose the racial codes that infused American territorial laws. These juxtaposed microhistories are informed by macrohistorical trends, and they function together, thanks to meticulous research, as an exploration of the nexus of American race, power, and law in the West.

The chosen case studies diverge and align in a number of ways, and they alternate in pairs between the two regions, generally in chronological order. The main protagonists are borderlands actors to...

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