Barbara L. Voss’s study of colonial settlers in San Francisco, California, during its years as a presidio (1776 – 1821) is a welcome addition to the growing field of North American historical archaeology. What sets her work apart from more conventional studies is her decision to analyze identity within the theoretical framework of ethnogenesis, or “the birthing of new cultural identities” (p. 1), and to focus on the colonists rather than the colonized (Native Americans). Simply stated, Voss highlights how a diverse group of families of mixed race origins recruited by the Spanish Crown to settle a military outpost came to reject their classification in the sistema de castas and forge a new group identity as Californios.

Voss’s study of ethnogenesis on the frontier of the Spanish Empire is organized around four main themes: colonization, material practice, overdetermination, and sexuality. Colonization produced the...

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