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History professor’s book sheds new light on how Louisiana-Florida borderlands shaped United States

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Media Contact: Bridget Lewis

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A University of Texas at Arlington history professor’s new book shows how the United States emerged as a successor empire to Great Britain in the Mississippi Valley and Gulf Coast during the American Revolutionary War.

David Narrett

The succession took place through rivalry with Spain and in the period leading to the Louisiana Purchase.

David Narrett’s book examines fascinating historical characters while analyzing competing forces shaping history on a continental scale.

Adventurism and Empire: The Struggle for Mastery in the Louisiana-Florida Borderlands, 1762-1803 was recently published by the University of North Carolina Press. The 265-page book is ground breaking for highlighting “colonial adventurism” -- individual quests for profit and power in disputed frontier regions that were often beyond the reach of effective government power.

Adventurism and Empire covers a broad geographic area -- from Louisiana to Florida -- that previously had been underplayed in American history.  Narrett shows how Indian nations as well as white settlers competed for trading networks and for alliances reaching across ethnic bounds. Besides political developments, Narrett’s book evaluates trade, settlement projects involving slave and free labor, and military incursions by Anglo-American adventurers into Spanish and Indian territories.

“I examined the clash of empires and nationalities from the diverse perspectives of Native Americans and of the competing Spanish, French, British, and Anglo-American forces,” Narrett explained. “During a time of great transition, the Louisiana and Florida frontiers were embroiled in turbulent international politics and experienced tremors from both the American Revolutionary War and the French Revolution.”

He added: “By demonstrating the pervasiveness of intrigue and betrayal in borderland rivalries, Adventurism and Intrigue shows that U.S. continental expansion was not an inevitable progression; my research redefines the important role the Louisiana and Florida borderlands had within the changing map of North America.”

For his book, Narrett researched Spanish, British, French and U.S. documentary sources in numerous archives, including the Library of Congress, and collections in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York City and Ottawa, Canada.  By using these original sources in several languages, Narrett is able to tell the story of frontier conflicts and intrigue through the voices of diverse nationalities.  He also brings out the human dimension and drama that pervaded areas where individuals and groups commonly changed allegiances by adapting to changing circumstances.

Elites – those in leadership positions– occupy a major place in my book,” Narrett states. “Such individuals did not simply control events, however, and their failures were as common as their successes. Indeed, unrealized ambitions are critical to understanding historical alternatives and outcomes.”

Elisabeth Cawthon, associate dean of the UT Arlington College of Liberal Arts, called the book an important contribution to scholarship.

“Dr. Narrett has produced a masterful book that contributes to several fields and eras of history.  His research highlights the strengths of the history department in borderlands scholarship,” Cawthon said.  

In a review of the book, Andrew McMichael, assistant dean and associate professor of history at Western Kentucky University, said one strength of Adventurism and Empire is the broad diversity of the sources upon which Narrett draws.

“Many American historians, and a surprising number of borderlands historians, avoid foreign-language sources. That Narrett was able to use these to the extent that he has sets this work apart,” McMichael said.

Adventurism and Empire: The Struggle for Mastery in the Louisiana-Florida Borderlands, 1762-1803 is available at the UT Arlington bookstore, 400 S. Spaniolo Drive. Copies can also be ordered at

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