Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Robertson on the Passport in America

As is probably clear from my other posts, I like thinking about the interests that Charles Reich famously labeled "new property": old-age pensions, public housing, welfare benefits, occupational licenses, and other forms of government largess. The passport, according to lore, was one of the first forms of "new property" to capture Reich's interest. (As editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal, he worked on a comment about the practice of conditioning passports on acceptable political beliefs.) Thanks to Craig Robertson (Northeastern University), we now have a book-length history of the passport. Although The Passport in America is probably not for the casual reader, it may be valuable to those working on citizenship, immigration, national security and surveillance, and the administrative state.

Here is part of the publisher's description of the book:
In the first history of the passport in the United States, Craig Robertson offers an illuminating account of how this document, above all others, came to be considered a reliable answer to the question: who are you? Historically, the passport originated as an official letter of introduction addressed to foreign governments on behalf of American travelers, but as Robertson shows, it became entangled in contemporary negotiations over citizenship and other forms of identity documentation. Prior to World War I, passports were not required to cross American borders, and while some people struggled to understand how a passport could accurately identify a person, others took advantage of this new document to advance claims for citizenship. From the strategic use of passport applications by freed slaves and a campaign to allow married women to get passports in their maiden names, to the "passport nuisance" of the 1920s and the contested addition of photographs and other identification technologies on the passport, Robertson sheds new light on issues of individual and national identity in modern U.S. history.
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