Thesis ID: CBB989620319

Mineral Lands, Mineral Empire: Mapping the Raw Materials of US Industrial Capitalism, 1780-1880 (2023)


Who found the raw materials of the industrial revolution and how did they find them? The expansion of industrial capitalism depended on the increasingly intense exploitation of mineral lands. But key industrial resources—coal, copper, iron, and lead—were hidden away within the earth and wasted mining ventures were a hazardous expense. How, then, did capitalists and imperial powers determine which lands could be profitably extracted? In this dissertation, I argue that the United States transformed from a mineral importer to a mineral empire by becoming a patron of the earth sciences and exploiting Indigenous peoples’ knowledge of their territories. Over the course of the long nineteenth century, many US political leaders and men of science saw Indigenous power as the most significant contingency to the realization of industrial political economy and state geologists would guide the twin trajectories of dispossession and US industrial development by providing political leaders with key information about the natural resources embedded within Indigenous lands. Focusing on the copper and iron rich lands of Anishinaabe nations in the Great Lakes region and the lead rich lands of the Sauk, Mesquakie, and Ho-Chunk nations of the Upper Mississippi Valley, I show how geological mapping and dispossession proved critical to the growth of mineral-intensive US industrial manufacturing. By focusing on the practices and conflicts involved in locating and acquiring resource-rich territories prior to their extraction, this project reveals how the United States became a global industrial power not by discovering abundance within its own territory, but by studying and seizing the mineral wealth of Indigenous nations. The results of this study are salient to the contemporary efforts of Indigenous nations to take back, steward, and receive just compensation for the United States’ historical and ongoing expropriation of their land and wealth.

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Authors & Contributors
Aalto, K. R.
Archer, Seth
Barnett, Lydia
Bigelow, Allison Margaret
Callahan, Richard J., Jr.
Chambers, Mark Milton
American Quarterly
Earth Sciences History: Journal of the History of the Earth Sciences Society
Historical Records of Australian Science
HOST: Journal of History of Science and Technology
Journal of Early Modern History
Journal of the American Academy of Religion
Rutgers University
Cambridge University Press
UBC Press
University of North Carolina Press
University of Texas Press
University of Washington Press
Indigenous peoples; indigeneity
Traditional knowledge
Mines and mining
Barba, Alvaro Alonso
Columbus, Christopher
Dampier, William
Oviedo y Valdés, Gonzalo Fernández
Becker, Lothar
Tyson, Philip T.
Time Periods
19th century
18th century
17th century
20th century, early
16th century
20th century
United States
North America
South West Africa Company (SWACO)

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