- Fellowship year:2017-2018
- University: University of Pennsylvania
- Dissertation Topic/Category: United States
- Dissertation Title: Governing the Peripheries: The Social Reconstructions of the South and West After the American Civil War
My dissertation examines how the federal gvernment struggled to assert U.S. authority across the national territory after the Civil War. A central aspect of this federal project, or what some historians have recently called America's "Greater Reconstruction," were campaigns for social reorganization at the nation's peripheries. In both the postbellum South and West, U.S. officials sought to govern indigenous peoples and the formaly enslaved by compelling them to submit to capitalist relations, thereby undermining their struggles for social and political autonomy. Yet this project, I argue, seriously strained the government's limited capacities, forcing federal institutions to forge connections to specific groups of northern capitalists and reformers in order to facilitate the social reconstructions of the South and the West. By uncovering these shifting relationships between U.S. authorities and northern capitalists, my work reveals obscured but central links between southern Reconstruction, western imperialism, and an emergent political economy of capitalist accumulation in the last third of the nineteenth century.
I analyze these broad developments by tracking the expanding influence of one company: Phelps Dodge, a mercantile-turned-industrial corporation based in New York City, which invested in southern lumber and western mining after the Civil War. Reconstructing shareholders' social networks and political activities, I describe how prominent capitalists worked directly and indirectly with the Freemen's Bureau, the Indian Bureau, and other U.S. institutions to reorganize the labor and household relations of freed and indigenous peoples. In doing so, I suggest that the state-building initiatives in the South and West were not only linked ideologically by white Potestant nationalism, as some scholars have shown, but were also supported materially by overlapping groups of capitalists who hailed from the North's centers of finance and reform. Furthermore, by examining postbellum policies to administer unenclosed timber and mineral lands, I show how U.S. officials invited Phelps Dodge and other large corporations to dramatically transform the national space. As private corporations registered claims to the forests and minerals of the South and West, private property surveillance became a de facto department of corporate operations, making it more and more difficult for freed, indigenous, and other dispossessed peoples to maintain alternative forms of life. My project therefore reorients conventional narratives about U.S. political economy during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, revealing the ensemble of political institutions that enabled capitalist social relations to develop in highly contingent and regionally specific ways after civil and colonial warfare. Industrial resource extraction in turn generated new material conditions for developing structures of governance at the southern and western peripheries.