Mara Loveman, Professor

Closed (1) The Erie Canal, the Transcontinental Railroads, and the Hoover Dam: Large-Scale Infrastructure Projects, Land Policy, and Settler Colonialism in American State Formation

Applications for fall 2021 are now closed for this project.

Existing scholarship portrays the early American state as primarily a confederation between the states for the purposes of war making, international relations, and mail delivery. However, this perspective ignores the significant experimentation with infrastructural promotion the United States engaged in throughout the nineteenth century. Throughout the nineteenth century, experiments in infrastructural promotion such as the Erie Canal, transcontinental railroads, and Hoover Dam, inaugurated new roles for government in economy and society and contributed to the United Sates' evolution from a limited, fiscal-military state to a full blown, modern regulatory and welfare state. These experiments were in turn made possible by the United States' vast public lands acquired in its broader context of settler colonialism. This project explores the interconnections of settler colonialism, land policy, infrastructural promotion, and the emergence of the modern state.

Students will assist in a variety of research tasks, all centered around the analysis of legislative materials. In a first stream of work, students will systematically collect data from the indices of legislative journals to conceptualize and describe the degree to which early government activity could be considered "settler colonial." In a second stream of work, students will analyze congressional debates related to the initial promotion, design, construction, and administration of each case study project to systematically document who were the key figures in each, what their social positions and interests were, and how they understood the proper role of government in economy and society. In Fall 2021, students will focus on documents related to the first transcontinental railroad.

In doing so, students will learn about the American legislative process (i.e. how a bill becomes a law) and how it has changed over time, gain experience doing historical research with primary materials, coding qualitative data, and learn about American political development. Students will gain familiarity using ProQuest Congressional for legislative research. Students should expect to meet weekly with the research team to update each other on progress, discuss the challenges of historical research and explanation as they arise, and refine data collection processes. These meetings will be supervised by Mary Shi. Students will be introduced to Professor Loveman at the beginning of the semester and have the opportunity to discuss project progress and their own research and/or professional interests with Professor Loveman during a longer research team meeting at the end of the semester.

Students who are interested in probing the interplay of economic and political power, the changing historical role of the state, or the role of territorial expansion in American history are encouraged to apply. Students interested in careers in public policy, public administration, law, or social science research may find this project particularly interesting.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Mary Shi, Ph.D. candidate

Qualifications: Students should be detail oriented, organized, and able to meticulously document data sources and information. Students should able to work in teams and collaboratively with the research supervisor.

Weekly Hours: 6-8 hrs

Off-Campus Research Site: Students can work anywhere (on-campus or remotely) as long as they have an internet connection and access to campus library resources via a VPN. The research team will meet weekly on campus.