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The environmental imagination and mid-nineteenth-century American politics

Griffin, Matthew Robert; (2019) The environmental imagination and mid-nineteenth-century American politics. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This dissertation investigates the environmental imagination of mid-nineteenth-century Americans, studying ideas about the natural world during a transformative period in which technological innovation revolutionised how Americans interacted with nature on the land, in the factory, and on the rails. The historiographical consensus holds that these developments fuelled Americans’ belief that nature had become alienated from humanity, a savage realm to be civilised by new technologies. By studying the ways in which ideas about nature intersected with mid-nineteenth-century political culture, my research tells a different story, one in which a firm belief in the interconnections between humans and nature was central. In investigating sources such as newspapers, Congressional records, and personal correspondence, I show that Americans drew upon the latest scientific research to position their society in dialogue with the natural world, rather than alienated from it. While there was a clear awareness that technological innovation expanded human agency, the belief that human bodies and societies were subject to powerful environmental forces and should be brought into line with natural laws was pervasive. I trace how this conviction fed into a nexus of environmental ideas that underlay the dynamics of power at the heart of mid-nineteenth-century American politics, conditioning how Americans approached crucial political questions. Through a series of thematic chapters, my dissertation shows that political debates surrounding identities, expansion, trade, slavery, and emancipation were the products of diverging interpretations of what these natural forces and laws were and how best to construct policies in light of them. In short, the environmental imagination helps explain how and why mid-nineteenth-century Americans shaped and reshaped their world in the ways that they did.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: The environmental imagination and mid-nineteenth-century American politics
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2019. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10079570
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