Land, Fur, and Copper: Territorial Science and Settler Colonialism in the Western Great Lakes, 1815–1854

Lunchtime Lectures
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
1:00 p.m.–2:00 p.m. EDT (UTC -4)

At the turn of the 20th century, North American mineral resources became the crucial raw materials powering the global economic ascendancy of US industrial manufacturing. Much of this material came from land expropriated from Indigenous communities in the western Great Lakes in the first half of the 19th century. But how and when did US leaders come to believe that these lands contained an abundance of valuable minerals? Lester will discuss the political and economic contexts motivating mineralogical and geological investigations of copper embedded in the upper peninsula of what is now the state of Michigan.

After the War of 1812, a new political economy of economic independence—based on the cultivation of domestic industries and the integration of the resources of a territorially expanded home market—fused with existing settler colonial aspirations for the continent. At the same time, the subjects of scientific investigation in the early republic increasingly revolved around the appraisal of continental environments as they were considered for acquisition into an industrializing US empire. Tracking initial efforts to transform the copper-rich land of the Anishinaabeg into a resource frontier for the settler state reveals the role of science in the early conjunction of settler colonialism and a capitalism increasingly obsessed with the territorial control of industrial raw materials.

About the Speaker


Gustave Lester headshot

Gustave Lester.

Gustave Lester is a PhD candidate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University, Friends of the APS predoctoral fellow in early American history at the American Philosophical Society, and graduate student affiliate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

He studies the history of the earth sciences in the contexts of settler colonialism and industrial capitalism in North America. His dissertation, “Mineral Lands, Mineral Empire: Mapping the Raw Materials of US Industrial Capitalism, 1780–1880,” is concerned with how the global ascendancy of US industrial manufacturing at the end of the 19th century depended on the search for and expropriation of North American mineral lands in the early 19th century.

About the Series

Now combined with our Saturday Speaker Series, Lunchtime Lectures take a rigorous and entertaining approach to exploring topics for scholars and anyone interested in stories about the history of science. The talks help expand perceptions of the nature of science and how it’s done. This season, our speakers are exploring issues of gender, race, and colonialism in the history of the physical and biological sciences from the early modern period to the 21st century.