Entangled knowledge, expanding nation : science and the United States empire in the southeast borderlands, 1783-1842



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This dissertation is about knowledge, power, and identities in North America. It practices and develops borderlands history of science as a method for exploring the interplay between these factors during the earliest period of the United States' territorial expansion, the 1780s to the early 1840s. Approaching science in the early United States from a borderlands perspective and decentering the thirteen original states on the nation's eastern periphery reveals a new picture of the knowledge, practices, individuals, and networks that comprised American culture on the whole during its formative years. Multinational individuals within borderland regions, entanglements with neighboring empires, and the imperial dimensions of the early republic were all constitutive of national science and culture. The southeast borderlands—the Gulf South territories that would become the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida—is an ideal region for decentering the history of the United States: it was as much a part of the Caribbean, Spanish, and French worlds as it was of Anglo-North America and it was central to the worlds of Creeks, Seminoles, Choctaws, and other Native groups. Scientific practitioners, ideas, and techniques in the southeast borderlands were integral to the development of both national identity and imperialism in the early United States. U.S. officials and men of science did not simply create the scientific perspectives and practices used to dominate the former Spanish, French, and British colonies of the Gulf South. Instead, they incorporated the region's multinational scientific experts, drew on the examples of other empires, and used the Gulf South as an experimental space in which they could perfect more advanced methods of exploiting the land and its peoples. Science and culture in the United States were multinational, multiethnic, and inextricable from the imperial context in which they developed.