What does anti-imperialism look like from the vantage point of North America? In Empire’s Tracks: Indigenous Nations, Chinese Workers, and the Transcontinental Railroad
(University of California Press, 2019), Manu Karuka
(Barnard College) answers this question by reinterpreting the significance of the transcontinental railroad from the perspectives of Chinese workers and Indigenous peoples—in particular the Paiute, Lakota, Pawnee, and Cheyenne. Karuka proposes three new concepts—counter-sovereignty, continental imperialism, and modes of relationship— for our understanding of this history. The interdisciplinary scholarship of Empire’s Tracks
engages with writers ranging from W.E.B. Du Bois to Frederick Jackson Turner to Ella Deloria, and draws also from legal, legislative, military, and business records. Ultimately, Karuka gives the lie to exceptionalist narratives of the United States by showing how its transportation infrastructure, like those around the world, emerged violently at the nexus of war and finance.
Ian Shin is assistant professor of History and American Culture at the University of Michigan.