Of all of the departments of the U.S. government you might expect to be implicated in the exercise of imperialism, the Department of the Interior might not be the first one that you would think of. Of course, Interior played a vital role in American empire, as a vehicle of American territorial expansion and settler colonialism, and later in overseeing overseas territories. Megan Black
’s The Global Interior: Mineral Frontiers and American Power
(Harvard University Press, 2018) looks at the role of Interior in shepherding American empire, namely through the acquisition of mineral resources in overseas territories, and later, globally. In doing so, her book reveals another dimension of American empire.
Black begins with the “closing” of the frontier and the Department of the Interior’s shift from managing biological resources over to mineral resources. The acquisition of territory in Alaska, the Caribbean, the Philippines, and several other Pacific holdings saw Interior work to develop mining operations, as well as articulating the concept of strategically vital minerals. As the United States began to grow closer to war in the late 1930s, this concern over vital minerals extended to other regions, particularly Latin America, as U.S. planners feared that their own stocks could be exhausted; they also argued that capital investment would develop infrastructure in these countries and help them develop. This fed neatly into the Cold War, which saw the U.S. extend its ambitions globally. Subsequent chapters analyze the role of Interior in developing the Continental Shelf and take a role in space, particularly through the Landsat satellite. Black concludes the book by discussing pushback from Native American tribes on mineral and energy rights, and the weakening of Interior under the Reagan Administration.
Zeb Larson is a PhD Candidate in History at The Ohio State University. His research is about the anti-apartheid movement in the United States. To suggest a recent title or to contact him, please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.