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The Global Interior

The Global Interior

Mineral Frontiers and American Power

Megan Black

ISBN 9780674984257

Publication date: 10/01/2018

Winner of the George Perkins Marsh Prize
Winner of the Stuart L. Bernath Prize
Winner of the W. Turrentine-Jackson Award

“Extraordinary…Deftly rearranges the last century and a half of American history in fresh and useful ways.”
Los Angeles Review of Books

When one thinks of the history of U.S. global expansion, the Department of the Interior rarely comes to mind. Its very name declares its narrow portfolio. Yet The Global Interior reveals that a government organ best known for managing domestic natural resources and operating national parks has constantly supported and projected American power.

Interior’s first task was to oversee settler colonialism in the American West. When that seemed complete, the department maintained its role but expanded its reach. Megan Black’s detailed analysis shows how, throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, Interior cultivated and exploited its image as an innocuous scientific-research and environmental-management organization in order to drive and satisfy America’s insatiable demand for raw materials. Interior continues to operate in indigenous lands through, for instance, coal mining on the Crow reservation and oil leasing on the Blackfeet reservation. It pushes the boundaries of territoriality through offshore drilling. And in the guise of sharing expertise with the underdeveloped world, it has led lithium surveys in Afghanistan, among other activities abroad. Indeed, Interior is more than global: the department now manages a satellite that prospects natural resources in outer space.

Black demonstrates that in a period marked by global commitments to self-determination, Interior helped the United States maintain key benefits of empire without the burden of playing the imperialist villain. As other expansionist justifications—manifest destiny, hemispheric pacification, Cold War exigencies—fell by the wayside, Interior ensured that the environment itself would provide the foundational logic of American hegemony.


  • Black’s extraordinary book…demonstrates the remarkable reach of the Interior Department…By zooming in on the work of this important but too easily forgotten agency, The Global Interior deftly rearranges the last century and a half of American history in fresh and useful ways…Most notably, her book allows us to see how settler colonialism served as the staging ground for the United States’s rise to its superpower status.

    —Dexter Fergie, Los Angeles Review of Books


  • 2019, Winner of the British Association for American Studies Book Prize
  • 2019, Winner of the W. Turrentine-Jackson Award
  • 2019, Winner of the Stuart L. Bernath Book Prize


  • Megan Black is Associate Professor of History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Book Details

  • 360 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press