America as Second Creation: Technology and Narratives of New Beginnings

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Overview

After 1776, the former American colonies began to reimagine themselves as a unified,
self-created community. Technologies had an important role in the resulting national narratives, and a few technologies assumed particular prominence. Among these were the axe, the mill, the canal, the railroad, and the irrigation dam. In this book David Nye explores the stories that clustered around these technologies. In doing so, he rediscovers an American story of origins, with America conceived as a second creation built in harmony with God's first creation.While mainstream Americans constructed technological foundation stories to explain their place in the New World, however,
marginalized groups told other stories of destruction and loss. Native Americans protested the loss of their forests, fishermen resisted the construction of dams, and early environmentalists feared the exhaustionof resources. A water mill could be viewed as the kernel of a new community or as a new way to exploit labor. If passengers comprehended railways as part of a larger narrative about
American expansion and progress, many farmers attacked railroad land grants. To explore these contradictions, Nye devotes alternating chapters to narratives of second creation and to narratives of those who rejected it.Nye draws on popular literature, speeches, advertisements, paintings, and many other media to create a history of American foundation stories. He shows how these stories were revised periodically, as social and economic conditions changed, without ever erasing the earlier stories entirely. The image of the isolated frontier family carving a homestead out of the wilderness with an axe persists to this day, alongside later images and narratives. In the book's conclusion, Nye considers the relation between these earlier stories and such later American developments as the conservation movement, narratives of environmental recovery, and the idealization of wilderness.

The MIT Press

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Well imagined, meticulously researched, handsomely illustrated, and scrupulously fair." Simon Ings NewScientist

The MIT Press

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262640596
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2004
  • Pages: 383
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

David E. Nye is Professor of American History at the University of Southern Denmark. The winner of the 2005 Leonardo da Vinci Medal of the Society for the History of Technology, he is the author of America's Assembly Line (MIT Press) and other books.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: In the American Beginning 1
Preconditions
1 Narrating the Assimilation of Nature 9
2 Surveying the Ground 21
First Narrative: The Axe
3 Axe, Clearing, Cabin 43
4 The Nurturing Forest 71
Second Narrative: The Mill
5 The Mill, or "Natural Power" 91
6 Pollution and Class Conflict 117
Third Narrative: The Canal and the Railroad
7 "Let Us Conquer Space" 147
8 "The Route of Superior Desolation" 175
Fourth Narrative: Irrigation
9 "Conquered Rivers Are Better Servants than Wild Clouds" 205
10 Water Monopoly: Federal Irrigation and Factories in the Field 233
Metanarrative: Synthesis and Rebuttal
11 Progress, or Entropy? 261
Conclusion: Second Creation, Conservation, and Wilderness 283
Notes 303
Bibliography 345
Index 365
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