Field science in the Railroad Era: The tools of knowledge empire in the American West, 1869-1916

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Focusing on the field sciences during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this paper analyzes how railroads served as tools of knowledge empire in the American West. The political economy of this region, shaped by the rise of Populism and capitalist development with federal and state government support, provided the context for cooperation between field scientists and railroad companies. Early on, the displacement of American Indians and their concentration on reservations was intertwined with the research of the Bureau of Ethnology under John Wesley Powell. Later, railroad companies became important patrons of field research, primarily through their provision of free or reduced-fare passes for travel. This research ranged from state universities undertaking research in horticulture and irrigation engineering to metropolitan natural history museums whose field work in paleontology had cultural or symbolic value.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)597-613
Number of pages17
JournalHistoria, Ciencias, Saude - Manguinhos
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2008


  • American West
  • Economic development
  • Field science
  • John Wesley Powell
  • Railroads

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History and Philosophy of Science


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