Department of History
Witness Tree: Landscape and Dissent in the Nineteenth-Century United States
Critics from Karl Marx to the radical American environmentalist Julia Butterfly Hill—she of the 738-day tree sit in one California redwood—have long argued that the ideals of democracy float uneasily upon the high seas of capitalism. How, these critics have asked, can we speak of individual autonomy in the face of the increasing concentration of economic and political power in corporate invisible hands? What does it mean when decisions affecting our everyday lives—the worth of our labor; whether or not our political voices can be heard; the health of our rivers, skies, farm fields, city streets, and even our own bodies—are increasingly made by distant legal fictions? My work saunters along the converging boundary lines of radical culture, green criticism, and environmental history. With it, I seek to recapture a story of environmental humility, spatial sensitivity, and radical social justice rooted in the nineteenth-century U.S.
Daegan Miller received his PhD in history from Cornell University in 2013. His dissertation is a cultural and environmental history that draws on a range of primary source materials, both textual and visual, to trace how nineteenth-century Americans unsure about the costs of Progress reimagined and reshaped their landscapes in order to highlight the unnaturalness of capitalism, industrialization, scientific racism, and Manifest Destiny. He has published in a variety of venues—from creative writing magazines to academic journals—and is currently learning to “speak tree” for an article-length essay tracing the sylvan literacy infusing all aspects of nineteenth-century U.S. culture. He is also developing a second book-project exploring the cultural politics of long-distance walking in the nineteenth-century U.S.