In Whose Ruins: Power, Possession, and the Landscapes of American EmpirePrice $28.99Hardcover
Virtual Event: Alicia Puglionesi
In Whose Ruins:
and the Landscapes of American Empire
in conversation with MEGAN KATE NELSON
April 14, 2022
7:00 PM ET
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Free - $5 contribution suggested at registration
Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes writer and historian ALICIA PUGLIONESI for a discussion of her newest book In Whose Ruins: Power, Possession, and the Landscapes of American Empire. She will be joined in conversation by MEGAN KATE NELSON, historian and author of Saving Yellowstone.
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About In Whose Ruins
Popular narratives of American history conceal as much as they reveal. They present a national identity based on harvesting the treasures that lay in wait for European colonization. In Whose Ruins tells another story: winding through the US landscape, from Native American earthworks in West Virginia to the Manhattan Project in New Mexico, this history is a tour of sites that were mined for an empire’s power. Showing the hidden costs of ruthless economic growth, particularly to Indigenous people and ways of understanding, this book illuminates the myth-making intimately tied to place. From the ground up, the project of settlement, expansion, and extraction became entwined with the spiritual values of those who hoped to gain from it. Every nation tells some stories and suppresses others, and In Whose Ruins illustrates the way American myths have been inscribed on the earth itself, overwriting Indigenous histories and binding us into an unsustainable future.
In these pages, historian Alicia Puglionesi illuminates the story of the Grave Creek Stone, “discovered” in an ancient Indigenous burial mound, and used to promote the theory that a lost white race predated Native people in North America—part of a wider effort to justify European conquest with alternative histories. When oil was discovered in the corner of western Pennsylvania soon known as Petrolia, prospectors framed that treasure, too, as a birthright passed to them, through Native guides, from a lost race. Puglionesi traces the fate of ancient petroglyphs that once adorned rock faces on the Susquehanna River, dynamited into pieces to make way for a hydroelectric dam. This act foreshadowed the flooding of Native lands around the country; over the course of the 20th century, almost every major river was dammed for economic purposes. And she explores the effects of the US nuclear program in the Southwest, which contaminated vast regions in the name of eternal wealth and security through atomic power. This promise rang hollow for the surrounding Native, Hispanic, and white communities that were harmed, and even for some scientists. It also inspired nationwide resistance, uniting diverse groups behind a different vision of the future—one not driven by greed and haunted by ruin.
This deeply researched work of narrative history traces the roots of American fantasies and fears in a national tradition of selective forgetting. Connecting the power of myths with the extraction of power from the land itself reveals the truths that have been left out and is an invaluable torch in the search for a way forward.
Praise for In Whose Ruins
"Few books by historians, particularly historians of science and technology, are page turners, but In Whose Ruins is just that. This is an elegantly written narrative of the mythologies and horrors of settler-colonialism in the founding and expansion of the United States, exterminating or displacing the Indigenous nations of the continent. It is a history of the present." —Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
"In Whose Ruins is a haunting meditation on how white Americans have dug into the earth to uncover the past and secure their own power. Alicia Puglionesi takes readers across the nation to these sites of excavation, places seized from Native peoples and turned to ruin. Compelling and insightful, In Whose Ruins gives us a new way to understand how Americans created an empire out of destruction." —Megan Kate Nelson, author of Saving Yellowstone: Exploration and Preservation in Reconstruction America
“Original, illuminating, and bristling with insight, In Whose Ruins is a thought-provoking exploration into the meaning of the American land. By focusing on some largely forgotten episodes of the quest for power in the nation’s past—and the swindlers, scientists, and visionaries who populated them—Alicia Puglionesi has delivered a timely, deftly written, and convention-challenging book.” —Scott Ellsworth, author of The Ground Breaking: An American City and Its Search for Justice
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