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.
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.
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.