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Authors: Arcadi, Teal
Advisors: Canaday, Margot
Contributors: History Department
Keywords: Environment
Subjects: History
Economic history
Issue Date: 2022
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: “Remapping America: The Interstate Highway System and Infrastructural Governance in the Postwar United States” provides a comprehensive analysis of the most expensive and expansive public works project in American history. The National System of Interstate and Defense Highways was the beacon federal project of the post-World War II United States, a concrete embodiment of the nation’s political dominance, economic might, and technological prowess. The 41,000-mile-long highway system reshaped rural farms, suburban cul-de-sacs, and city blocks. While previous studies have explored social and environmental changes the interstate system caused in local contexts, this dissertation’s preoccupation is with governance itself, at a nation-spanning scale. Tracing the invention, construction, and public contestation of the interstate system reveals the ambitions, practices, mechanisms, and, ultimately, the biases of the governing regime that built it. Analyzing administrative records, congressional papers, and court cases alongside the critical commentary of intellectuals and everyday observers, this dissertation identifies a distinct and pivotal regime of twentieth-century American governance that I term the infrastructural state. Prompted by novel economic statistics like gross national product and attendant growth imperatives, the infrastructural state developed during the Great Depression, gained capacity during World War II, and reached its full potential in the decades to come. Its physically-instantiated priorities privileged national accounting over local prosperity in ways that still shape life—in starkly classist and racist ways—throughout the national landscape today. Tracking that dissonance between national priorities and local needs, the dissertation investigates how officials fastened political priorities in place with near-permanent structures of governance girded in fiscal obligations, legal mechanisms, and sheer physicality. Dissenters who confronted the interstate system’s unequal social consequences and demanded change tended only to reveal structures of continuity and durability that defined the infrastructural state’s power. This research invites scholars to examine physical infrastructure and governance as entangled vectors of power and inequality. Infrastructure projects seldom benefit all equally. The choices they reflect and the inequalities they inscribe make them ideal subjects for evaluating how institutions etch priorities into social landscapes, and how communities confront those priorities and attempt to assert their own.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:History

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