Intoxication of Power: Impacts of Coal Powered Development on American Views Towards Limits, Progress, and the Environment in the Mid-19th Century

Open Access
McGrath, Sean James
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Brian King, Associate Professor Of Geography, Thesis Supervisor
  • Brian Hastings King, Thesis Supervisor
  • Roger Michael Downs, Honors Advisor
  • coal
  • development
  • environment
  • 19th century
  • societal views
  • united states
The mid-19th century was a pivotal period in American environmental history. During this time span, revolutionary changes were occurring in how Americans lived that had subsequent impacts upon their relationships with environmental systems. As such, many environmental historians, such as Roderick Nash, William Cronon, and Theodore Steinberg have researched this period extensively. While offering valuable insights about some of the changes that occurred, existing literature cannot adequately answer how coal and its subsequent impact on the development of the United States influenced American attitudes. The aforementioned authors do not try to make the connection between the development, which accompanied coal, and the new attitudes that surfaced during that development. The time span between 1830 and 1860 saw revolutionary changes in the speed, size, and distance of the production and distribution of goods. Through an analysis of primary and secondary documents, this thesis shows how coal powered development had a strong influence in changing attitudes towards limits, progress, and human-environmental relationships.