Colony and Empire
The Capitalist Transformation of the American West
William G. Robbins
Popular writers and historians alike have perpetuated the powerful myth of the rugged-individualist single-handedly transforming the American West. In reality, William Robbins counters, it was the Guggenheims and Goulds, the Harrimans and Hearsts, and the Morgans and Mellons who masterminded what the West was to become. Remove the romance, he shows, and a darker West emerges—a colonial-like region where "industrial statesmen," aided by eastern U.S. and European capital, manipulated investments in pursuit of private gain while controlling wage-earning cowboys and miners.
Robbins argues that understanding the impact of capitalism on the West—from the fur trade era to the present—is essential to understanding power, influence, and change in the region.
“A sweeping and powerful work that deserves a large audience.”
—Reviews in American History
“A forceful analysis of the role of capitalism in the history of the American West.”
—Journal of American HistorySee all reviews...
“Robins has produced a singularly admirable volume.”
“An important study of the profound economic, social, and cultural changes experienced by western Americans as they adapted to successive stages of capitalistic development over the last 150 years.”
—Montana The Magazine of Western History
“A worthwhile book that has much to say about the West’s past and how it has become what it is today.”
“A compelling survey of the ways capitalist ideology and institutions transformed the West. Few historians of the American West have written as provocatively and as forcefully as Robbins.”
—James P. Ronda, author of Astoria and Empire
“For one hundred and fifty years, the pace of historical change in the American West has been rapid and disorienting. This book gives us the map and the compass we need to chart our course through the confusing terrain of the Western past and present. Drawing our attention to the central role of capitalism as a shaper of attitudes and social relations, Robbins offers us a new and valuable vantage point. His knowledge is as wide-ranging as his style is fair and compassionate. This book will be frequently consulted by historians, and—one hopes—by residents of what is proving to be the nation’s most contested region.”
—Patricia Nelson Limerick, author of The Legacy of ConquestSee fewer reviews...
Showing how global capitalism had a more profound impact on the modern West than individual initiative, he explores violence and racism along the Texas/Mexican border; colonial-style company towns in Montana and the Northwest; contrasting traditions astride the U.S./Canadian boundary; pace-setting agribusiness and exploitation of labor in California; the growing power of metropolitan centers and dependence of rural areas; and the emergence of a sizable federal influence.
To grasp the essence of the West's dramatic transformation, Robbins contends, you must look to the mainstays of material relations in the region—the perpetually changing character of political and economic culture; the inherent instability of resources; and the larger constellations of capitalist decision making. Consequently, he shows shy Western success and failure, prosperity and misfortune, and expansion and decline were all inseparably linked to the evolution of capitalism at the local, regional, national and global levels.
In the tradition of Patricia Nelson Limerick's Legacy of Conquest, Robbins's study challenges some of our most revered images of the West and invigorates the ongoing debates over its history and meaning for our nation.