“Unthinkable History: The American Settler State and the Political Economy of Plunder”
Michael Witgen, professor in the Department of History and the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University
The American Republic was founded as a nation of settlers struggling to colonize Native North America. This project began as an extension of the original European colonial project in the western hemisphere, imagined as the discovery of a New World. Both the original colonial scheme, and the one undertaken by the United States, imagined North America as unsettled wilderness, and imagined colonization as a civilizing mission. Framed in this way, the expansion of the republic beyond the original thirteen states into the western interior could be imagined as a benign conquest of nature, when in fact it was an audacious colonial project—a grandiose scheme to steal a continent. However, a theft this bold would require more than merely a plan for colonial subjugation. It would require a colonial power willing to organize itself around a political economy of plunder. It would require a totalizing colonial project that would make an Indigenous history of North America unthinkable.