The End of the (old) World
The Battle of the Wilderness was not the only landscape of death. Nor was the Civil War the only battle raging. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, American business figures, industrialists and politicians dedicated themselves with fervour to nation building. Manifest destiny marked the day, God recognised as witness and guide to an expansionist mindset and process. The construction of a new American landscape of railroad connections, factories, and metropolises emerged as a high priority. A place of material abundance served as the ideal. The rise of this modern America transformed economy, society and environment. It also produced catastrophic consequences.
The construction of an urban and industrial America involved mass environmental disregard. Fur companies and hunters dedicated themselves to death to manufacture modernity. Manifest destiny translated in environmental terms as manifest doomsday. The manufacturing of a new world was built on the extinguishment of the old one. In the late nineteenth century, the American doomsday project gathered speed.
The costs of ‘modern America’ proved highly visible and yet, with few restrictions, spiralled out of control. Old-growth forests became timber. Engineers dammed rivers and harnessed water flows. Minerals were tapped and soil eroded. Hunters shot birds