Episode 4: You Say You Want an [Industrial] Revolution?

Synopsis: In this episode we reveal the new History Against the Grain website, play a game of Love & Hate, Chris riffs on his favorite target of American exceptionalism by reconsidering the mythic “West” of popular imagination laid bare by the Industrial Revolution, and Josh cuts through European exceptionalism and revolution in an epic drum solo played on the stage of world history.

Sources referenced:

Felipe Fernandez-Arresto, Civilizations: Culture, Ambition, and the Transformation of Nature (2000)


William Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (1992).


William H. McNeill, “Mythistory, or Truth, Myth, History, and Historians” (1985).


Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy (2000).


A Geography of Capitalism: Photos of the American West, from the Library of Congress

First Nature: Tall grass prairie near Crookston, Minnesota, c. 1900
Plowed prairie in Northern Iowa, c. 1900
Second Nature: Iowa corn field, 1940s
Reading Second Nature: A geography of capitalism. A careful reading of this photograph reveals many elements, from crops, to horses, to Euro-American farmer that were non-native or ‘second nature’ to the American West. Many others as well, including the finished timber used in construction of shelter and fences, the barbed wire of the fence, the manufactured plow, the shade trees, and the manufactured clothing, including the fine victorian clothing of the figures in the carriage (and the carriage itself). All of these commodities, animals, and people were non-native migrants to the American West, brought in the age of Industrial expansion.
A mountain of buffalo skulls (unidentified location), suggesting the de-naturing of first nature in the American West, during the Industrial Revolution. Like other aspects of first nature, including native peoples, the near extinction of the buffalo translated into a mythic and romantic image of “the West” that Anglo-Americans then co-opted into their own emblems, whether the ‘buffalo nickel’ or the U. of Colorado ‘Buffalos’ sports mascot.
To hear Episode 4, click the link below:


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