Engineering Nature

Water, Development, and the Global Spread of American Environmental Expertise

By Jessica B. Teisch

272 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 18 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-7176-8
    Published: February 2011
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-7801-9
    Published: February 2011
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8629-3
    Published: February 2011

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Focusing on globalization in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Jessica Teisch examines the processes by which American water and mining engineers who rose to prominence during and after the California Gold Rush of 1849 exported the United States' growing technical and environmental knowledge and associated social and political institutions. In the frontiers of Australia, South Africa, Hawaii, and Palestine--semiarid regions that shared a need for water to support growing populations and economies--California water engineers applied their expertise in irrigation and mining projects on behalf of foreign governments and business interests.

Engineering Nature explores how controlling the vagaries of nature abroad required more than the export of blueprints for dams, canals, or mines; it also entailed the problematic transfer of the new technology's sociopolitical context. Water engineers confronted unforeseen variables in each region as they worked to implement their visions of agrarian settlement and industrial growth, including the role of the market, government institutions, property rights, indigenous peoples, labor, and, not last, the environment. Teisch argues that by examining the successes and failures of various projects as American influence spread, we can see the complex role of globalization at work, often with incredibly disproportionate results.

About the Author

Jessica B. Teisch is an independent scholar who received her Ph.D. in geography from the University of California, Berkeley.
For more information about Jessica B. Teisch, visit the Author Page.


β€œThis is a readable, even fascinating, history. . . .There are lessons here for how engineering can and cannot be used to implement social change. Highly recommended. All levels of readership.” --Choice

"Not only does Engineering Nature help us to situate "progress," identifying its ideological foundations, it also allows us to understand how expertise contributed to globalization."--Environmental History

β€œEngineering Nature provides an opportunity to learn from both the successes and the failures of the past--particularly at the confluence of natural resources, technological prowess, and economic promise.”--Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences

β€œAn intriguing and balanced narrative about one of the more problematical eras of environmental history.”--Journal of American History

"Readers will find Teisch's global approach unusual and refreshing as California engineers pop up in unexpected places."--Water And Power Associates

β€œ[A] fresh conceptual framework.”--Environment and History

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