“Measuring Ground: Surveyors and the Geography of Colonialism in the Great Lakes Region, 1783-1840”
I am an historian of empire and early North America, with a focus on the legal histories of the United States and Canada; spatial history and the history of map-making; and Indigenous histories.
My dissertation brings these interests together in a connected history of the fieldwork and paperwork done by surveyors in the British colony of Upper Canada and the American Territory of Michigan. It argues that Crown and federal surveyors materialized an infrastructure for property in the Great Lakes region. They did so by creating landmarks and maps that possessed their own legalities. Tracing surveyors’ lines ran back to seemingly innocuous eighteenth-century statues regulating surveying and forward into council houses, court rooms, and land offices during the nineteenth century, my dissertation shows how Crown subjects, territorial citizens, and Indigenous nations claimed, circulated, and contested the system that surveyors created. In doing so, I chart the transformation of Crown and federal surveyors from political, low-law officials into apolitical, technical experts by the mid-nineteenth century, as well as the consequences of that self-consciously ‘modernizing’ shift for all those who lived upon surveyed land – and still do. Centered on questions of land, law, and authority, my dissertation recovers the stakes of surveying.