OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Manu Karuka

Portrait of Manu Karuka

Manu Karuka is the author of Empire's Tracks: Indigenous Nations, Chinese Workers, and the Transcontinental Railroad (2019). He is a co-editor, with Juliana Hu Pegues and Alyosha Goldstein, of “On Colonial Unknowing,” a special issue of Theory & Event, and with Vivek Bald, Miabi Chatterji, and Sujani Reddy, he is a co-editor of The Sun Never Sets: South Asian Migrants in an Age of U.S. Power (2013). His work appears in Critical Ethnic Studies, J19, Settler Colonial Studies, The Settler Complex: Recuperating Binarism in Colonial Studies (2016), edited by Patrick Wolfe, and Formations of United States Colonialism (2014), edited by Alyosha Goldstein. He is a member of the Council for Collaborative Inquiry, and an assistant professor of American Studies at Barnard College.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

The history of North America can be understood as a history of imperialism, in relation to the histories of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The transcontinental railroad is a useful site to consider these historical links. This lecture draws out the concepts of continental imperialism, counter-sovereignty, and modes of relationship, from my book, Empire's Tracks: Indigenous Nations, Chinese Workers, and the Transcontinental Railroad (University of California Press, 2019), to draw out the significance of imperialism in the history of North America.
W.E.B. Du Bois's magisterial Black Reconstruction provides keys for understanding settler colonialism and US expansion west of the Mississippi River. In this lecture, I draw from Du Bois’s argument about the counter-revolution of property as the historical and political context for the completion of the southern transcontinental railroad route. Following the historically intersecting paths of the Colorado River and the Southern Pacific Railroad between 1850 and 1930, we can chart a historical development of a regional economy rooted in monopoly control of agriculture, transportation, and mining, core components of continental imperialism in the Colorado River basin.