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This Radical Land - Daegan Miller - <span class="date-display-single">10/13/2018 - 4:30pm</span>

This Radical Land

10/13/2018 - 4:30pm

Room of One's Own

“The American people sees itself advance across the wilderness, draining swamps, straightening rivers, peopling the solitude, and subduing nature,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835. That’s largely how we still think of nineteenth-century America today: a country expanding unstoppably, bending the continent’s natural bounty to the national will, heedless of consequence. A country of slavery and of Indian wars. There’s much truth in that vision.


But if you know where to look, you can uncover a different history, one of vibrant resistance, one that’s been mostly forgotten. This Radical Land recovers that story. Daegan Miller is our guide on a beautifully written, revelatory trip across the continent during which we encounter radical thinkers, settlers, and artists who grounded their ideas of freedom, justice, and progress in the very landscapes around them, even as the runaway engine of capitalism sought to steamroll everything in its path. Here we meet Thoreau, the expert surveyor, drawing anticapitalist property maps. We visit a black antislavery community in the Adirondack wilderness of upstate New York. We discover how seemingly commercial photographs of the transcontinental railroad secretly sent subversive messages, and how a band of utopian anarchists among California’s sequoias imagined a greener, freer future. At every turn, everyday radicals looked to landscape for the language of their dissent—drawing crucial early links between the environment and social justice, links we’re still struggling to strengthen today.


Working in a tradition that stretches from Thoreau to Rebecca Solnit, Miller offers nothing less than a new way of seeing the American past—and of understanding what it can offer us for the present . . . and the future.

Daegan Miller

About Presenter Daegan Miller


All stories have a beginning; mine has its roots somewhere in the farm fields and woods of my book-filled childhood home in rural upstate New York, where, in the fifth grade, I discovered Walden on the shelves of our local one-room library.


I eventually went on to train as an historian (I earned an MA and PhD in history from Cornell University and was an A.W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison), but the only thing I’ve ever wanted to be is a writer. 


I write about all sorts of things—from fatherhood and cancer to monkey wrenches and landscape photography—but ultimately my thoughts always return to the hold the past has on the present and the way that we shape the past to fit the world we want to inhabit. I’d like that world to be green, healthy, just, and free, for me as well as for you.


My work has appeared in a variety of venues, from literary magazines to academic journals, and I've contributed to the first international museum exhibit on the Anthropocene, hosted by Germany's Deutsches Museum. My first book, This Radical Land: A Natural History of American Dissent, was published in March, 2018, by the University of Chicago Press. I've received funding from the A.W. Mellon Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the American Antiquarian Society,  the National Endowment for the Humanities (twice),  and Cornell University, and I’ve won awards from Cornell, the Southern American Studies Association, the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society, and the Forest History Society.


I live in Madison, Wisconsin, with my wife, two perfect, feral boys, one placid greyhound, and a roost-ruling cat.


This Radical Land

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