The United States is presently in the midst of a new space age. NASA administrators advocate public-private partnerships for the development of space commerce. The United States military seeks to control strategic regions above the ionosphere. And wealthy tech industrialists are developing plans to mine asteroids for resources. Observers often imagine that these developments are the ultimate consequence of a mid-twentieth century space race, beginning with the Gemini and Apollo missions. But Star Territory suggests that US efforts to exploit the cosmos have a much longer history.
In Star Territory: Printing the Universe in Nineteenth-Century America, I argue that the United States has been colonizing space since 1789. Through the print production of almanacs, maps, star charts, and scientific treatises, the project of rationalizing the cosmos has enabled the expansion of US territory and the domination of indigenous, enslaved, and migrant peoples. Yet this is only part of the story. From black publishers to Cherokee legislators to Hawaiian resistance leaders, political actors across the nineteenth century printed and circulated alternative means of understanding space and time. Star Territory suggests that the deep origins of the US state’s cosmic instrumentalism, from geospatial navigation to the weaponization of space itself, can be found in the nineteenth century, and that efforts to rationalize space and time have flattened difference, erased alternative epistemologies, and enabled the fallacies of universality and exceptionalism. But it also suggests that there are other histories that might point our way to a more complex, more radically pluralist future.