Date of Award

Summer 2009

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

History and Sociology of Science

First Advisor

Ruth Schwartz Cowan

Second Advisor

Walter Licht

Third Advisor

Robert Kohler


Coal canals, oil pipelines, and electricity transmission wires transformed the built environment of the American mid-Atlantic region between 1820 and 1930. By transporting coal, oil, and electrons cheaply, reliably, and in great quantities, these technologies reshaped the energy choices available to mid-Atlantic residents. In particular, canals, pipelines, and wires created new energy landscapes: systems of transport infrastructure that enabled the ever-increasing consumption of fossil fuels.

Energy Landscapes integrates history of technology, environmental history, and business history to provide new perspectives on how Americans began to use fossil fuels and the social implications of these practices. First, I argue that the development of transport infrastructure played critical, and underappreciated, roles in shaping social energy choices. Rather than simply responding passively to the needs of producers and consumers, canals, pipelines, and wires structured how, when, where, and in what quantities energy was used. Second, I analyze the ways fossil fuel consumption transformed the society, economy, and environment of the mid-Atlantic. I link the consumption of coal, oil, and electricity to the development of an urban and industrialized region, the transition from an organic to a mineral economy, and the creation of a society dependent on fossil fuel energy.

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