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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Joe Trotter


From the 1870s to the 1930s, the lumber industry in the United States behaved as a “great nomad,” in former Forester William B. Greeley’s words, with the center of production moving from the Great Lakes region during the 1880s and 1890s, to the South after 1900. Despite its mobility at regional and local levels, the industry simultaneously structured and controlled these production spaces both long before and long after workers removed and processed the valuable portions of the forest environment. In valuing the forest, establishing logging camps and sawmill towns, and selling cutover farms, firms created sets of working and living environments and regional landscapes that shaped northern Minnesota and Louisiana from the 1870s through the 1930s, and beyond. Historians who have only followed the “frontier” of lumber production have missed the tension between the industry’s mobility and its long-term influence over the spaces of production. By stretching the spatial and temporal frame I show how the lumber industry sought to control workers and nature (not without difficulty) in several phases of its development and in different ways and at different scales in Minnesota and Louisiana.

Timber cruising represented the initial structuring of the forest spaces by lumber firms, as they sought to ascertain the number of board feet of timber on their land. The “radical simplification” of forests inherent in timber estimating proved challenging for firms, and the professionalization of this task by forestry school trained foresters offered a way toward more authoritative valuations of the forest. Next, loggers and millworkers faced the forest not as figures of board feet and prices per acre, but through workplaces and homes defined by the needs of lumber firms. These spaces were also defined by Jim Crow (in Louisiana) and challenged by workers’ brief union movements. Finally, the post lumber regime owed its landscape to the lumber industry but the social purpose to which this deindustrialized space was put – smallholder agriculture – was also outlined by the industry through its extensive landownership and by its agricultural boosterism. Their vision of the cutover foundered on its assumptions about nature and society.

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