Empire's Tracks: Indigenous Nations, Chinese Workers, and the Transcontinental Railroad

Manu Karuka (Author)


Empire's Tracks boldly reframes the history of the transcontinental railroad from the perspectives of the Cheyenne, Lakota, and Pawnee Native American tribes, and the Chinese migrants who toiled on its path. In this meticulously researched book, Manu Karuka situates the railroad within the violent global histories of colonialism and capitalism. Through an examination of legislative, military, and business records, Karuka deftly explains the imperial foundations of U.S. political economy. Tracing the shared paths of Indigenous and Asian American histories, this multisited interdisciplinary study connects military occupation to exclusionary border policies, a linked chain spanning the heart of U.S. imperialism. This highly original and beautifully wrought book unveils how the transcontinental railroad laid the tracks of the U.S. Empire.

Product Details

University of California Press
Publish Date
March 05, 2019
6.0 X 9.0 X 1.0 inches | 0.9 pounds

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About the Author

Manu Karuka is Assistant Professor of American Studies at Barnard College.


"Empire's Tracks comes at a critical juncture, which only compounds its appeal. It is a moment where monopolies breathe new life as seemingly benevolent multinational, e-commerce corporations; when oil pipelines continue to cut through North America despite opposition from Indigenous peoples (amongst others); and when threats of mass deportations emanate from the highest political offices. . . .Karuka's sincere meditation on the historicity of war, finance and countersovereignty is deeply welcomed as it sensitises readers to the tragically unexceptional reality of the present."--LSE Review of Books
"[A] timely and provocative book, creating new ideas with which to re-examine the well-worn story of the railroad."--Society & Space
"...challenges existing scholarship and fields of study in profound ways. He transforms what, on its surface, appears to be a national American story into one of international, imperialist, and colonial history by reading contingency against assumed outcomes; decentering national creation myths; and foregrounding alternative Indigenous, Chinese, and other voices. In this, Karuka offers a case study for scholars of diplomatic history or international relations to turn inward to national histories they might otherwise overlook and consider new ways of bringing their expertise to seemingly domestic stories."--H-Net
"...this is an impressive piece of scholarship. While Karuka's argument that US imperialism predates 1898 is not new, his sophisticated interdisciplinary approach sheds new light on the historical intersection of capitalism and imperialism. It will prompt readers to think critically about historical interpretation and responsibility, and the future consequences of our exploitative political economy."--Journal of Cultural Economy
"Empire's Tracks powerfully and effectively portrays how US countersovereignty uses the railroad to stop the unraveling of its own claims to land and space through an unceasing campaign of extirpation and violence. Its contributions to critiques of settler colonialism and racial capitalism are substantial and are sure to be influential in years to come."--Lateral: Journal of the Cultural Studies Association