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Morse, K.T., 1997

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Bibliographic Reference

Morse, K.T., 1997, The nature of gold: An environmental history of the Alaska/Yukon gold rush: University of Washington, Seattle, Ph.D. dissertation, 419 p.

Abstract

Between 1897 and 1900 thousands of miners flocked to the Yukon interior of Canada and Alaska in search of placer gold on the Klondike, Stewart, Manook, Fortymile, and other tributaries of the Yukon River. Through a close reading of gold miners' journals and letters, newspapers, political tracts, and government reports, the dissertation reveals the interconnections between nature and culture in gold and the gold standard, and in the three major areas of gold rush labor: placer mining, transportation, and supply. Through this work, gold miners forged connections between the Yukon interior and the outside industrial world, particularly the city of Seattle, and became part of the larger story of the linkages formed between American cities and hinterlands with the expansion of capitalism. Gold and gold mining demonstrated how complicated were the ways in which people valued parts of the natural world. Late 19th-century Americans gave gold cultural value, but called that value natural. They understood gold to be naturally money and believed that their industrial economy and their very civilization required growing stocks of metal money. Seeking escape from the restrictions of urban, industrial labor, miners made a journey to a place they deemed natural to extract gold from the earth and return with it to civilization. What humans valued had far-reaching consequences for both humans and ecosystems. Miners stripped ground vegetation, cut and burned riparian forests, dug and sluiced tons of earth, and dumped sediment in streams and rivers. The foods they ate and the diseases they carried transformed the material and cultural world of native peoples who provided miners with fish and meat and guided them over the Chilkoot and up the Yukon. The miners' labor demonstrated that the ways in which human beings took resources from the earth involved living systems and reorganized those systems into new patterns of production and consumption. Everything harvested from the material world was connected to other resources, and to human culture. Gold revealed that the material world, even at its most remote and wild, was both a thoroughly cultural and a thoroughly natural place.

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