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The Foundations of Glen Canyon Dam

The Foundations of Glen Canyon Dam
Infrastructures of Dispossession on the Colorado Plateau

A history of how the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam was built and sustained by social inequalities

Series: Environmental Studies Endowment (NEH)

February 2023
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336 pages | 6 x 9 | 18 b&w photos, 8-page color insert |

The second highest concrete-arch dam in the United States, Glen Canyon Dam was built to control the flow of the Colorado River throughout the Western United States. Completed in 1966, the dam continues to serve as a water storage facility for residents, industries, and agricultural use across the American West and to generate hydroelectric power for residents in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and Nebraska. More than a massive piece of physical infrastructure and an engineering feat, the dam also exposes the cultural structures and complex regional power relations that both relied on Indigenous knowledge and labor while simultaneously dispossessing the Indigenous communities of their land and resources across the Colorado Plateau.

Erika Marie Bsumek reorients the story of the dam to reveal a pattern of Indigenous erasure by weaving together the stories of religious settlers and Indigenous peoples, engineers and biologists, and politicians and spiritual leaders. Infrastructures of dispossession teach us that we cannot tell the stories of religious colonization, scientific exploration, regional engineering, environmental transformation, or political deal-making as disconnected from Indigenous history. This book is a provocative and essential piece of modern history, particularly as water in the West becomes increasingly scarce and fights over access to it unfold.


Erika Marie Bsumek is an associate professor of history at UT Austin. She is the author of the award-winning Indian-made: Navajo Culture in the Marketplace, 1848–1960 and the coeditor of Nation States and the Global Environment: New Approaches to International Environmental History.