White Power, Yellow Gold: Colonialism and Identity in the California and British Columbia Gold Rushes, 1848 - 1871
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The gold rushes of California (1849-1858) and British Columbia (1858-1871) were watershed moments in the history of colonialism on the Pacific Coast of North America. By reconstructing the Victorian worldview of the men who went west from the eastern United States and Britain, this dissertation offers a new interpretation of gold rush society and culture. The Victorian worldview of the miners was a variation on the Victorian worldview emerging in the East, but one that evolved first on the journey to the gold fields, then continually after the miners arrived. Race and gender were central to the how these men thought of gold rush society. In particular, they linked a constantly-changing definition of white manliness to justifications for colonial domination and judged both themselves and the people they encountered on this basis. But gold rush society was too dynamic, too variable, and definitions of white manhood too contested, to make this project easy or unanimous. As a result, Victorian gold rushers looked to structures of political and legal authority, and to cultural meanings about behavior and appearance to try and reconcile their understandings of race and gender with the world they faced. How this process occurred varied between the two gold rushes. A transnational analysis reveals the importance that the movement of people, materials, and ideas from California to British Columbia had in terms of shaping this emerging discourse. While regional factors acted to encourage different discourses about race and gender in California and British Columbia, the extensive ties between the two rushes also encouraged the emergence of a common, if constantly evolving, understanding of white manliness. Ultimately, Victorian men in California and British Columbia would come to articulate a form of white manliness that blended aspects of martial and restrained white manhood into a new synthesis, one that anticipated later developments in the East.
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