Headshot of Faculty Jacob Lee.

Faculty Spring 2022: Jacob F. Lee

Empire Without Bounds: The Louisiana Purchase and the Transformation of the United States

Assistant Professor of History

In 1803, the United States purchased from France a claim to New Orleans and more than 800,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River. Often hailed as “the greatest land deal in history,” the Louisiana Purchase has long been recognized as a major event in U.S. history. Yet, the deal between the United States and France was largely a fiction. France controlled only a fraction of the land it sold, and the United States struggled to establish authority over the region for nearly a century. Examining the day-to-day encounters between U.S. officials and a polyglot population of white settlers, Native peoples, free people of color, and enslaved people, Empire Without Bounds is a social history of colonialism in the American West from 1803, when the U.S. claimed Louisiana, to the end of the 1800s, when the federal government allotted Indian reservations and dissolved tribal governments. By taking the treaty between the U.S. and France as a starting point, not a conclusion, this project denaturalizes U.S. colonization of North America and highlights a richer contested, contingent history of empire-building and resistance.