Gregg Mitman, “Empire of Rubber: Scenes from Firestone’s Scramble for Land and Power in Liberia”

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This event has passed and is still being published to increase awareness of Gregg Mitman's scholarship.



Please join the Center for World History at UC Santa Cruz on Monday, May 3, 2021, 12-1:30 PDT for the third annual Thom Gentle Environmental History Lecture

Gregg Mitman, “Empire of Rubber: Scenes from Firestone’s Scramble for Land and Power in Liberia”
Via Zoom
Registration required; please register here for the Zoom link.

In the early 1920s, Americans owned 80 percent of the world’s automobiles and consumed 75 percent of the world’s rubber. But only one percent of the world’s rubber grew under the U.S. flag, creating a bottleneck that hampered the nation’s explosive economic expansion. To solve its conundrum, the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company turned to a tiny West African nation, Liberia, founded in 1847 as a free Black republic.

Empire of Rubber tells a riveting story of ecology and disease, of commerce and science, and of racial politics and political maneuvering, as Firestone sought to transform Liberia into America’ rubber empire. Drawing upon excerpts from Mitman’s forthcoming book, this talk illuminates how Black activists, writers, scientists, diplomats, and businesspeople across the African diaspora rallied to support or oppose the experiment that was Firestone in Liberia.  It also offers an intimate portrait of how industrial ecologies, born of racial capitalism, shaped the relationships among people, trees, chemicals, machines, and parasites on what became a Jim Crow corporate enclave on African soil.

Gregg Mitman is the Vilas Research and William Coleman Professor of History, Medical History, and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His latest book, Empire of Rubber: Firestone’s Scramble for Land and Power in Liberia, will be published by The New Press in the fall of 2021. He is also the author of Breathing Space: How Allergies Shape Our Lives and LandscapesReel Nature: America’s Romance with Wildlife on Film; and State of Nature: Ecology, Community, and American Social Thought, 1900-1950.

This lecture is made possible by the generosity of Thom Gentle (Cowell ’69, History), a pioneer class alumnus who established The Thom Gentle Endowment for History to support student awards in environmental history as well as lectures of distinguished speakers with an environmental emphasis.