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Land-Grab Universities

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In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act, which distributed public domain land to raise funds for fledgling colleges across the United States. In popular memory, this law launched the celebrated land-grant university system with a gift of free land. But the truth is more complicated: The Morrill Act worked by turning land expropriated from tribal nations into seed money for higher education. In all, the act redistributed nearly 10.8 million acres from more than 250 tribal nations for the benefit of 52 colleges. This talk will examine the results of an investigation that combined digital tools with archival research to reconstruct the Morrill Act’s geographic and financial footprint, tying university beneficiaries to the Indigenous nations whose lands underwrote their prosperity.

This talk is part of the Decolonial Research Lab (OLD LIST) series.

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