Nation-State and Empire: Digital Explorations of a Combined Spatial Format in the U.S. West, 1863–1934

Julius Wilm (SFB 1199, Leipzig U)

Publication Date

March 2022


Leipziger Universitätsverlag




Working Paper


Working Paper Series des SFB 1199



Additional Information


SFB 1199’s Project B01, “The Respatialization of the World during the Formation of the Global Condition, 1820–1914: The Americas and the French Empire,” explores the unique spatial format of nation-states with imperial extensions that characterized France and the United States during the long nineteenth century. This paper introduces B01’s subproject on the United States. This project deals chiefly with the U.S. West and the contradictory intersection of national-democratic and imperial spatialization imperatives during the era of post-Civil War reforms. The project draws on digital history approaches to inquire into the legal and social impact of democratic reforms on colonized Indigenous populations and the accessibility of colonization’s opportunities to formerly enslaved African Americans.
The first section of the paper lays out the project’s key terms. It explains what is meant by describing the United States as a nation-state with imperial extensions and what is unique about this combined spatial format. The section shows how this is different from a “nation” or an “empire” or a combination of the two, where the two components remain unaltered. It also discusses how the model enables lines of inquiry that remain underdeveloped in other conceptions. The second section lays out the project’s specific questions and historical contexts. In particular, it looks at how democratic reforms reconfigured the colonization of the U.S. West—and the place of Indigenous peoples and formerly enslaved African Americans in this respatialization. The paper’s third section discusses method—and precisely how an argumentative digital history can produce new insights for the topic at hand and, more generally, within history. After laying out the general style of argument, the section presents concrete examples from the project.

Biographical Note

Julius Wilm (SFB 1199, Leipzig University, Germany)

Julius Wilm is a postdoctoral researcher at Leipzig University’s Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) 1199 “Processes of Spatialization under the Global Condition.” He obtained his PhD in Anglo-American History from the University of Cologne with a dissertation on free land colonization schemes in the antebellum United States and has taught at the universities of Copenhagen and Lucerne. In 2019–2020 he was the Gerda Henkel Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital History at the German Historical Institute Washington and George Mason University’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, where he began work on a digital mapping project on the Homestead Act with a particular emphasis on the law’s impact on Native nations throughout the US West between 1863 and 1912.