Offshore Onshore: Foreign-Trade Zones on US Soil, 1846-1989


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


American Studies


A new billboard on I-95 in New Jersey advertises a spatial product that has quietly come to define the topology of globalization in the United States: “Heller Industrial Park—Now a Foreign-Trade Zone!” Foreign-trade zones (FTZs) are parcels of land located on US soil but off US customs territory—akin to Mexico’s maquiladoras and China’s special economic zones. Proposed in 1894 and authorized in 1934, FTZs now dot every state of the union, totaling over 750 strong, and they have spawned a cornucopia of related “special taxing districts,” naturalizing extraterritoriality in the name of economic development. Yet not one humanities scholar has studied them. This dissertation uncovers their economic, political, and cultural logic, offering a field guide to a world hidden in plain view.