American Alchemy: The Vexed Relation of Land and Capital, 1776-2008


ACLS Fellowship Program



Named Award

ACLS/New York Public Library Fellow named award


This project examines the efforts of Americans from all walks of life to transform the base nature of land into liquid gold. It analyzes how Americans organized land as a commodity that could be bought, improved, sold, or rented and also turned into a medium of financial investment, from farm mortgages in the early republic to real estate investment trusts or mortgage-backed securities in the late twentieth century. Over the course of 250 years, repeated booms and busts spurred new rules, tools, and logics of investment; new government policies; and new theories of land economics. Covering all regions of the country, and both rural and urban property, this study explains the uneven and contested processes that transformed American land into a foundation of financial capitalism.