Edges of Empire

KNW 2399: Edges of Empire

Economics and Infrastructure of Mexico and India


This photograph depicts the construction of a railroad in India. There are hundreds of workers at this particular site with a variety of jobs. While most people do manual labor and carry containers on their heads, there are a few men dressed in all white who appear to be supervising the work. The people raise a few questions. Were these workers brought in randomly from the surrounding population or did racial classifications play a role in who did the manual labor? Are the men in white considered superior people capable of supervising the others? Additionally, what was the death rate among railroad workers? The landscape surrounding the construction is completely decimated. Where there used to be a forest there is now simply a dirt pit with crisscrossing paths and naked trees. The industrial footprint is massive considering the railroad stretched a long distance. The image makes viewers wonder how the native people felt watching the destruction of their land for the sake of European efficiency and potential to colonize further.



This photograph depicts a massive oil refinery located on a river in Minatitlan, Mexico. Despite the lack of people in the photograph it is easy to imagine hundreds of workers on the ground running the refinery. There are multiple boats on the river potentially showing that trade was taking place and that the oil refinery played a large role in this area’s commerce. The refinery and commerce on the river raise several questions. Where did the workers in the refinery come from and were they paid at all? How much of the oil is being traded away and how much stays in the area for local power? Who profited from this giant enterprise? It is important to note the large industrial footprint this refinery has on the surrounding land. The vegetation is destroyed and replaced with machinery. The potential for pollution is huge as the pond connected to the refinery appears to have significant amounts of oil in it and is separated from the river by only a thin wall of dirt.

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