Date of Award

Spring 6-4-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Nature-Culture-Sustainability Studies

First Advisor

Thomas Doran

Second Advisor

Sean Nesselrode Moncada

Third Advisor

Sage Gerson


This thesis studies the rhetorics and semiotics of open-pit copper mining in Butte, Montana, United States from the mid-twentieth century through the present day within an environmental historical and visual culture studies framework. In examining various spatial reconfigurations—including mass mineral extraction, industrial discard, historic preservation, and landscape remediation—this thesis decenters extractivist paradigms that have normalized physical, bureaucratic, and representational acts of violence against communities and more-than-human ecosystems. While copper has materially symbolized progress and technological innovation in the United States, the extraction of the mineral from rural peripheries has been achieved at a great cost—as White settlers forcibly removed Indigenous people including the Séliš and Qlispé from mineral-abundant regions; as the Anaconda Company and ARCO sought to offset their debts through off-shore operations; and as ever-larger industrial technologies wrest ore from the earth at an ever-intensifying speed and scale. In the context of the public-private management of extractive zones, neither critical representation nor ethical remediation of abandoned mines are guaranteed. This reality presents an imperative to critically unravel dominant narratives and extractive visual cultures of open-pit copper mining in Butte, Montana so that stories of care, reciprocity, and multispecies agency can emerge.



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