Mary Shi

2021 Synar Graduate Research Fellowship

Mary Shi is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at UC Berkeley. Mary's research examines the intersection of society, space, and politics in multiple domains, from the political economy of the San Francisco Bay Area to the historical formation of the American state. Mary received her BA from Yale University in Political Science and Molecular Biochemistry & Biophysics. Her work has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the Global Urban Humanities Initiative at UC Berkeley, and has appeared in ACME: An International Journal of Critical Geographies.

Research Summary: My dissertation examines the role of large scale infrastructure projects in American state formation. In the early nineteenth century, the United States government was little more than a confederation between the states for the purposes of war making, international relations, and mail delivery. Today, it is the primary locus of social and economic policy. My dissertation uses the cases of three large-scale infrastructure projects in American history, the Erie Canal, the Transcontinental Railroads, and the Hoover Dam, to offer one window into this evolution from limited, fiscal-military state to a full blown, regulatory and welfare state. I examine legislative and archival administrative records to understand the key actors and interests pushing each project forward and trace the ideological, technical, and administrative legacies of these works. Thus far, my dissertation research has illuminated the key role the public lands played in financing early government promotion of infrastructures, thereby linking American political development with its broader context of settler colonialism. With the support of the Mike Synar Graduate Research Fellowship, I will be able to conduct archival research at the National Archives in Washington, DC and Denver, CO during Summer and Fall 2021.

Research interests: 

Major(s): PHD Candidate, Sociology