Date of Award

Fall 2016

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Eliga H. Gould

Second Advisor

Jeffrey Bolster

Third Advisor

Kurk Dorsey


This dissertation examines America’s first turn to overseas imperialism through the fifteen global exploring expeditions of the antebellum United States Navy. These voyages, which ranged from the Antarctic to the North Pacific, from the Holy Land to Japan, and from South American rivers to the Arctic Ocean, helped the nation pursue Great Power status and forge a global maritime empire before the Civil War. Supporters of naval exploration, or explorationists, found their inspiration in European voyages of discovery. Anxious for the United States to be considered one of the Great Powers of the earth, explorationists became increasingly adept at convincing their countrymen to join them as the antebellum era advanced. As influential new constituencies joined the explorationist coalition, they deepened its political power and diversified its imperial program. By the end of the 1850s, Americans had constructed a global empire of commerce, science, and religion with important consequences for the world’s indigenous peoples, its natural resources, and for American national science and its relationship with overseas imperialism.