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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Morrill Act as Racial Contract: Settler Colonialism and U.S. Higher Education

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The Morrill Act of 1862 established agricultural and mechanical arts colleges by granting public lands to states to promote the liberal and practical education of (white, male, Christian) U.S. citizens of average means. In this paper, I use Charles Mills’ (1997) Racial Contract framework and Patrick Wolfe’s (2007) concept of corpus nullius to situate the Morrill Act in a white supremacist political system that intimately entwined settler-colonial expansion, agricultural knowledge production, and the founding of U.S. public higher education through creation of the land-grant universities.

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