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Title page for ETD etd-11122014-214627

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Owen, Matthew David
URN etd-11122014-214627
Title For the Progress of Man: The TVA, Electric Power, and the Environment, 1939-1969
Degree PhD
Department History
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Sarah Igo Committee Chair
Dana D. Nelson Committee Member
Gary Gerstle Committee Member
Michael D. Bess Committee Member
Ole Molvig Committee Member
  • Tennessee Valley Authority
  • United States history--20th century
  • technopolitics
  • technopolitical regimes
  • electricity
  • energy
  • energy regimes
  • consumerism
  • economic development
  • American political development
  • environmental history
  • coal
  • suburbanization
  • air pollution
  • pollution
  • strip mining
  • military industrial complex
Date of Defense 2014-10-15
Availability unrestricted
This dissertation analyzes the evolution of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s power program and its effect on residential electricity use, economic growth, and environmental change in the Tennessee Valley Region between 1939 and 1969. It argues that the ideals of the public power movement shaped both the TVA’s transition from hydroelectric to coal-fired power and its relationship with the people and natural resources of its service area, forming the foundation of a technopolitical regime predicated on high use, low cost, and abundance that defined federal energy policy after World War II. The Authority was the boldest experiment in public power in United States history and became the nation’s biggest producer and wholesale distributor of electricity. Its leaders cultivated relationships with local elites and treated cheap electric power as a social good and a basic right of American citizenship that could raise standards of living, expand the region’s economy, and promote national security. The TVA succeeded in making electricity more accessible and affordable for in-home and commercial use, and it became a bulwark of the Cold War state. However, the Authority’s energy regime reinforced a political economy of white privilege, and it concentrated the environmental consequences of coal-fired production in poor, rural communities, undermining support for the agency. In this way, the successes and failures of the TVA's regime demonstrate both the state’s ability to project its influence in the postwar period by promoting widespread energy use and the limitations of consumption as a tool of social, economic, and environmental policy.
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