Standardizing Infrastructure in the Era of the “Open Door” and “Dollar Diplomacy”

Liat Spiro, College of the Holy Cross

This paper will examine relations between transnational civil engineering projects and debt regimes, capital goods export and central banking, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By the eve of the First World War, U.S. and German machinery firms had begun actively seeking export opportunities toward extractive, transport, and industrial projects in semi-colonial contexts in late Qing and Republican China, Latin America, and the southern and eastern peripheries of Europe. In the era of U.S. “money doctors,” turn-of-the-century engineers such as William Barclay Parsons (now Parsons-Brinckerhoff, the multinational civil engineering firm) transposed the imposition of technical standards and currency reform in common cause, while the initiatives of the American International Corporation of National City Bank shed light on the importance of infrastructure in unearthing the roots of international financial architectures. Working across engineering, diplomatic, and financial archives, this paper traces how the construction of infrastructure, particularly standards, formed ideas of economic space, developmental time, and social governance.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 116. Empire, Industry and State Finance in the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries