Welcome! I’m Sean Fraga. I’m an interdisciplinary historian of the North American West, studying links between the environment, indigenous sovereignty, settler colonialism, technology, and mobility, primarily during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I’m currently researching the interplay between steam power and U.S. territorial expansion into North America and the Pacific Ocean. I’m a Mellon postdoctoral fellow with the Humanities in a Digital World program at the University of Southern California. My research is forthcoming in Western Historical Quarterly and Current Research in Digital History. My writing has also appeared in The Washington Post.
My book project, Ocean Fever: Steam Power, Transpacific Trade, and American Colonization of Puget Sound, is under contract with Yale University Press for publication in the Lamar Series in Western History. In Ocean Fever, I argue that Americans acquired and developed the Pacific Northwest in order to participate in Pacific Ocean commerce. Americans interested in trade with East Asia saw Puget Sound’s deep harbors as valuable portals to the Pacific Ocean and used railroad and shipping connections to build Northwest seaport towns into global commercial hubs. But in the process, American settlers dramatically altered coastal environments and repeatedly displaced indigenous peoples. Read more about my research here.
I hold a Ph.D. in history from Princeton University, where I worked with Marni Sandweiss, Emily Thompson, and Beth Lew-Williams. My dissertation received the Center for Digital Humanities 2019 Dissertation Prize for “exceptional doctoral work with a digital humanities component.” I received my M.A. in history, also from Princeton, and my B.A. in American Studies, with distinction in the major, from Yale University.
I combine traditional archival research with digital mapping and data visualization to understand old stories in new ways. As a postgraduate research associate with Princeton’s Center for Digital Humanities, I used archival U.S. Customs materials to digitally map historical maritime trade networks in the Pacific Northwest and northern Pacific Ocean. See more about this project here: They Came on Waves of Ink: Northwest Maritime Trade at the Dawn of American Settlement, 1851–61.
My research has taken me to more than a dozen archives across the United States and Canada. My work has been financially supported by the Mellon Foundation, the Newberry Library, the Western History Association, and the North American Society for Oceanic History, among others. My research has also been financially supported by numerous Princeton departments and programs, including the Department of History; Program in American Studies; Program in Canadian Studies; Princeton–Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities; Center for Digital Humanities; and the Office of the Dean of the Graduate School, which awarded me a Dean’s Completion Fellowship.
I teach about the history of the North American West, Native history, environmental history, the U.S. in the world, colonialism and imperialism, borders and borderlands, oceanic history, the history of technology, and American cultural landscapes, among other subjects. At U.S.C., I’m teaching a new seminar, Pacific Beaches in the American Imagination. As a lecturer in the Princeton Writing Program, I taught Zoom!, an interdisciplinary first-year writing seminar about speed, technology, and social change. Learn more about my teaching here.
I regularly discuss my research at academic conferences, scholarly workshops, and museum lectures. I’ve shared my work at Princeton, Yale, and Columbia, and at the Newberry Library, the American Philosophical Society, and the Museum of Chinese in America, among others. My next few upcoming speaking engagements are:
- I’ll present an invited paper, “Settler Steamboats: Mobility, Settler Colonialism, and Steam Power in the Terraqueous Pacific Northwest, 1846–1872,” at the History of Ocean Science, Technology and Medicine working group, a part of the Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine, over Zoom on September 15, 2020.
- I’ll present a paper, “Settler Steamboats: Mobility, Settler Colonialism, and Steam Power in the Terraqueous Pacific Northwest, 1846–1872,” at the virtual Western History Association 2020 annual meeting during October 14–17, 2020, as part of a conference panel, “Mobility, Settler Colonialism, and Place in the North American West,” that I organized.
- I’ll present on the roundtable session “New Directions in the Study of the Pacific West,” at the virtual Western History Association 2020 annual meeting during October 14–17, 2020.
- I’ll present an invited paper, “The Pacific Railroads and the Pacific Ocean: American Expansion, Asian Trade, and Terraqueous Mobility, 1869–1914,” at the Boston Seminar on Modern American Society and Culture, hosted by the Massachusetts Historical Society, in Boston, Mass., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021.
At U.S.C., I coordinate the Mapping Mobilities workshop series and the interdisciplinary Environmental Humanities working group. At Princeton, I served as the Graduate History Association’s professional development officer, as coordinator for both the Modern America Workshop and the Colonialism and Imperialism Workshop, and as a mentor to incoming graduate students. Along with Julia Grummitt and Kimia Shahi, I co-organized the 2016 Princeton American Studies graduate student conference “Water and the Making of Place in North America.”
My hometown is Bainbridge Island, Washington, in traditional dxʷsəqʷəb (Suquamish) territory.