Sean Fraga


I study historical connections between technology, mobility, and social change. I’m currently researching the interplay between steam power and American expansion in the North American West and Pacific World during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I’m broadly interested in the ways people use technology to understand places and to shape their surroundings through movement.

I hold a Ph.D. in History from Princeton University, where I worked with Marni Sandweiss and Emily Thompson and where I was an American Studies graduate student affiliate. My book project, “Ocean Fever: Steam, Trade, and the American Creation of the Terraqueous Pacific Northwest,” argues that Americans went west in order to participate in Pacific Ocean commerce. Americans interested in Asian trade saw the Pacific Northwest’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. Read more here.

I combine traditional archival research with digital mapping and geospatial analysis to understand old stories in new ways. I’m currently a postgraduate research associate with Princeton’s Center for Digital Humanities, where I’m digitally mapping historical maritime trade networks in the Pacific Northwest and northern Pacific Ocean. See more here.

I teach about the history of the U.S. West, the history of technology, borders and borderlands, the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, maritime history, and American cultural landscapes, among other subjects. Learn more here.

I regularly discuss my research at academic conferences, scholarly workshops, and museum lectures. My next few upcoming speaking engagements are:

See my full list of speaking engagements here.

My hometown is Bainbridge Island, Wash.