Digital History

Along with traditional archival research, I use digital mapping and data visualization to unlock the stories in non-narrative sources. I’m particularly interested in using free, cheap, and off-the-shelf software to lower barriers for digital humanities research and support weird, quirky, and deeply individual projects.

I’m the primary investigator for They Came on Waves of Ink: Northwest Maritime Trade at the Dawn of American Settlement, 1851–61. As a postgraduate research associate with Princeton’s Center for Digital Humanities, I led undergraduate research assistants in transcribing a handwritten ledger of U.S. Customs data covering the Puget Sound Customs District’s first decade. I’m now using maps and data visualizations to analyze these data and explore the stories contained within. More information is available on the project page. Datasets related to this project are available in my GitHub repository.

Sean-Fraga-digital-humanities-Seattle-map-1901

As part of my book research, I’m digitally mapping Seattle’s historical maritime hinterland (its hinterwaters?). The map above, for example, plots Puget Sound ports reachable by scheduled boat service from Seattle, organized by route, as listed in a 1901 travel guide. Non-narrative sources like route listings are often rich with data, but opaque to the contemporary reader. Mapping Puget Sound ports revealed that turn-of-the-century steamboat service was geographically extensive, loosely divided into distinct service regions, and centered on several primary and secondary hubs. These data aren’t perfect: I couldn’t locate 14% of places listed in the travel guide, and I ended up assigning some points an approximate location. But plotted in the aggregate, these points reveal the scope of Seattle’s reach into the surrounding littoral. (Data from “Sound Way Ports,” The Pacific Northwest Official A B C Railway and Marine Guide, vol. 1, no. 6 (June 1901): 48-49. Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley.)

I’ve also built several original datasets from archival documents. One dataset, drawn from U.S. Census occupational data, shows how Washington Territory had higher per capita employment in maritime industries, like boatbuilding or fishing, than Oregon or California. Another dataset, built from City of Seattle and Port of Seattle archival documents, provides a detailed view of Seattle’s maritime commercial connections in the early twentieth century. Please contact me to access these datasets.

I’ve been invited to share my digital-humanities research at the American Philosophical Society, the German Historical Institute, and the Western History Association 2019 annual meeting.

I’m a member of the Western History Association’s Technology Committee, working to support and advance digital scholarship in our field of study through digital humanities research lightning rounds, digital drop-in sessions, and databases of digital humanities work. I sit on the editorial board for On the Nines, a digital history project hosted by the Public History Working Group within the Center for Collaborative History at Princeton University. I’ve also served as a digital mapping project consultant for projects in preparation at Princeton and the U.S. Naval Academy Museum.