Sean Fraga: Digital Visualizations of Pacific Northwest Maritime Trade Networks during American Settlement, 1851–61

Hello everyone! I’m Sean Fraga. I hold a Ph.D. in history from Princeton University and am currently a lecturer in the Princeton Writing Program. I study links between mobility, technology, the environment, and social change. My current research explores the role of steam power in American territorial expansion, especially in the Pacific Northwest. 

At this year’s Six Shooter session, I’ll be discussing my digital history project, They Came on Waves of Ink: Pacific Northwest Maritime Trade at the Dawn of American Settlement, 1851–61. This project created maps and data visualizations from archival U.S. Customs records to show commercial links between Puget Sound’s first American settlers and the Pacific World. 

Waves of Ink tells the stories hidden in a beaten-up, handwritten ledger. In 1851, the United States created the Puget Sound Customs District as part of the nation’s territorial expansion to the Pacific Coast. During the district’s first decade, U.S. Customs officials used this ledger to record a wealth of information about each vessel arriving and departing Puget Sound: its name, nationality, tonnage, type, place built, registration, voyage dates, inbound and outbound ports, captain’s name, cargo carried, and details about the crew and passengers. 

My research team and I transcribed roughly 4,500 entries across 150 pages. A copy of the preliminary transcription is available on GitHub. This project was supported by Princeton’s Center for Digital Humanities, which hosted me as a postgraduate research associate during spring semester 2019. I am now preparing the dataset and related articles for publication.

This project helps reveal the importance of maritime trade to American colonization of the Pacific Northwest. At the WHA, I’ll discuss the transcription process, readying the dataset for analysis, and ways of exploring the data with Excel, QGIS, and Palladio. 

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