MOCATalks with Sean Fraga - Forgotten History of the Transcontinental Railroads

Thu, Oct 24, 2019 @ 6:30pm - 7:30pm



Tickets are $15 and include wine and Museum admission. Members receive complimentary tickets. Not a Member? Join today!


Join us to meet and talk with Sean Fraga about the forgotten reason for the construction of America’s numerous transcontinental railroads: trade with Asia. Sean uses maps, postcards, government records, magazine articles, and corporate files to reveal this overlooked history. He argues that nineteenth-century Americans believed the transcontinental railroads’ great potential lay in opening the United States to the Pacific World. Railroad promoters promised that Asian imports would enrich the United States and framed their rail lines as modern versions of the fabled Northwest Passage. But as the transcontinental railroads opened to traffic, they instead found it more profitable to export American commodities to industrializing Asian nations and to support American imperialism in the Pacific World. This new account of why the transcontinental railroads were built shows how they are part of a larger story of European and American economic engagement with Asia, spanning from Christopher Columbus to today’s bustling container ports.


Sean Fraga is a postgraduate research associate in the Department of History and the Center for Digital Humanities at Princeton University. A historian of American expansion into the North American West and the Pacific World, Sean researches the intersections of technology, mobility, and social change. His future book, Ocean Fever, argues that American interest in trade with Asia propelled westward expansion and shaped the Pacific Northwest as a maritime commercial region. He's also the principal investigator for "They Came on Waves of Ink," a digital humanities research project using primary sources to visualize the role of maritime trade in American settlement of the Pacific Northwest. Sean received his B.A. in American Studies from Yale University and his Master's and Ph.D, both in History, from Princeton.