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Title: Ocean Fever: Water, Trade, and the Shaping 
of the Terraqueous Pacific Northwest
Authors: Fraga, Sean
Advisors: Sandweiss, Martha A
Contributors: History Department
Keywords: Maritime trade
Pacific Northwest
Puget Sound
Subjects: American history
Issue Date: 2019
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: American interest in Asian trade propelled westward expansion and shaped the Pacific Northwest. In the early nineteenth century, Americans saw the Pacific Coast’s few harbors as portals between the continental interior and the Pacific Ocean, motivating westward expansion under presidents from Thomas Jefferson (who dispatched Lewis and Clark) to James Polk. Access to Pacific harbors structured Polk’s 1846 Oregon Treaty, which divided the Northwest between the United States and Great Britain. In the 1850s and 1860s, Euro-American settlers used steam-powered vessels to police indigenous people and enforce the region’s marine border during a volatile period that included the Stevens treaties, the 1856 Battle of Seattle, the 1858 Fraser River gold rush, and the 1859 Pig War, which started a years-long military standoff between the United States and Britain for control of the San Juan Islands. At the same time, cross-border trade drove support for American annexation of British Columbia. Between 1880 and 1910, four transcontinental railroads, part of an emergent global steam-powered transportation network, built to Northwest harbors to access Pacific trade. (These included Northern Pacific Railroad, Great Northern Railway, and Canadian Pacific Railway.) Boosters celebrated new connections to Asia, promoting Puget Sound as the "gateway to the Orient," even as other white Americans violently opposed the presence of Asian people. Maritime trade powered growth for port cities like Seattle and Tacoma, but brought problems like congested waterfronts and unsafe watercraft, inspiring a local strand of Progressivism to manage marine spaces for public benefit. In the twentieth century, water sustained Seattle’s suburban growth, as developers leveraged local connections provided by the mosquito fleet to build housing—steamboat suburbs, including one named Suquamish—on nearby rural waterfront land. Scholars generally describe American westward expansion in terrestrial terms, as a series of land acquisitions. This dissertation demonstrates that Americans also understood it as a terraqueous process, involving both terrestrial and aquatic areas. A terraqueous perspective on American history reveals that terrestrial stories are frequently entangled with aquatic spaces, "ungrounding" familiar narratives. This approach recovers the role of maritime workers in American territorial acquisition and settlement. It emphasizes the use of technology in border-making, demonstrating how Anglo-Americans used steamboats to counter indigenous maritime societies. It stresses the continuity between nineteenth-century American continental expansion and twentieth-century U.S. Pacific imperialism. And it models terraqueous possibilities for historical geography, showing how local maritime connections sustained urban and suburban growth. By revealing the terraqueous dimensions of American history, this research expands and challenges our understandings of American national incorporation, borders and borderlands, American engagement with the Pacific World, and urban and suburban development. American history looks different from the water’s edge.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:History

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