Laura Ferguson

  • Fellowship year:2011-2012
  • University: University of Michigan
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: United States
  • Dissertation Title: Gateway City: The Makings and Meanings of San Francisco's Golden Gate 1846-1906
  •  My project is an urban, cultural, and environmental history of nineteenth-century San Francisco.  It tells the story of how San Francisco transformed a muddy cove and trading outpost into an American town and then preeminent port.  For the city to become a nationally-significant gateway- the primary port along the Pacific for the flow of people and commerce- San Franciscans first had to conceptualize and construct it as such in local, small-scale ways.  I examine San Franciscans' debates over the use, shape, and cultural meanings of the waterfront, highlighting both their on-the-ground contests over urban space and the ways that these struggles for power national, and global networks of commerce and migration.

    In taking up the waterfront as contested space, I seek to build upon and interweave western and environmental historiographies which have traced fights over land and natural resources, as well as urban, cultural, and economic history approaches, which have examined public and commercial spaces to illuminate the creation and contestation of social hierarchies.  Drawing together these multiple modes of questioning, my project investigates small-scale interactions among San Franciscans and large-scale flows of people, goods, and capital.  By tracing the makings and meanings of San Francisco's evolving waterfront and port, I examine local, regional, national, and global processes in concert and highlight the ways in which San Franciscans sought to negotiate the tensions and reciprocities between cultural meanings and political economy, individual choices and structural transformations.