Margaret O'Mara

  • Associate Professor

Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania, 2002

Fields: American Political History, Urban History, History of Capitalism
Phone: 206-685-2928
Office: SMI 204B | Office Hours: ON LEAVE AY 2015-16
Website: Personal Website
Curriculum Vitae:

I am a historian of the modern United States, specializing in political, economic, and urban history.  After spending the early years of my career working in national politics and policymaking, I came to understand that historical knowledge is critical to understanding the present and informing the future.  My research, teaching, and work with people and organizations beyond academia is inspired and shaped by my desire to make history relevant, exciting, and central to the way we understand our world.   At the UW, I offer undergraduate and graduate courses on modern America, urban history, political history, and economic history.

My scholarly work examines America's century-long transition from a manufacturing to a service economy, the role of political leaders and political institutions in this transition, and how economic change affects built environments, social equity, and culture.   I am the author of Cities of Knowledge: Cold War Science and the Search for the Next Silicon Valley (Princeton, 2005), which explored how Silicon Valley came to be and what the Cold War had to do with it, as well as a number of articles and book chapters examining various intersections between cities, politics, and technology.  My most recent book, Pivotal Tuesdays (University of Pennsylvania, 2015) grew out of my History Lecture Series I delivered here at the UW the fall of 2012.  It explores four game-changing Presidential elections of the 20th century (1912, 1932, 1968, 1992) and places these campaign sagas in broader social and cultural context.  I'm now working on a project I'm calling Silicon Age, a history of the late-twentieth century United States told through the lens of the high-tech revolution. 

I collaborate with faculty, students, and staff across the UW as a founding member of Urban@UW, co-PI of the Mellon Sawyer Seminar Now Urbanism, and as an advisor to the UW Office of External Affairs.  I am also a faculty affiliate of the West Coast Poverty Center and the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies.  My professional affiliations beyond the UW have included leadership roles in the Social Science History Association and the Urban History Association, and serving as a fellow of the National Forum on the Future of Liberal Education.  In addition to my scholarly work, I work with business leaders, elected officials, media outlets, and cultural organizations on the history and contemporary dynamics of metropolitan economies, particularly how and why innovation thrives in particular places.  This includes service as a board member for Startup Hall and being the lead curatorial advisor to the Bezos Center for Innovation at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI).

Selected Recent Publications

Pivotal Tuesdays: Four Elections that Shaped the Twentieth Century (Philadelphia: Penn Press, 2015)

"The Environmental Contradictions of High-Tech Urbanism," in Now Urbanism: The Future City is Here, ed. Jeff Hou, Ben Spencer, Thaisa Way, and Ken Yocum (Routledge, 2014)

The Uses of the Foreign Student,” Social Science History [special issue on Clark Kerr’s The Uses of the University, ed. Michael Bernstein], December 2012

Silicon Valleys,” Boom: A Journal of California 1:2 (June 2011).

Beyond Town and Gown:  University Economic Development and the Legacy of the Urban Crisis,” The Journal of Technology Transfer [special issue on the university and economic development, ed. Maryann Feldman and Shiri Breznitz], August 2010.

More publications can be found on my CV and my personal website,

Courses taught

HSTAA 208 – The City: People, Places, Environments

HSTAA 303 – Modern American Civilization From 1877

HIST 388 – Left, Right, and Center: Partisan Politics in Twentieth Century America

HIST 498 - Suburbia

HSTAA 508 – American Urban History

HSTAA 522 – American History: Writings and Interpretations Since 1870

HSTAA 590 - American Political and Policy History

HIST 590 – Welfare States