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Margaret O'Mara

Margaret O'Mara headshot

Contact Information

(206) 685-2928
SMI 204B
Office Hours: 
By appointment


Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania, 2002
PDF icon Curriculum Vitae (170.95 KB)

I teach and write about the political, economic, and metropolitan history of the modern United States. I became a professional historian after spending the early years of my career working in national politics and policymaking, an experience that showed me the critical role of historical knowledge in 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, political history, urban history, and economic history.

My research focuses on the high-tech industry, American politics, and the connections between the two. 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, a university-wide initiative dedicated to inclusive, data-driven innovation for the future of cities. I am also a faculty affiliate of the West Coast Poverty Center, the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies, and an advisory board member for Startup Hall. My professional affiliations beyond the UW have included leadership roles in the Social Science History Association and the Urban History Association, speaking to a wide range of groups as an OAH Distinguished Lecturer, 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. Locally, this has included serving as the lead curatorial advisor to the Bezos Center for Innovation at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI).

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


Courses Taught

Graduate Study Areas

Division: United States

Twentieth Century

Development of the United States during the "very long" twentieth century, from 1877 to the present, with particular emphasis on the changing relationship between state and society, economic and technological shifts, and struggles for civil and economic rights.

Urban History

Urbanization and the suburbanization of the United States from the colonial era to the present, including consideration of comparative examples from outside the US. Students will read seminal works from the urban historiography and key contributions to the field from social history, intellectual history, and political history, as well as from the disciplines of urban planning, public policy, and sociology.

Policy and Political History

Development of the American state and political culture, with particular emphasis on the twentieth century. Readings will consider the role of the federal government, contested and dynamic definitions of citizenship, expansion and contraction of the national state, the role of extra-governmental institutions, and grassroots activism on the left and the right.

History of Capitalism

Development of capitalism as a political economic form in the United States and globally since the early nineteenth century.  Readings will be both historiographic (examining the evolution of economic and business history and changing interpretations of the role of market institutitions in society) and thematic (addressing topics such as: the state-market relationship, business organization and power, labor and capital, economic globalization, technological change, economic thought and policy, the effect of economic structures on individual and group opportunity and mobility).


Professional Affiliations: 
American Historical Association, Organization of American Historians, Urban History Association, Social Science History Association

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