Over the last quarter of a century, Seattle has gone from remote, grunge rock, alternative Pac NW paradise (as portrayed in the now 25 year old movie Singles) to environmental aggro bike riding hipster World Trade Organization protesting enclave (see 2007’s Battle in Seattle) to new Silicon Valley tech Amazon/Microsoft led metropolis. Its sibling Portland has “Portlandia”; Seattle, “Grey’s Anatomy” and for the older that walk among us, “Frazier”. The former remains smaller, weirder, and perhaps, more iconoclastic, while the latter has donned its adult clothes as it transforms into what some now dub a new San Francisco.
Still, as often happens when one draws upon pop culture to form narratives about a city–a subject The Metropole will explore this month–many things get obscured. For example, with the exception of the more recent “Grey’s Anatomy”, one could be forgiven if he or she envisioned the city as devoid of minorities. The reality of course is much different. Seattle’s black, Asian, and Native American populations have been around for a long time and the (controversial) global economy means its location on the lip of the Pacific Rim ensures it an increasingly important place in national and transnational flows of labor and capital.
In the process of building our biography for June’s Metropolis of the Month, more than one historian acknowledged that Seattle remains understudied. Yet as you can see below, the city’s history proves more fertile, and richer, than one might expect. This history helps place Seattle into proper perspective. For example, its tech-centric 21st century Amazonesque gloss could arguably be traced back to the 1962 World’s Fair, notably its Century 21 Exposition. Eminent historian of the American West and University of Seattle professor John Findlay captured this turn in his Magic Lands: Western Cityscapes and American Culture after 1940.
To a greater degree than its western counterparts, Seattle “inherited a more intact central core from the nineteenth century and seemed less overrun by growth, although not for lack of trying,” writes Findlay. Its “more constrained” urbanization made it attractive and the Century 21 Exposition promised to bring “metropolitan stature” and “order to a growing city.” Century 21 operated on several levels: a means to push through urban renewal plans for the downtown area, an exemplar of American scientific prowess, and symbolic outreach to the global Cold War community, namely the benefits of working with the United States and its apparent technological sophistication.
Naturally, much like Amazon does today, Boeing played a role. It existed as an entity unto itself even in the confines of the fair. “The Space Needle, the U.S. Science Pavilion, the glimpses of the future, and the numerous rides into outer space all paid homage to the aerospace manufacturer rather than to downtown business or tourism,” notes Findlay. The Space Needle, like Disneyland before it did for Anaheim, came to symbolize the city and served as an organizing principle in resident’s mental maps of the metropolis.
Like urban planning of the era more generally, but particularly in the West, the fair was aimed at suburbanites thereby delivering “middlebrow culture to middle class fairgoers.” With this in mind, mid-century consumerism also engaged the fair. Shopping centers had exploded in American life and planners drew upon this new development promoted by designers like Victor Gruen: “shopping malls provided not just retail outlets but also entertainment , culture and services in a novel form of space.” Organizers added a retail mall to the fair, which simultaneously promoted commerce and brought the suburbs to the city. “Perhaps, however, no society had ever come close to approximating the ideal of a middle class, consumer oriented culture than the United States in 1962,” writes Findlay. To that end the Seattle World’s Fair “captured much of the outlook of postwar America” from the vantage point both of consumerism and dominance of science over nature.
This brings us back to the Seattle of the present, fifty-five years later. In many ways, the Experience Music Project Museum, Amazon, Microsoft, and even the persistence of Boeing (it’s headquarters moved to Chicago years ago but it still maintains a presence in the area) embody a certain consistency in Seattle history: the intersection of commerce, science, and technology as a symbol of the city and economic engine of its urban economy. Shopping malls no longer dominate commerce. Instead, the disembodied internet, which also facilitates the Pacific Rim investment and trade that Seattle lauds, drives the national economy. Paired with this ultra modern economic base, Seattle planning has embraced the new environmental ethos; in 2016 it was named the most sustainable city in the U.S., though as some have pointed out this sustainability and environmentalism is not shared equally across the city’s population. Which in turn draws attention to the fact that it may be a city full of environmentally conscious liberals, but its racial history, like many other metropolitan regions, remains problematic. The bibliography strives to amplify historical studies on these issues. We hope it helps to flesh out this complex history from the economics that have shaped the city to the fissures that have sometimes emerged due to the effect of race and class on Seattle residents. It is never a simple story, but it is always an interesting one.
Second Ave. and Marion St., Seattle, Wash., July 1889, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
Blackpast.org: Martin Luther King County, Washington (Seattle is the county seat) history. In addition, a simple search from the homepage using “Seattle” as a search term produces 3,400 articles on specific topics related to the city’s African American history, many with their own bibliographies.
Densho Project – Over 1,000 “free and accessible entries” documenting the Japanese American experience during WWII internment policy including oral histories, lesson plans, and more.
The People of the Central Area – a really valuable digital social history of the Central District achieved through interviews by blogger Madeline Crowley with the people who have made it so.
Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project (University of Washington) – multi-format collection of oral histories, videos, research articles, and more on civil rights and labor history in the city.
Vanishing Seattle – Facebook page highlighting news and articles on the city’s history and advocating for the preservation and conservation of Seattle’s past.
19th and 20th Century History
Gary L. Atkins, Gay Seattle: Stories of Exile and Belonging, (Seattle, University of Washington Press, 2003).
Susan Armitage, Shaping the Public Good: Women Making History in the Pacific Northwest, (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2015).
Frederick Brown, The City is More than Human: An Animal History of Seattle, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2016) – crosscut.com Article/Review
Paul De Barros, Jackson Street After Hours: The Roots of Jazz in Seattle, (Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 1993) – Very brief Entertainment Weekly review (yes, EW; their book reviews are often excellent!)
Christopher T. Bayley, Seattle Justice: The Rise and Fall of the Police Payoff System in Seattle, (Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 2015) – Seattle Times review
Bruce Brown, Mountain in the Clouds: A Search for the Wild Salmon, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995) – Short LAT review
Elizabeth Brown, “Race, Urban Governance, and Crime Control: Creating Model Cities,” Law and Society Review 44, no. 3/4 (2010).
Michael Brown and Larry Knopp, “Between Anatamo- and Bio-Politics: Geographies of Sexual Health in Wartime Seattle,” Political Geography 29 (2010).
Carlos Bulosan, America is in the Heart: A Personal History, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014) – Race, Class and Ethnicity in American History blog review. (Note: book was originally published in 1946)
Kornel Chang, Pacific Connections: The Making of the US-Canadian Borderlands, (Berkeley: University of California, 2012) – AHR review
Andrew Childs, “Hyper or Hypo-Masculine?: Re-conceptualizing ‘Hyper-Masculinity’ Through Seattle’s Gay, Leather Community,” Gender, Place & Culture 23/9 (2016).
Aaron Dixon, My People Are Rising: Memoir of a Black Panther Party Captain, (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015) – Very short Publishers Weekly review and longer review at International Socialist Review
Gale Dubrow and Donna Graves, Sento at Sixth and Main: Preserving Landmarks of Japanese American Heritage, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002) – H-Net review
David D. Alt and Donald W. Hyndman, Roadside Geologies of Washington, (Missoula: Mountain Press Publishing, 1984).
Timothy Egan, The Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest, (New York: Vintage, 1991).
John M. Findlay, Magic Lands: Western Cityscapes and American Culture after 1940, (University of California Press, 1992) – (notably the book’s chapter on Seattle) Videri review
Louis Fisset, Camp Harmony: Seattle’s Japanese Americans and the Puyallup Assembly Center, (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009) – Journal of Asian Studies review (via project muse)
Dana Frank, Purchasing Power: Consumer Organizing, Gender, and the Seattle Labor Movement, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994) – H-Net review
Chris Friday, Organizing Asian American Labor: The Pacific Coast Canned-Salmon Industry, 1870-1942, (1994).
Dorothy Fujita-Rony, American Workers, Colonial Power: Philippine Seattle and the Transpacific West, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003) – History: Review of New Books review
Timothy Gibson, Securing the Spectacular City: The Politics of Revitalization and Homelessness in Downtown Seattle, (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2004) – H-Net review
Shelley Lee, Claiming the Oriental Gateway: Prewar Seattle and Japanese America, (Philadelphia: University of Temple Press, 2011) – Journal of American History review
Ester Mumford Hall, Calabash: A Guide to the History, Culture, and Art of African Americans in Seattle and King County, (Seattle: Anase Press, 1993).
James Lyon, Selling Seattle: Representing Contemporary Urban America, (London: Wallflower Press, 2004) – NYT very short review of book, last on the list.
Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews, Gates: How Microsoft’s Mogul Reinvented an Industry and Made Himself the Richest Man in the World, (New York: Touchstone, 1994).
Murray Morgan, Skid Road: An Informal Portrait of Seattle, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1982).
Polly Myers, Capitalist Family Values: Gender, Work, and Corporate Culture at Boeing, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2016) – AHR review
Doris Hinson Pieroth, Seattle’s Women Teachers of the Interwar Years: Shapers of a Livable City, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004) – Pacific Historical Review
Peggy Pascoe, What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009) – PopMatters review and Handsycomprehensiveexam.com blog review
Roger Sale, Seattle: Past to Present, (Seattle: University of Seattle Press, 1976).
Jeffrey Sanders, Seattle and the Roots of Urban Sustainability: Inventing Ecotopia, (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh University Press, 2010) – Environmental History review (via Jstor)
T.M. Sell, Wings of Power: Boeing and the Politics of Growth in the Northwest, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001).
Brad Stone, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, (New York: Little, Brown, & Company, 2014) – Seattle Times review
Quintard Taylor, The Forging of a Black Community: A History of Seattle’s Central District, 1870 through the Civil Rights Era, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994) – Oregon Historical Society review
Quintard Taylor, “Blacks and Asians in a White City: Japanese Americans and African Americans in Seattle, 1890-1940,” Western Historical Quarterly 22:4 (November 1991).
Sallie Tisdale, Stepping Westward: The Long Search for Home in the Pacific Northwest, (New York: Henry Holt & Co, 1991) – Short Kirkus review
Nayan Shah, Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality, and the Law in the North American West (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011) – H-Net review; longer historiographical review at Tropics of Meta
Joan Singler, Seattle in Black and White: The Congress for Racial Equality and the Fight for Equal Opportunity, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2011) – H-Net review
Coll Thrush, Native Seattle: Histories from the Crossing Over Place, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2007) – H-Net review
Thaisa Way, The Landscape Architecture of Richard Haag, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2015).
Richard White, The Organic Machine: The Remaking of the Columbia River, (New York: Hill & Wang, 1996) – BC Studies review essay including The Organic Machine
David Williams, Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle’s Topography, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2015) – Seattle Times review
Lesley J. Wood, Direct Action, Deliberation, and Diffusion: Collective Action After the WTO Protests in Seattle, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012) – Mobilizingideas blog review
Margaret O’Mara (University of Washington Historian and author of Cities of Knowledge: Cold War Science and the Search for the Next Silicon Valley; not necessarily directly Seattle related but a review via Tropics of Meta) provides commentary of late aught Seattle via Crosscut.com: “We are Not the ‘Next Silicon Valley’” (18 February 2008); “Seattle’s Transportation Malaise is Nothing Special” (3 January 2008); “Amazon Joins the Parade of Tech to the Urban Core” (20 December 2008).
 John Findlay, Magic Lands: Western Cityscapes and American Culture after 1940, (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1992), 215.
 Findlay, Magic Lands, 228.
 Findlay, Magic Lands, 239.
 Findlay, Magic Lands, 244.
 Findlay, Magic Lands, 249.