Travis E. Ross

Historian of capitalism, knowledge, and the Pacific World


Cover illustration from the April 18, 1885 edition of The Wasp

Hubert Howe Bancroft, depicted in The Wasp, April 18, 1885.

I am currently working on a book manuscript and a few supporting articles, all of which examine how capitalism structured humanistic knowledge production before and after academic professionalization.

Tentatively titled History, Inc., my monograph will examine how the California bookseller Hubert Howe Bancroft marshaled a transnational intellectual network through his publishing company to research and to write collaboratively what its participants hoped would be the definitive history of that vast region. Between roughly 1870 and 1890, Bancroft & Company created a viable, for-profit historical enterprise that produced the core collection of what became UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library as well as the 39-volume history of western North America that has had an enduring influence on the historiography of that vast region. Beyond its import to western regional history, Bancroft’s enterprise offers a window into the market for serious knowledge in the same decades that produced modern academe.

In a few complementary articles, I will examine how academic professionalization restructured popular and elite expectations regarding serious historical writing, remaking the subfield of western history in the process.