photo of Barbara standing in the sunlight

Meet Barbara

I am a native San Franciscan, a scholar of California and the American West, and a historian who bridges the worlds of academic and public history. From my home in the Lost Sierra, on the traditional territory of the Washoe and Mountain Maidu peoples,* I work to make the past relevant, compelling, and accessible.

In 2013 I transitioned out of academia, leaving a tenured faculty position at the University of South Florida, because I realized just how huge the appetite for history was among the general public, and I wanted to have a hand in creating high quality, compelling stories and experiences. I also realized that I could have the broadest impact through public history, taking my work out of the classroom and into the world.

In 2014 I began working as the historian for the Presidio Trust, a federal agency. I was charged with making the history of the Presidio of San Francisco accessible, relevant, and engaging to a widely-diverse public audience. To that end I created an interpretive platform that activated historic sites to tell place-based stories at new locations on its campus; I curated several community-engaged exhibits that won awards; and I developed smart, innovative educational programming for life-long learners.

You can read more about me and my San Francisco upbringing and how that influenced my approach to history in the Preface to my book, Making San Francisco American: Cultural Frontiers in the Urban West, 1846-1906, at the link below.

*If you want to know who the Native peoples were who lived where you live today, check out this map:


Making San Francisco American:

Cultural Frontiers in the Urban West, 1846-1906

book cover to "Making San Francisco American", by Barbara Berglund

Univ. Press of Kansas (2007)

The San Francisco that rose from the ashes of the 1906 earthquake and fire was a city of rigid social stratification—a city determined to contain its diverse and disorderly, rough-and-tumble past some sixty years after its acquisition by the United States. My book vividly describes SF’s rapid evolution from Mexican outpost to crown jewel of America’s western empire, taking readers back to an earlier and more chaotic time when class definitions and social conventions were much more fluid.

I argue that the city’s rapid rise from a multicultural boomtown to a racially and socially stratified metropolis reflected the careful efforts of a nascent elite to order its inhabitants through political and cultural means.  And that control over meanings ascribed to race, class, and gender—especially those generated in the city’s cultural spaces—was critical to the incorporation of San Francisco into the fabric of the American nation.

Frontier Cities:

Encounters at the Crossroads of Empire

book cover to "Frontier Cities"

Univ. of Pennsylvania Press (2013)

Macau, New Orleans, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco. All of these metropolitan centers were once frontier cities, urban areas irrevocably shaped by cross-cultural borderland beginnings. Spanning a wide range of periods and locations, this collection of 12 essays recovers the history of these urban places and shows how, from the start, natives and newcomers alike shared streets, buildings, and interwoven lives. Not only do frontier cities embody the earliest matrix of the American urban experience; they also testify to the intersections of colonial, urban, western, and global history.

Let’s work together:

I’d be happy to join you in conversation about how my expertise can help you on your next project!