Sean Seyer, PhD

Humanities - Humanities, Humanities & Western Civilization
Assistant Professor
Primary office:
Bailey Hall, 303 J
University of Kansas
1440 Jayhawk Boulevard
Lawrence, KS 66045


As an historian of technology, my research interests revolve around how technologies—broadly defined to include both discrete devices and processes—arise out of and shape cultural values and societal norms. I am drawn to how individuals, interest groups, and states decide to utilize technologies and how those ideas become embodied within formal and informal institutions, with an emphasis on the twentieth-century United States. Put another way, I study how the tension between technological change and cultural values leads to a consensus regarding the use of technologies within societies, who possesses the authority to designate the terms of such use, and what groups remain marginalized from this process. In a world were individuals regularly express a need for their digital devices while simultaneously voicing concerns over privacy and the unauthorized use of their data, my research illustrates how the use of technologies in all their various forms constitute political acts that can profoundly affect the lives of an untold number of individuals beyond the end user.

My research rests at the nexus of various subfields within history: the history of technology, diplomatic history, legal history, cultural history, and American Political Development. The multifaceted nature of my research interests can be seen in my book, "Sovereign Skies: The Origins of American Civil Aviation Policy" (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2021). In this project, I analyze how numerous interest groups in the United States—politicians, military officials, civilian bureaucrats, industry leaders, lawyers, and engineers—struggled to regulate the new technology of the airplane within America’s federalist system in the years immediately following World War I.

My current project focuses on the “professionalization” of aviation from the Wright brothers’ first flight until the end of World War II, a period in which the field transformed from one of individual inventors and infinite possibility to one defined by tightly set standards, rigid expectations, and an unprecedented symbiotic relationship with the federal government. This new project uses aviation as a lens to address how legitimacy is bestowed or denied to individuals and groups, the way emerging technologies shift from open access to a more exclusive corporate structure within America’s capitalist system, and the role of the U.S. government in the promotion, development, and control of dual-use technologies (devices with both civil and military implications).


Ph.D., History, Auburn University

Research Interests

  • History of technology
  • Aviation
  • Regulation
  • International relations
  • Automobility, political economy

Selected Publications

Seyer, Sean. Sovereign Skies: The Origins of American Civil Aviation Policy. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2021.
Seyer, Sean. “Review of Taking Flight: The Foundations of American Commercial Aviation, 1918-1938.” The Journal of Arizona History, 2019, pp. 366–69.
Seyer, Sean. “Review of Barnstorming the Prairies: How Aerial Vision Shaped the Midwest.” American Studies Journal, July 2019.
“Walking the Line – The International Origins of Civil Aviation Regulation in Canada.” Scientia Canadensis , 2015.

Selected Presentations

Seyer, S. (3/25/2020 - 3/27/2020). Competitive Allies: Patents and the U.S.-British Struggle for Interwar Aeronautical Dominance. The Role of Sharing and Denying Knowledge in International Relations since World War I. Georgetown University (cancelled due to Covid-19)
Seyer, S. (10/24/2019 - 10/27/2019). Patents as Protection: "Saving" the Postwar American Aircraft Industry. Society for the History of Technology Annual Conference. Milan, Italy
(6/20/2019 - 6/22/2019). The British Aerial Invasion: The Manufacturers Aircraft Association’s Struggle to Prevent the Dumping of British Aircraft, 1919-1922. Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations Annual Conference. Washington, D.C
(4/13/2019). The British (Aircraft) are Coming! Protecting the Postwar American Aircraft Industry, 1919-1922. Midwest Junto for the History of Science. Linda Hall Library, Kansas City, MO
(6/21/2018 - 6/23/2018). The Limits of Independent Internationalism: The Panama Canal, the Pan American Union, and the 1928 Pan American Convention on Commercial Aviation. Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations Annual Conference. Philadelphia, PA
(10/27/2017). A Monroe Doctrine of the Air?: The United States and the 1928 Havana Convention. Society for the History of Technology Annual Conference. Philadelphia, PN
(1/8/2017). Harmonization in the Absence of Official Adherence: The Postwar Diffusion of International Regulatory Standards into the United States. American Historical Association Annual Conference. Denver, CO
(6/3/2016). Rules of the Air: The U.S. Adoption of International Operational and Registrational Aeronautical Standards, 1919-1928. Policy History Conference. Nashville, TN
(11/8/2015). The Tension between Imperial Unity and Technological Practicality: Canada and the 1919 Convention Relating to the Regulation of Aerial Navigation. Canadian Science and Technology Historical Association Biennial Conference. Toronto, Ontario,
(10/10/2015). The Power of an Unratified Convention: Regulating Aviation before the Air Commerce Act. Society for the History of Technology Annual Conference. Albuquerque, NM
(3/3/2015 - 3/4/2015). The NACA and the ICAN: Laying the Ideological Foundation for Federal Regulation. The NACA Centenary: 100 Years of Aerospace Research and Development, National Air and Space Museum. Washington, DC
(11/6/2014 - 11/8/2014). World War I, the Wilson Administration, and the 1926 Air Commerce Act. Paper presented at The Great War, a Hundred Years On: Origins, Lessons and Legacies of the First World War. Lawrenceville, GA
Seyer, S. (6/19/2014 - 6/21/2014). The Insidious Nature of Global Technological Regimes: The United States, Canada, and the Convention Relating to the Regulation of Aerial Navigation. Paper presented at the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations Annual Conference. Lexington, KY
Seyer, S. (10/12/2013). The Automobile, the Airplane, and the Constitution: Charles T. Terry, William P. MacCracken, Jr., and the Regulation of Emerging Technologies. Paper presented at the Society for the History of Technology Annual Conference. Portland, ME

Selected Grants

Dave Abrams and Gene Banning Pan American Research Grant. The Pan Am Historical Foundation. (5/1/2017 - 5/31/2017). Foundation. Status: Funded
Smithsonian Postdoctoral Fellowship. National Air and Space Museum. (5/15/2014 - 8/31/2015). Federal. Status: Funded
William R. Castle Jr. Memorial Fellowship. Herbert Hoover Presidential Association. (12/31/2013). Foundation. Status: Funded

Selected Awards & Honors

Dave Abrams and Gene Banning Pan American Research Grant
The Pan Am Historical Foundation
Smithsonian Postdoctoral Fellowship
National Air and Space Museum
2014 - 2015
William R. Castle, Jr. Memorial Fellowship
Herbert Hoover Presidential Association

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