George and Ann RichardsCivil War Era Center

Colored Conventions
Sasha Coles

Sasha Coles

Assistant Teaching Professor of History
108 Weaver Building, University Park, PA 16802

I am a historian of the nineteenth-century United States with an interest in women and gender, religion, and capitalism in the American West. I received my training at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and worked at the University of Utah before joining Penn State as an Assistant Teaching Professor in August 2021.

My first book, tentatively titled Silk Country: Mormon Women’s Work, Transnational Trade, and the Capitalist Transformation of the American West, 1850s-1910s, focuses on the workers who fueled a silk industry in western Latter-day Saint (or Mormon) settlements. Women are at the center of this story. They planted mulberry trees, raised silkworms, and reeled thread with the hopes of producing silk goods of a high-enough quality to use and sell. By most measurements, they failed. Even so, my work sheds light on how this “home industry” endured for over 50 years because it provided these workers with a venue to make their own money, intervene in global markets, manage the strains of industrial capitalism, and understand ever-changing environmental conditions. In these and other ways, Mormon women’s economic activities helped resolve tensions between cooperation and competition, market isolation and integration, and religious exceptionalism and American belonging. Some of these findings appear in the Fall 2021 issue of the Journal of Women’s History.

This research has received support from the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies, the Coalition for Western Women’s History, the Mormon History Association, the Tanner Humanities Center at the University of Utah, and the Huntington Library.

I am a passionate researcher. I am also an active public history practitioner. In December 2017, I founded the Enchanted Archives, a digital public history platform that uncovers the historical roots of Disney park food, aesthetics, and attractions. While waiting in line for rides and walking around the parks, users can learn about the real pirates of the Caribbean, the global roots of gumbo recipes, and the LGBTQ+ authors behind some of Disney’s most beloved films, for example. The 24 essays and two walking tours on the platform offer a new layer of storytelling to the Disney park experience. In January 2021, a Smithsonian Magazine article used an Enchanted Archives essay to make sense of planned changes to Disney’s Jungle Cruise attractions. I have presented this project at annual meetings of the Western History Association, the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association, and the National Council on Public History.

My teaching record reflects this range of interests. Before I came to Penn State, I taught US history, American women’s history, the history of the American West, and first-year composition. Now, I get to teach these classes and more, including world history and public history.


Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara, 2021
M.A., University of California, Santa Barbara, 2015
B.A., Arizona State University, 2013

Recent Publications:

“‘A Common Struggle for Refinement’: Mormon Women, Railroad Reconstruction, and the Politics of Respectability in Salt Lake City, 1869-1877,” Journal of Women’s History 33, no. 3 (Fall 2021): 36-60.

Recent Courses:

HIST 11: World Civilizations since 1500

HIST 20: American Civilization to 1877

HIST 112: Introduction to Public History

HIST/WMNST 117: Women in US History

Areas of Specialization: