H488 California History


Map of California as an island, by Joan Vinckeboons, ca. 1650, Library of Congress/ https://www.loc.gov/item/99443375/

PDF Version of Syllabus

Class Schedule


Paper Guide

Quizzes & Midterms

Califoria Maps



1-M.Kat Anderson, Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California's Natural Resources (2013) Oviatt Online

2-Stacey Smith, Freedom's Frontier: California and the Struggle over Unfree Labor, Emancipation, and Reconstruction (2013)

3-Ruth Milkman, LA Story (2006)

*An Assortment of Additional California readings




Fall 2019




It was a splendid population - for all the slow, sleepy, sluggish-brained sloths stayed at home - you never find that sort of people among pioneers - you cannot build pioneers out of that sort of material. It was that population that gave to California a name for getting up astounding enterprises and rushing them through with a magnificent dash and daring and a recklessness of cost or consequences, which she bears unto this day - and when she projects a new surprise the grave world smiles as usual and says, "Well, that is California all over.”

Mark Twain, Roughing It (1872)


. . . But not even the soft wash of dusk could help the houses. Only dynamite would be of any use against the Mexican ranch houses, Samoan huts, Mediterranean villas, Egyptian and Japanese temples, Swiss chalets, Tudor cottages, and every possible combination of these styles that lined the slopes of the canyon.

When he noticed that they were all of plaster, lath and paper, he was charitable and blamed their shape on the materials used. Steel, stone and brick curb a builder's fancy a little, forcing him to distribute his stresses and weights and to keep his corners plumb, but plaster and paper know no law, not even that of gravity.

On the corner of La Huerta Road was a miniature Rhine castle with tarpaper turrets pierced for archers. Next to it was a highly colored shack with domes and minarets out of the Arabian Nights. Again he was charitable. Both houses were comic, but he didn't laugh, their desire to startle was so eager and guileless.

Nathaniel West, The Day of the Locust (1939)



What is the (S)tate of California? Are we extraordinarily innovative, or especially imitative? Are we truly unique, or a mere reflection of the nation as a whole? Part of the West, or an extension of the East? What part of our State's identity is myth, and what part reality? We will chase down ideas about our "elusive Eden" by following shifting land and resource use, various cultural influences, and governing polities from the time of indigenous populations to the present. How have environmental, economic, social, and political forces molded California, and which of these do you consider most significant? What have been the economic contributions of California--the Gold Rush, WWII, "Silicon Valley"? To what extent has the state's economy become (more) global? What impact does California have on the world, and what impact has the world of immigrants and migrants had on California?

This is a survey class of California’s history, and the purpose is to gain a basic and broad understanding of California’s past, a past that is all around us, and it is also my hope that you will be able to observe traces of California's history in our local region. I encourage you, as you are able, to take hikes, visit local museums, and talk to people who have experienced our history. Share with us your discoveries, along with any interesting books or film/ video forms you may find. From hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains to visiting any on of the rich variety of museums, there are many ways to learn about California's past. Follow your curiosity.

*Readings from an assortment of wonderful books: Testimonios; Lands of Promise and Despair; American History Unbound: Asians and Pacific Islanders; The Indispensable Enemy; Barons of Labor; Orange Empire; American Babylon; Silicon Valley, Women, and the California Dream; What is in a Rim? Critical Perspectives on the Pacific Region Idea; The Coming White Minority: California, Multiculturalism, and America's Future.