Monday, July 2, 2018

Designing for our audiences in Teaching California

The California Historical Society (CHS) and its partners at The California History and Social Science Project (CHSSP) have the unique opportunity, thanks to a substantial grant from the state’s Department of Education, to develop Teaching California, a free K-12 online curriculum that puts California’s archives at the center of student investigation into the past. Crucial to this initiative will be taking a co-designing approach with the audiences we want to engage, so that what is created is as discoverable and widely-used by those audiences as possible.

Brainstorming Teaching California audiences in an internal session at CHS in early April. Questions explored included: Who are the people or groups reached directly by Teaching California? Which are more peripherally relevant but still stand to benefit from what we create?

When embarking on a user-centered design approach, the first step is to identify and gain empathy for your users. For our project team, this meant making our implicit primary audiences explicit and discussing the range of periphery audiences who stand to benefit from what we create.

On April 25th, CHS and CHSSP teammates met for a session to do just that and to determine what success for those audiences might look like as we plan for website development. CHSSP, based out of the University of California at Davis, are teacher professional development experts and the primary authors of the state’s recently adopted History and Social Science Framework, which provides the foundation for our content work on Teaching California.

The CHS and CHSSP teams reviewing Teaching California primary, secondary, and tertiary audiences and what signifies success for those audiences at an all-hands-on-deck session on April 25th, 2018.

While teachers unsurprisingly emerged as a core primary audience, the California County Offices of Education also emerged as primary audiences for what will be a crucial role in project dissemination to local teachers. And we could not forget that Teaching California will be important to the growth and development of both the CHSSP and CHS organizations, who will also serve as important primary audiences. This was a fun and productive session and our group cycled through many self-adhesive flipcharts!

Following this session, we worked with CHSSP to develop basic user profiles for the primary audiences we identified. User profiles acts as a cursory audience examination, allowing a project team to think more holistically about a project and to start to tie ‘why’ a project is being developed together with ‘whom’ it is being developed for. While we will have the opportunity to continue a more in-depth audience analysis in the coming months, this exercise allowed us to scope out the basic needs and motivations of those we will be designing for.

An excerpt of the questions we explored to form our user profiles.

As we aim for statewide reach for Teaching California, which we hope will help spur Framework adoption across all corners of the state, identifying our audiences has helped our CHS website design team address some important challenges including: How can we create an online resource for the diverse California school communities teachers serve, and how can we co-design with them throughout the project to continue addressing needs? 

We are looking forward to continuing to develop out our process for co-designing for our audiences, so follow along with our progress here!

The California Historical Society is working in partnership with the California History-Social Science Project (CHSSP) at UC Davis to establish and implement Teaching California: a free and expansive online set of instructional materials to support the State’s new K-12 History-Social Science Framework. Comprised of curated primary source material from California's premier archives, libraries, and museums. Teaching California presents a research-based approach to improving student reading, writing, and critical thinking.  This post comes from Kerri Young, Teaching California Project Manager. You can reach out to her at

Friday, June 1, 2018

Event recap: Rolling out California's new History and Social Science Framework in Sonoma

CHSSP's Statewide office team and Teaching California Project Manager Kerri in front of the day's schedule, May 22nd, 2018. Left to right: Tuyen Tran (CHSSP), Nancy McTygue (CHSSP), Kerri Young (CHS), Beth Slutsky (CHSSP).

On May 22nd, our friends and partners at the California History and Social Science Project (CHSSP) invited us to attend a local conference at Sonoma State University, part of series they are doing to promote California's new History and Social Science Framework. The CHSSP served as the primary writers of the new Framework, adopted by the State Board of Education in 2016, which outlines an instructional approach that promotes student-centered inquiry and encourages students to develop clear and persuasive arguments based on their own interpretations of the past, using relevant evidence. While the history and social science standards for California provide the “what” of an instructional program (unchanged), the Framework helps flesh out the “how (new!)”

CHSSP Director Nancy giving the day's opening address. She was joined onstage by Michelle Herczog of the Los Angeles County Office of Education (far left), and Kristin Cruz Allen of the California Department of Education.

As we continue to work with CHSSP to create and implement Teaching California, this was an opportunity to dig into the important instructional shifts that inform the content development work we are doing. With its emphasis on content, inquiry, literacy, and citizenship, the Framework, and by extension our project, will offer students the opportunity to learn about the world and their place in it, think critically, read, write, and communicate clearly, all through a uniquely California lens.

Our Reference Librarian, Frances Kaplan, and I attended multiple sessions, learning about as many sections of the Framework as we could. From the new FAIR Education Act's role in the new Framework rollout, to the ways Ethnic Studies, Literacy, and US History content are articulated, there was a lot to learn!

CHS Reference Librarian Frances Kaplan (right), with Molly Snider from Mendocino's California Office of Education. Molly hosted a session we attended focusing on K-5 Inquiry, and the importance of introducing students to primary sources at an early age.

As Teaching California's Project Manager, it was fantastic to get a closer look at the monumental effort that was the writing and adopting of the Framework, as well as having the opportunity to speak with local K-12 teachers and administrators. We were very inspired learning about the ways they are already helping students learn inquiry, literacy, and citizenship in the classroom, and how the new Framework will help better guide and build upon the work that they are already championing in their schools. Further, all were excited at the prospect of incorporating these skills into the history and social science curriculum as early as Kindergarten, a shift in approach that builds capacity even before students enter middle school.

In a session about how Ethnic Studies is articulated in the Framework, participants were asked to consider California's ethnic makeup and how that compares with the rest of the country. We discussed how the Framework can help teachers, according to CHSSP Site Director Rachel Reinhard, bring their students' "full cultural self to the classroom space."

But for many teachers, Framework implementation does not come without its fair share of challenges, including in many cases the lack of up-to-date textbooks, or starting out as the sole champion of the Framework at his or her school and faced with the task of building capacity in a strategic and resourceful way. Hearing these comments, it was heartening to know that Teaching California will be able to fill a crucial need by providing free and online resources for teachers to more easily implement the Framework in their local areas.

Handouts from the day. 

A lovely day at Sonoma State's Student Center. 

For more information about California's new History and Social Science Framework, visit CHSSP's website at and the California Department of Education’s Framework page at

Stay tuned for more on Teaching California here soon!

The California Historical Society is working in partnership with the California History-Social Science Project (CHSSP) at UC Davis to establish and implement Teaching California: a free and expansive online set of instructional materials to support the State’s new K-12 History-Social Science Framework. Comprised of curated primary source material from California's premier archives, libraries, and museums, Teaching California presents a research-based approach to improving student reading, writing, and critical thinking. This post comes from Kerri Young, Teaching California Project Manager. You can reach out to her at 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Libraries Lead: Showcasing the North Baker Research Library’s collections

The role of the research library in a special collections archive often poses a problem: how do we support access to our collections when we are open limited days, and when, in order to protect and preserve our often fragile materials, collections cannot leave our reading room?

Here at the California Historical Society, we know that to succeed in our mission of making our State’s history part of the lives of contemporary Californians, we needed to make our collections accessible in ways that went beyond the traditional reference library. By including our unique materials in exhibitions and public programs, in publications and on social media, we are able to provide people far greater, and more varied, opportunities to interact with the wonderful photographs, manuscripts, maps, and rare books that make up our collections.

Here is a glimpse into some of the projects staff are working on currently:

Thursday, March 1, 2018

#onthisday 50 years ago, the East L.A. Walkouts Began

#Onthisday 50 years ago, the influential East L.A. School Walkouts (Blowouts) began, transforming the Chicano movement in Los Angeles. 

Over two weeks, tens of thousands of young Latino students took to the streets to protest conditions in their schools on the East Los Angeles. In many ways, the walkouts (primarily at Wilson, Roosevelt, Garfield, Belmont and Lincoln high schools) were the first public display of an urban Chicano rights movement that had begun among California farm workers in the previous several years. The walkouts were the first mass mobilization of Mexican-Americans in Southern California. 

The East L.A. Walkouts and their impact are being remembered through over the next couple of weeks in a range of ways, from conferences to news articles. See some of these efforts below

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Who Tells Your Story? California Historical Society Extends Exhibitions about Colonial Histories on the East and West Coasts

The California Historical Society (CHS) has announced that it will extend its current exhibitions--- bringing the complex story of Alexander Hamilton to San Francisco as part of an initiative showcasing two versions of the United States’ colonial history: English and Spanish---through March 18th!

The cornerstone of this historical presentation are two simultaneous exhibitions, Alexander Hamilton: Treasures from the New-York Historical Society, which examines the life and prolific career of now-popular American statesman Alexander Hamilton (c. 1755–1804) and his lasting influence on shaping the foundation of the modern United States, and Meanwhile Out West: Colonizing California, 17691821, which explores Spanish Colonial California during the period of Hamilton’s life. 

Together, these two exhibitions present, side-by-side, two versions of the United States’ colonial history, British and Spanish. Realigning the frame of American history beyond the revolutionary thirteen colonies, symbolized by the story of Alexander Hamilton, we include the complicated Spanish colonial and Native Californian world along the Pacific Coast. In doing so, the exhibitions implicitly ask the questions: Who tells the story of the United States? Who tells the story of California?

The exhibitions are on view through March 18, 2018 at the California Historical Society, 678 Mission Street, San Francisco, .

Friday, December 8, 2017

The First Red Scare

The first red scare occurred not in the 1950s but two centuries earlier.  In the midst of the Seven Years’ War, Spain faced a new and unexpected threat from the Pacific Northwest: The Russians.  “The Muscovites in California?” asked one Franciscan, with mock incredulity.  “Yes. The very same.”[1]  The Russian menace, he argued, was no joke. 

The scare originated in news of Russian expansion into Alaska.  Russian fur trappers, known as promyshlenniki, had recently crossed the Bering Strait in search of sea otter pelts and were now somewhere in America – but where exactly?   Spain’s knowledge of the Pacific Northwest was so poor that no one could be sure exactly how close the Russians were to the heart of New Spain and its capital, Mexico City.  

The alarm of Spanish officials was made worse by their stubborn belief that a river as large as the Mississippi must empty into the Pacific somewhere along the California coast.  Whichever European power possessed it would be able to seize control of the American West and, eventually, of northern New Spain.  In 1760, Mikhail Lomonosov, described by one scholar as a Russian da Vinci who could do everything but paint, captured the spirit of the times:

Russian Columbuses, scorning sullen Fate,
Through the ice will open a new way to the East,
And our power will reach as far as America.

A few years later, Pedro Calderón y Henríquez, a high-ranking judge who had served for many years in the Philippines, illustrated the Russian menace on a map, which he forwarded to one of the king’s most powerful ministers.  This marvelous product of geographic ignorance and imperial anxiety now sits in the collections of the California Historical Society. 

Even by the standards of the time, the map was wildly inaccurate and uninformed. “Tartary of the Muscovites,” or Kamchatka, hangs menacingly over the Pacific Ocean and appears as large as the entire North American coast from the tip of Baja California up to the Russian discoveries.  The details are even more bizarre.  Calderón plotted the Aleutians in a straight line between Kamchatka and Mendocino, California.  He labeled the easternmost island “Tukoskoi” (confusing it with Siberia’s Chukchi Peninsula) and placed it a mere seventy-five miles from Cape Mendocino.  As a result, the Russians appeared to have stepping stones leading directly from Kamchatka to Spanish California.  Arriving in the vicinity of Mendocino, he wrote, they would find a “very copious river.”  “By this river,” he warned, “they can have access to New Mexico or the lakes along the course of the St. Lawrence River, both of which are of the greatest importance.”

In the age of Google Maps, European ignorance of American geography seems comical, yet it had serious consequences for the two hundred thousand people who lived along the West Coast at the time.  Spurred by the red scare, Spain pushed into California, establishing a string of presidios from San Diego (1769) up to San Francisco (1776) and setting in motion an invasion of missionaries, soldiers, livestock, and viruses that devastated indigenous communities and reduced individuals to starvation.

Though California’s Spanish period is well-documented, Patriots and Red Coats on the East Coast still predominate in narratives of American history. California history tells a different story from that of the hard-fought but triumphal march to independence – one of interdependence.  Calderón’s map opens a window onto the foreign nations and distant state administrators, global trade, and macro and microbiota that remade the lives of Californians in the eighteenth century.  In the age of climate change, globalization, and invasive species, it is a history that has never seemed more relevant.

by Claudio Saunt
Author of West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776


Claudio Saunt at CHS!

As part of its special end-of-year bookstore programming, Dr. Claudio Saunt will be at CHS on December 21 discussing his book, West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776.

To register for this event, click HERE.

[1] Giuseppe Torrubia, I Moscoviti nella California (Rome, 1759), 31-32.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Images of the California Gold Rush on exhibit at the San Francisco Opera

On November 21st, the San Francisco Opera presented the world premiere of Girls of the Golden West, by composer John Adams and director and librettist Peter Sellars. (The opera runs through December 10th.) Sellars’ libretto was inspired by primary sources, including the celebrated Gold Rush letters of Louise Clappe, which were published in 1854-55 under the pseudonym Dame Shirley. To many, the Shirley letters represent the pinnacle of Gold Rush literature.

Sadly, there is no known photograph of Dame Shirley extant. The California Historical Society Collection, however, includes stunning daguerreotype photographs documenting the cities, towns, and people of the California Gold Rush. Reproductions of some of these photographs are now on exhibit at the Opera House lobby—along with artifacts from the Collections of Levi Stauss & Co., the Museum of Performance + Design, and the Society of California Pioneers—through December 10th. Selections are presented below. 

Rosalía Vallejo de Leese, after 1847, photographer unknown, daguerreotype, courtesy, California Historical Society
Pictured in this exquisite tinted daguerreotype is a young Rosalía Vallejo de Leese, sister of Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo. Rosalía married the American trader Jacob Leese in 1837, making her one of the earliest non-Native residents of the pueblo of Yerba Buena, now San Francisco. Like many Native and Californio women, Rosalia lived through a period of traumatic change, beginning with the California Gold Rush. Leese later deserted Rosalía and her children, and, in an 1874 interview, Rosalía expressed her unrelenting hatred for the Anglo American intruders who first humiliated her family during the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846.

Women were not only the subjects of early California daguerreotype portraits, they were also photographers. According to photography historian Peter Palmquist, Rosalía’s niece Epifania "Fannie" de Guadalupe Vallejo may have been California's first photographer, acquiring a daguerreotype camera around 1847.  

San Francisco panorama [fifth panel], spring 1851, photographer unknown, daguerreotype, courtesy, California Historical Society
The invention of the daguerreotype was announced in Paris in 1839, only nine years before the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill. This new photographic process—which enjoyed a relatively short heyday between 1845 and 1860—coincided with the spectacular and disruptive boom that transformed San Francisco from a small Mexican pueblo into a modern metropolis.

Although photographers flocked to California during the Gold Rush, the California Historical Society’s seven-plate panorama is one of only six surviving daguerreotype panoramas of San Francisco. Standing on sand dunes now at the corner of First and Howard Streets, the unknown photographer captured a vivid urban tableau, from the clapboard houses of Happy Valley to the shipbuilding works at Rincon Point. A washerwoman can be spied in the fifth panel (shown above), sitting in the doorway of her shack as laundry flutters in the spring breeze.

Group of miners, circa 1850s, photographer unknown, daguerreotype, courtesy, California Historical Society
This full-plate portrait of a group of Gold Rush miners is one of the most spectacular and moving daguerreotypes in the California Historical Society Collection. Nine miners, perhaps forming a company, pose together in various attitudes of affection, insouciance, and camaraderie. Four of the men proudly display the tools of their trade, a shovel, pick, sluice box, and claim. 

Diamond Springs, El Dorado County, 1854, photographer unknown, daguerreotype, courtesy, California Historical Society
This daguerreotype of a street scene in Diamond Springs captures the look and feel of a young Gold Rush town. In addition to the offices of the Advocate newspaper and Wells Fargo & Co., many charming details are visible, including a broadside for a theatrical performance by the Bateman children. Eleven figures paused to pose for the shot; only one (to the left, leaning against a post) failed to remove his hat.

Marie Silva, Archivist & Manuscripts Librarian

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

#Onthisday in 1967, the first issue of Rolling Stone was published

With a publication date of November 9, 1967, the first issue of Rolling Stone hit the streets of San Francisco and beyond exactly 50 years ago. The world of rock music and cultural journalism as well as the counterculture would never be the same after the publication of the first issue. Under the leadership of youthful editor Jann Wenner, and guidance from music critic Ralph Gleason, Rolling Stone would soon become a media force that would transform the music and media industries and help catalyze an American youth culture as a distinct and powerful cohort with its own mores, interests, language and priorities. 

Published a month after the 'Summer of Love' unofficially ended in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, Wenner's publication's bold mission stated that the publication was "not just about music, but also about the things and attitudes that the music embraces."  With offices in an industrial building in San Francisco's SoMa District, Rolling Stone would remain a California-based publication until Wenner moved the magazine's offices to New York in 1977.

Jann Wenner in the original Rolling Stone office
Coinciding with the 50th Anniversary of the publication, a new biography on Wenner and documentary on Rolling Stone have focused attention on many aspects of the publication (and its editor) and its influence on American culture.  Of particular note, the new book on Wenner brings attention to the magazine's own history and how it was inspired by two California publications that get less attention than Wenner's magazine: Mojo Naviagtor R&R News, the West Coast's first rock and roll publication, and Ramparts, an aggressively political magazine published in Berkeley.

MoJo Naviagtor R&R News, CHS Collection

The debate on the legacy of Rolling Stone will surely continue on in the weeks, months and years to come, especially since the publication has been put up for sale.  What is undeniable is that the publication brilliantly captured a particular moment in California culture and history, and its distribution helped shape American popular culture starting in the late 1960s and 1970s. In some ways, it remains one of the most influential California exports over the past 50 years, and stands as yet another example of the Golden State's transformative influence on the culture of the United States.