Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Spotlighting the Use of Primary Sources in Teaching California

As the California Historical Society (CHS) moves forward with development on Teaching California, our state-funded initiative to offer schools and teachers classroom-ready instructional materials aligned with the new History-Social Science Framework, we’d like to spotlight the important primary source-driven philosophy of our project, and share some of the great examples that we’ve been incorporating in our content development.

In short, the new Framework is an instructional tool by which teachers can cover, and in some cases move beyond, the existing History-Social Science Standards for the state of California. Primary sources like this photo of Chinese citrus worker picking oranges in Santa Ana help answer grade-specific questions of significance, such as “Why do people move?” Students can explore how people moved from place to place, while reflecting on their own family experiences. Picking Oranges at Santa Ana, circa 1890s; General Subjects Photograph Collection-Agriculture; California Historical Society

Examining primary sources, original documents and objects created at the time of study can be an engaging, meaningful, and rigorous way for students to connect to the past. Primary sources give students the ability to trace continuity and change, foster personal connections to a larger narrative, and build deeper community connections. They also invite student inquiry and encourage students to wrestle with the complexities of differing points of view while learning crucial critical thinking and analysis skills. For teachers however, access to engaging and grade-appropriate primary sources is a challenge, and using primary sources in the classroom requires extensive training in historical thinking skills such as close analysis, sourcing, and historical context.

Cue the new Framework, which outlines a new inquiry-based model of instruction for California’s K-12 classrooms. Embedded within the Framework are grade-level examples of the types of primary sources that teachers can explore with their students to help address questions of historical significance. Importantly, California’s diversity is seen as an asset and, according to Deputy Superintendent of the California Department of Education Thomas Adams, “a new opportunity for inclusive instruction.” This opportunity is available in recommendations for primary source types—like photos, letters and objects—that are not only engaging, but also inclusive. 

But while teachers responded positively to the Framework after its adoption by the California Department of Education in 2016, they also expressed the strong need for access to the type of engaging and relevant primary sources outlined in its pages, organized to easily address the new inquiry-based model. 

This need will shape the new collection of classroom-ready instructional materials we create for the project, which will be free and accessible to teachers in Summer 2019 on teachingcalifornia,org. Never-before-seen primary source material, much from CHS’s collections, will lead the student exploration and discovery of history through a uniquely California lens (when appropriate and relevant), and teachers will also find support in historical context, sourcing, and developing student literacy.

As the Framework details, primary sources speak to students’ own lives, heritages, and family identities, and in early grades can help students start developing a sense of history through their own family and community histories. This image of the Shorey family, from Oakland, California, can help students explore the Grade One Framework question, “How do families remember their past?” Capt. William T. Shorey and wife Julia Shelton, daughters Zenobia and Victoria, ca. 1910; Portraits Collection; California Historical Society. 

This example shows a men’s baseball team at San Juan Bautista, that can help Kindergarteners think through the question “What is our neighborhood like?” as they learn about living and working together now versus long ago. Men's baseball team, undated; California Counties Photograph Collection; PC-CO-San Benito; California Historical Society.

This is an example of an image that we may use for Grade One, which helps students think through the question, “How do many different people make one nation?” as students explore the ways in which Native Californians and immigrants have helped define Californian and American culture. Washoe Indians--The Chief's Family; Stereographs of California and Nevada; PC-RM-Stereos; California Historical Society

This photograph from our collections can help address the Framework question, “What have been the costs of the decisions of people in the past?” as students explore the cost of logging or preserving the natural environment. Big Tree, 22 ft. in diameter, Jas. Brown's Claim, Humboldt Co., California; California Counties Photography Collection; PC-CO; California Historical Society

Our content development partners on Teaching California, The California History-Social Science Project (CHSSP), are current members of the Library of Congress’ Teaching With Primary Sources (TPS) Consortium, a group of institutions across the country who help deliver TPS professional development, design curriculum using primary sources from the Library’s collections and/or conduct research on the classroom use of primary sources. This week, I am fortunate to accompany CHSSP on their annual TPS meeting in Washington DC, and learn from and with those working at the forefront of primary source-led instruction in the classroom. Opportunities like this, as well as further engagement with teachers throughout our development process, will help us continue providing access to primary sources in a way that is not only useful for teachers in the classroom, but will help do our part to shift the pattern of history-social science instruction.


This post was written by Kerri Young, Teaching California Project Manager at the California Historical Society.

Funded by a $5 million grant from the State Department of Education to the California Historical Society, Teaching California offers schools and teachers classroom-ready instructional materials designed to engage students in exciting and inspiring investigations of the past. Comprised of curated primary source material from California's premier archives, libraries, and museums, this program provides a research-based approach to improve student reading, writing, critical thinking and civic engagement, all aligned with the State’s new K-12 History-Social Science Framework. For everything you need to know about the new Framework, visit CHSSP’s useful blog here.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Celebrating Women's Stories During National Hispanic Heritage Month

Each year, starting on September 15 and continuing for 30 days, the history, culture, and contributions of those whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America is celebrated during National Hispanic Heritage Month. The date of September 15 is significant because it marks the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Mexico and Chile celebrate independence on September 16 and 18, respectively.

In honor of this important month, we dug into our archives to explore some of the incredible stories and individuals that enliven our state’s history. One of these characters is Hipolita Orendain de Medina (c.1847-c.1922), a Mexican-born San Franciscan socialite and author, whose portraits, correspondence, and miscellaneous materials are part of the CHS collection.

Early in her life, Hipolita moved to San Francisco with her her sister, Virginia, and their widowed mother, Francisca Tejada de Orendain. According to family tradition, Francisca inherited a fortune from her late husband, Jesus Orendain, who owned a Mexican silver mine. She invested her wealth in Oakland waterfront property, married Virginia native Humphrey Marshall, and provided financial support to a company of men fighting to liberate Mexico from French rule. Marshall died in the American Civil War, and the Orendain family lost much of their fortune. To help support the family, Hipolita and her sister Virginia worked as dressmakers in San Francisco.
In October 1869, Hipolita married Emilio (or Emigdio) Medina, a professional musician, diplomat, and editor of the Spanish-language newspaper La Republica. Emilio was sent by the President of Mexico to Europe, South America, and beyond to help forge a closer relationship between the United States and Spanish speaking countries. Together, Hipolita and Emilio had four daughters, Josefina, Virginia, Zarina, and Mercedes. In 1880, the couple separated, and later Hipolita referred to herself as a widow. She died circa 1922, and was buried in Los Angeles.
Francisca Tejada de Orendain and daughters, Hipolita and Virginia, Portraits from the Hipolita Orendain de Medina correspondence and miscellany, MSP 1441

The Hipolita Orendain de Medina collection offers a glimpse into the domestic, cultural, and political life of a cosmopolitan, multilingual community of native Californios and Latino immigrants in San Francisco in the second half of the nineteenth century. The personal notebooks, letters, poems, sheet music, cards, photographs, and other remembrances are full of delightful tidbits that provide an intimate glimpse into the life of a woman who was clearly revered and respected by the many with whom she came into contact. In our collection, we see many loving letters and photographs from visitors addressing her as friend.

The following journal entries are from Hipolita’s personal notebook:
[Notebook, undated]; Hipolita Orendain de Medina correspondence and miscellany, MS 1441; Box 1, folder 4; California Historical Society.

English translation:
I will be severe with myself
Duty is a moral monster; everytime one does not fulfill one’s moral duty, one does not fulfill the others either

[Notebook, undated]; Hipolita Orendain de Medina correspondence and miscellany, MS 1441; Box 1, folder 4; California Historical Society.

English translation:

Neither all the sorrows nor all the happiness on earth can tear us apart; perhaps it is a defect (…), because (...) you will offer your soul and will pursue between the space left by pain and they will always be there (...)

Perfect happiness derives only from virtue
The collection also gives insight into the political and historical forces that were influential at the time – references to the Franco-Mexican War and Mexican and Latin American nationalism abound.

Below is an excerpt from a hymn titled “Hymn to Zaragoza” written by Hipolita’s husband, Emilio Medina. Below the image of the original newspaper clipping of the hymn in Spanish are two stanzas translated in English.

Himno a Zaragoza, May 4, 1879; Hipolita Orendain de Medina correspondence and miscellany, MS 1441; Box 1, folder 3; California Historical Society.

Himno a Zaragoza – Hymn to Zaragoza

Of Hidalgo the beloved homeland

Admiringly contemplates your footprints,

And history in its beautiful pages

There inscribed you with eternal burin

Because you are the comet that shines

In the pure sapphire of sky

You, the flower that perfumes the ground

You, the brave and gentle warrior

Your memory is the sacred fire

That lifts the sons of Mexico

And in darkest hour of torment

Your invoked name is heard:

Its influence reanimates them,

Your name kindles their chests

And your clean fame is written

In the sky, in the air, and the sea.

--Translated by Lynda Letona


While their writings express different preoccupations, there is a poetic quality to them that invoke a force greater than ourselves and a sense of duty as a rigorous journey that elevates the human spirit.


Notebook, undated; Hipolita Orendain de Medina correspondence and miscellany, MS 1441; Box 1, folder 4; California Historical Society.

Himno a Zaragoza, May 4, 1879; Hipolita Orendain de Medina correspondence and miscellany, MS 1441; Box 1, folder 3; California Historical Society.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Looking at Hollywoodland and How Photography Shaped Los Angeles and San Francisco

Here at the California Historical Society, we’ve been busy installing the upcoming exhibition Boomtowns: How Photography Shaped Los Angeles and San Francisco. Drawn from CHS’s extensive photography holdings, the show looks back at the first one hundred years of photography in San Francisco and Los Angeles to consider how the medium shaped both our impressions of these cities and the bricks and mortar of the cities themselves.

The new medium of photography arrived in California just in time to witness the state’s dramatic, and often violent and inequitable, transformation at the hands of Americans. But photographs do not simply bear witness to events unfolding before the camera: they also interpret these events and imbue them with meaning. Sometimes subtle compositional choices can convey complex attitudes and ideas. Consider, for example, this photograph of the original “Hollywoodland” sign, taken by an unknown photographer in Los Angeles circa 1924–29 (fig. 1). At first glance, it seems straightforward—an objective record of what Hollywood looked like before it was fully developed, and before the “land” was dropped from its name. But it has so much more to say.
Photographer unknown, Hollywoodland, c. 1924-29. Gelatin silver print. California Historical Society.
Let’s look closely at the composition. To make this image, the photographer was likely standing on a dirt bluff adjacent to a newly built road. This might seem like an innocuous detail, but it prompts the question: Why didn’t they shoot from a closer vantage? Why show the sign so far in the distance, with the vast valley sprawling out before them? We may never know for sure, but the viewpoint conveys a burgeoning city rife with potential for developers, industrialists, and new residents. In the foreground, the out-of-focus shrubs and undeveloped land suggest that the region is wild and uninhabited, and thus ready to be built up. At the same time, the newly built roads weaving through the frame, and the small number of impressive houses being constructed throughout, convey that the city is not without infrastructure. Come to Hollywoodland, the image seems to say, and be a part of the exciting changes already taking place.

In the 1920s, a syndicate of developers, including Harry Chandler of the Los Angeles Times, planned a subdivision in the hills above Beachwood Canyon near Griffith Park. Anticipating that the Mulholland Highway, then under construction, would eventually connect to the site, the group erected what was meant to be a temporary fifty-foot-high sign across the top of Mount Lee advertising the development. It would become, after the last four letters were removed in 1949, one of the most iconic landmarks in the world. Laborers with steam shovels graded roads connecting the neighborhood’s streets with Mulholland Drive. Photographs much like this one appeared in real estate brochures, suggesting that this picture may have been taken to appeal to developers or to sell homes.

In photography, what is not pictured can often be as revealing as what is. The perception of Los Angeles as an empty canvas required obfuscating any signs of an indigenous history, despite the fact that the region had been occupied by humans for more than ten thousand years. This myth of Los Angeles as an empty canvas is propagated by our Hollywoodland image, which suggests that these newly built houses—and the bright white sign watching over them—are the first-ever human marks on the chaparral-covered land. Similarly, the storybook homes dotting the wooded canyons, designed in the Spanish, French, and English styles, imply that Los Angeles emerged as if from a fairy tale. All of this smooths over the turbulent and often violent events underlying the region’s development, which involved unchecked violence by Anglos against Mexicans, Native Americans, and Chinese.

Belying the grotesque social realities of the day, this image would have come across as nostalgic, evoking the pastoral rusticity of an imagined Spanish past. But look closely and you can see how it, like so many other photographs in Boomtowns, reveals that nothing about the construction of California’s cities was inevitable. They were built and rebuilt by labor, force of will, profit imperatives, and the frame of the camera. We encourage you to visit this exciting exhibition in person, and see what a crucial role the camera played in building our state.

Boomtowns: How Photography Shaped Los Angeles and San Francisco runs October 12 and March 10, 2018.  

by Natalie Pellolio, Assistant Curator, and Erin Garcia, Managing Curator of Exhibitions

Cultural Heritage and Its Role in Climate Change

Last month, San Francisco hosted the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) and, in doing so, took center stage in the conversation surrounding climate change, the role that we play in it, and how we might move forward to uphold the historic Paris Agreement, despite a federal government that has officially withdrawn the United States from the agreement. The main goal of the summit was to inspire a global commitment on regional and local levels to cut carbon emissions and it came right on the heels of California Governor Jerry Brown committing California to total carbon neutrality by 2045 as well as for 100 percent of the state’s electricity to come from carbon-free sources by that same year.

As leaders, activists, and scientists from all over the world assembled in the Yerba Buena neighborhood of San Francisco to launch the summit, an equally passionate group with a mission to mobilize the cultural heritage and historic preservation sectors for climate action gathered in the California Historical Society galleries for an offshoot event: the Climate Heritage Mobilization. As part of that event, a diverse group of government and tribal leaders, architects, archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, conservators, and other heritage professionals discussed strategies for preserving cultural and historic sites threatened by climate change as well as the role of cultural organizations in carbon mitigation, climate finance, adaptation, and loss and destruction.

The Climate Heritage Mobilization’s day-long conversation culminated in an open event at the Old U.S. Mint where tours were offered throughout the evening. The Old U.S. Mint first opened in 1874 as an official repository for the U.S.’s gold reserves and to serve a burgeoning state and local economy. It is one of the only buildings to survive the 1906 earthquake and has been designated a National Historic Landmark and a California Historic Landmark.  The current effort to restore and preserve this historically significant piece of California history is being spearheaded by a partnership between CHS and the City of San Francisco.

Restoring and preserving the Old Mint is important to CHS because we believe that historic preservation is about more than just keeping old buildings around—it saves the physical places that tell stories about what happened in the past. These places connect us to the events and diverse peoples that came before us and help create modern communities that thrive with meaning and purpose. Historic preservation helps to keep these buildings and sites vibrant, in use, and relevant to the communities that they exist within; it’s also good for the environment.
Construction of U.S. Mint, taken from roof of Lincoln School looking S.W., San Francisco, 1873
The greenest building is the one that’s already built. A recent study from National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Research & Policy Lab concluded that building reuse almost always offers environmental savings (between 4 and 46 percent) over demolition and new construction, regardless of the building type and climate. It takes energy and resources to construct a new building – it saves energy and resources to preserve an old one. In addition, old buildings can be retrofitted to make them more energy efficient and sustainable than they might have been in their original form.

We were honored to have had the opportunity to host the Climate Heritage Mobilization summit during a week that encouraged widespread conversation about climate and the culture and heritage industry’s role in protecting the place we all call home. 
by Katie Peeler