"California Exposures: Envisioning Myth and History"

Tue October 6th 2020, 2:00 - 3:00pm
Event Sponsor
The Bill Lane Center for the American West
Admission Information

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ArtsWest— "California Exposures: Envisioning Myth and History"

Stanford historian Richard White partners with his son, photographer Jesse Amble White. 

From the publisher:

“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” This indelible quote from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance applies especially well to California, where legend has so thoroughly become fact that it is visible in everyday landscapes. Our foremost historian of the West, Richard White, never content to “print the legend,” collaborates here with his son, a talented photographer, in excavating the layers of legend built into California’s landscapes. Together they expose the bedrock of the past, and the history they uncover is astonishing.

Jesse White’s evocative photographs illustrate the sites of Richard’s historical investigations. A vista of Drakes Estero conjures the darkly amusing story of the Drake Navigators Guild and its dubious efforts to establish an Anglo-Saxon heritage for California. The restored Spanish missions of Los Angeles frame another origin story in which California’s native inhabitants, civilized through contact with friars, gift their territories to white settlers. But the history is not so placid. A quiet riverside park in the Tulare Lake Basin belies scenes of horror from when settlers in the 1850s transformed native homelands into American property. Near the lake bed stands a small marker commemorating the Mussel Slough massacre, the culmination of a violent struggle over land titles between local farmers and the Southern Pacific Railroad in the 1870s. Tulare is today a fertile agricultural county, but its population is poor and unhealthy. The California Dream lives elsewhere. The lake itself disappeared when tributary rivers were rerouted to deliver government-subsidized water to big agriculture and cities. But climate change ensures that it will be back―the only question is when."

The event will be moderated by David Kennedy, founding co-director of the Bill Lane Center.

About the Speakers

Color headshot of Prof. Richard White

Richard White
Margaret Byrne Professor of History, Emeritus, Stanford University

Richard White is an historian of the United States specializing in the American West, the history of capitalism, environmental history, history and memory, and Native American history.  His work has occasionally spilled over into Mexico, Canada, France, Australia and Ireland.

He is a MacArthur Fellow and a recipient of the Mellon Distinguished Professor Award.  His work has won numerous academic prizes, and he has twice been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.



Color headshot of Jesse Amble White

Jesse Amble White

White is a landscape and documentary photographer.







About the Moderator

David M. Kennedy

David Kennedy
Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History Emeritus, Stanford University

Reflecting his interdisciplinary training in American Studies, which combined the fields of history, literature, and economics, Professor Kennedy’s scholarship is notable for its integration of economic and cultural analysis with social and political history. His 1970 book, Birth Control in America: The Career of Margaret Sanger, embraced the medical, legal, political, and religious dimensions of the subject and helped to pioneer the emerging field of women’s history. Over Here: The First World War and American Society (1980) used the history of American involvement in World War I to analyze the American political system, economy, and culture in the early twentieth century. Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War (1999) recounts the history of the United States in the two great crises of the Great Depression and World War II.


(Cover image courtesy of Jesse Amble White.)