Out West student blog

Discovering a Forgotten City

Jacob Kuppermann photographing historical maps of San Francisco at the California Historical Society. (photo credit: Emily Clark).

By Jacob Kuppermann '20

Hometown: Laguna Beach, California
Resilient Landscapes Program Intern, San Francisco Estuary Institute

Why did you want to do this internship?

In my time at Stanford, I've pursued two separate academic interests: ecological science and history. In prior summers, I've done ecology fieldwork in the American Southwest, and I've done plenty of archival work of Stanford. I wanted to work at the San Francisco Estuary Institue (SFEI) this summer because their approach would allow me to combine those two academic interests and also do something practical and public-facing with them.

How does your role support the host organization's mission?

The institute works on a project-based model: we partner with other organizations that help fund specific research inquiries into different ecosystems. I'm able to help out on whatever projects need a bit of extra legwork and effort, moving between them fluidly.

How would you describe one of the projects you will be working on this summer?

My main project is called "Hidden Nature San Francisco," and it involves a deep, multi-faceted dive into the ecological history of the city of San Francisco. This is a harder task than it may seem on the surface—San Francisco has been fairly urbanized since 1849, and records from the Spanish and Ohlone periods are spotty. But through use of historical maps, written records, and even paintings, we can gain a picture of the physical nature of the city as far back as the early 1800s. I'm also using a database of every animal species found in the city from 1800 onwards, from common birds like Anna's Hummingbird to more exotic creatures like the Bison that lived in the Golden Gate Park zoo, to help tell the story of animal life in the city.

How does this project relate to your studies and/or career goals?

I never thought that my two major academic interests would be so easy to bring together, but SFEI has made the two feel like natural fits—I feel like just as much of a scientist when I'm looking at archival data in person, and just as much of a historian when I'm analyzing our database of species occurrences.

Has anything surprised you about the work, the organization, or the environment?

Working with a group of highly motivated, detail-oriented people with a passion for historical ecology has been even more wonderful than I expected.

A map of San Francisco from the 1858 United States Coast Survey.


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