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California History

The System of the River: Francis Newlands and the Improbable Quest to Irrigate the West

A new study detailing the life and policy contributions of Francis G. Newlands, one of the most important historical figures in the development of water use in the western United States. This exploration of Newlands' life and legacy by historian William Lilley III examines Newlands' contributions to early 19th century federal law, which initiated the vast irrigation system that waters the western United States to this day. 

"Cannery Row at 75" Virtual Event

Seventy five years ago, John Steinbeck wrote a brilliant little novel to entertain soldiers fighting in Europe and the Pacific during World War II. In it, he depicted the world of Monterey, California through the lens of a collection of male characters who lived on its margins. Less interesting for him, but equally compelling for us, were the mostly immigrant women who made up the workforce of the bustling fish canneries that were only alluded to in Steinbeck’s novel.

Jumping Track in Esparto: Fates and Futures of a Rural Train Town

Esparto, an unincorporated municipality in California’s Central Valley, could be almost any small town of the rural American West. It developed around a train station established by subsidiaries of the Southern Pacific Railroad Co., under Leland Stanford’s direction, in 1888. For the better part of the ensuing century, Esparto’s prosperity was caught up in the vicissitudes of railroad profitability. After the railway withdrew operations in the late 1950s, local businesses, services and population began to decline.

Roland De Wolk and the Scandalous Life of Leland Stanford

Roland De Wolke visited the Lane Center virtually on April 15 to give a talk about his recently published book on the life of Leland Stanford. De Wolke spent the first 25 minutes of the talk giving an overview of his work's prevailing arguments and outlining in broad strokes Leland Stanford's early life and career. The rest of the program was composed of a question and answer session moderated by Bruce Cain, director of the Bill Lane Center. 

Effect of Governance Structure on Conservation Land Acquisition in California Over the Last 100 Years

This paper analyzes the development of California's land conservation between 1910 and 2010, testing whether governance structure explains the variation in the attribution of land for conservation over time. The authors find that governance structure does play an important role in the development of the conservation network over the course of the century.

“Saving Lighthouse Point” – Pilot Podcast

Outside of the city’s famed Boardwalk, few places are as iconic in the coastal city of Santa Cruz as Lighthouse Point. Yet in 1970, the City Council approved a major construction project that sought to develop every square foot of Lighthouse Point and adjacent Lighthouse Field, turning one of the city’s last open parcels of coastal land into a bustling tourist and business hub. Bolstered by the creation of the Coastal Commission, the citizens of Santa Cruz organized to save Lighthouse Point, a battle that would come to stand as a watershed moment in the city’s history.


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