Teaching California History with McWilliams, Bradbury, and Tuan

Article excerpt

Carey McWilliams is at the heart of every California-based course I teach. His lyrical prose and profound sense of place, fierce indignation and ironic irreverence, juxtaposition of sacred and profane versions of history, gleeful toppling of a whole sequence of precious myths and sacred cows this crusading approach and passionate vision continues to spark students' imaginations and desire for social justice. While teaching such fiery myth-breaking classics as Southern California: An Island on the Land (1946), North from Mexico (1949), and California: The Great Exception (1949) is indispensable for students, it hardly constitutes a path-breaking vision for California historians. Even when amplified by such current McWilliams-inspired works as William Deverell's Whitewashed Adobe (2004) or Phoebe Kropp's California Vieja (2006), I've felt the need for a simple catalyst to capture the attention of larger numbers of students--to effectively introduce them to the McWilliams approach in particular and California history in general.


An attention grabber is especially important in my large general education course, California Cultures, where I've recently had some success setting the stage with a short story by Ray Bradbury and geographical principles by Yi-Fu Tuan. …