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.

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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. …