Contested Eden: California before the Gold Rush

Contested Eden: California before the Gold Rush

Contested Eden: California before the Gold Rush

Contested Eden: California before the Gold Rush

Synopsis

Celebrating the 150th birthday of the state of California offers the opportunity to reexamine the founding of modern California, from the earliest days through the Gold Rush and up to 1870. In this four-volume series, published in association with the California Historical Society, leading scholars offer a contemporary perspective on such issues as the evolution of a distinctive California culture, the interaction between people and the natural environment, the ways in which California's development affected the United States and the world, and the legacy of cultural and ethnic diversity in the state.

California before the Gold Rush, the first California Sesquicentennial volume, combines topics of interest to scholars and general readers alike. The essays investigate traditional historical subjects and also explore such areas as environmental science, women's history, and Indian history. Authored by distinguished scholars in their respective fields, each essay contains excellent summary bibliographies of leading works on pertinent topics. This volume also features an extraordinary full-color photographic essay on the artistic record of the conquest of California by Europeans, as well as over seventy black-and-white photographs, some never before published.

Excerpt

As the twenty-first century dawns, it is incumbent on Californians to take stock of their civilization. Over centuries, indeed millennia, through the application of human intelligence and organization, they have built monumental productive systems, sophisticated associations, flexible governments, and creative and vigorous, if somewhat untamed, cultures. On the other hand, Californians continue to be troubled by contradictions, debates, and conflicts, ironically often stemming from those same successes. While, for example, the people benefit from perhaps the most diverse and profitable regional economy in the world, resource exhaustion renders the continuation of that affluence problematic. Whereas California has always been a land of immigrants, ever refreshing the state with their ideas, skills, and energies, some contemporaries now challenge the wisdom, and even the viability, of a multicultural society. Although the complex, modern California way of life, with its gargantuan infrastructure and environmental management systems, has been made possible only because of the evolution of powerful government agencies to further the common interest, in the last two decades those governments have been crippled by dwindling finances, a stalemate of contending interests, and growing doubts among some of the populace regarding their efficiency and representativeness. Private interest has, for many Californians, replaced community well-being as the state’s driving principle. As it has been in the past, California remains a “contested Eden.”

The victories and torments of modern California, which actually reflect those of much of the rest of the nation and world, though perhaps in bolder relief, can be understood only in the context of the state’s history. the origins of an ambiguous present lie not simply in yesterday, but also in pioneer days. Demonstrating this is the great opportunity, and the challenge, presented by the California Sesquicentennial between 1998 and 2000.

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