Magazine article California History

"Pacific Eldorado": Scholarship, Pedagogy, and the Community College Student

Magazine article California History

"Pacific Eldorado": Scholarship, Pedagogy, and the Community College Student

Article excerpt

In 2002, Thomas Bender called for a "thickening" of American history "by locating it in a context larger than itself." He asked: "Can we imagine an American historical narrative that situates the United States more fully in its larger transnational and intercultural global contexts? Can such a narrative reveal more clearly than the histories we have at present the plentitude of stories, timescales, and geographies that constitute the American past? Can we historicize the nation itself in such a way that its historical career and its making and unmaking of identities, national and otherwise, can be better understood outside of itself, as part of a larger history than that of bounded nation?" (1)

Thomas Osborne's article is representative of a large body of historical scholarship that embraces the global context described by Bender and is shifting how United States history is taught. California historians, on the other hand, have been slow to insert global themes into their textbooks and pedagogy. Osborne proposes that historians study and teach the interconnections between what he terms "Greater California" and the Pacific Rim, rejecting a California history rigidly confined by our contemporary geographical boundaries.

Osborne's expanded context--inclusive of five provocative examples: "early international transpacific commerce, Pacific immigration, U.S. expansion into the world's largest ocean basin, Pacific imaginings and the California Dream, and the state's prominent role in recent Pacific Rim commercial, strategic, and cultural affairs"--shows how California's people, culture, and economy have interacted with nations and communities around the Pacific Rim and reveals the influence of new Western historians on Osborne's work. His assertion that the rich scholarship of global historians be fully integrated into the teaching of California history and the resulting pedagogical emphasis on diversity and globalism would resonate with the large, diverse California community college student body by more fully historicizing their lives. In addition, themes of diversity and globalism are found throughout the stated objectives and goals of the California Community Colleges System and individual campuses.

This essay examines Osborne's article, placing it within the historiographical framework of new Western and global history, and discusses its relevance to the community college system and its students.


Osborne's work owes a debt to new Western historians of the early 1990s who described the West as a place, not a process, and chronicled the devastating impact of American expansion on the West's environment and diverse peoples. Peggy Pascoe called for historians to "see the frontier as a cultural crossroads rather than a geographic freeway to the West, and ... to focus on the interactions among the various groups of people who sought to control the region." (2) The attention paid to Spanish, Mexican, and Native American inhabitants encouraged historians of the West to move beyond their traditional focus on the relationship between the West and the politics, culture, and economy of the United States, leading to re-evaluations of Manifest Destiny, American exceptionalism, and Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier thesis.

Osborne's discussions of immigration and shared Pacific cultures resemble the efforts of new Western historians to uncover a West shaped by more than just Anglo American intentions and cultures. In his analyses of surfing and Asian religions, Osborne demonstrates that the Pacific Rim helped shape the evolving cultures of California in the twentieth century. Examples such as Big Sur's Esalen Institute and the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center show the spread of Asian religions to California.


Osborne's examples of Asian religions in the state could be "thickened" with an exploration of how Asian religions and philosophies were adapted to the unique Californian context. …

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