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¡§When the Okies left Oklahoma and moved to California, it raised the I.Q. of both states¡¨

--Will Rogers



Sitting around with a group of griping teachers at my first teaching assignment in Klein, Texas, a friend of mine was complaining about a particularly quarrelsome student. She ended her commentary with the statement ¡§well you know, he is from California,¡¨ the nodding heads at the table revealed that everyone shared her assumptions.  They had apparently forgotten in that moment that I was also a Californian, for the first time living outside the Golden State, and for the first time getting a real taste of California ¡§exceptional-ism.¡¨  California has always been distinctive from other states and other places, and its criticism has always been mixed with admiration.

To the early explorers California was a mythical island, to the Native Americans there before the white man it was paradise, to the Spanish missionaries it was fertile ground spiritually, to the Mexican Rancheros it was fertile ground agriculturally, to American settlers it was land, to the American government it was Pacific trade, but to most Americans it was of no significance until became gold. From that moment at Sutter¡¦s Mill in 1848, California stopped being America¡¦s best kept secret and became a part of the American Dream. By the early 1900¡¦s we took our place as the great Pacific power. By the twenties the California dream was on celluloid, and Americans flocked to find it in Model T¡¦s on Route 66. In spite of hard times and the ¡§Dust Bowl¡¨, the Joads went west to find the ¡§promised land¡¨ here. By the Forties we took the lead in fighting the war. By the Sixties our campuses erupted in student protest while San Francisco became the heart of the counter-culture. By the Seventies we were America¡¦s most populous state and a native son was President. In the Reagan Eighties, conservative politics and Silicon Valley took the spotlight.  At the turn of the millennia, President Clinton said that we had become ¡§the first American state where there is no majority race¡Kyou can see a microcosm of what we can do in the world.¡¨ We continue to be a central part of the American dream, but fear of provincialism by California teachers, and an Eastern bias in textbooks has marginalized our state¡¦s history

For this reason it seemed like an appropriate time to focus the considerable talents of my two AP US History classes on this unexplored topic.  The result is not intended to be a comprehensive history of California, but a range of critiques about the whole span of California history. Each article has a similar length and structure beginning with a comprehensive summary, an analysis of the author¡¦s thesis, the discussion of the role of historiography, professional criticism, and finishes with a set of common questions focused on how California followed the East or set its own exceptional course as a part of American history.

This book is wholly the accomplishment of my two classes and their dedicated and creative editors, who designed, wrote, edited, compiled, printed and paid for every part of this work except for this page. I am grateful to the writers and in particular to the editorial staff led by Mike Normandia for their dedication to the task no matter the toll.


Steve Sewell

Irvine High School, 2008