California Studies Association

The latest news, events, and perspectives from the CSA

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“Thomas Starr King deserves better” – op-ed in L.A. Times

Jack Cheever has written an op-ed in the L.A. Times about Thomas Starr King, the pivotal figure in the early history of California whose statue in the U.S. Capitol is being replaced by one of Ronald Reagan.

From the op-ed:

During the presidential election of 1860, all four members of California’s congressional delegation – including U.S. Sen. William Gwin, who owned several Mississippi plantations – campaigned for the pro-slavery Democrat, John C. Breckinridge. Indeed, Abraham Lincoln won California by a hair, beating another Democrat, Stephen A. Douglas, by fewer than 750 votes out of about 120,000 cast.

King was deeply agitated by talk of California being bisected or seceding. He embarked on a statewide speaking tour, preaching against disunion with a voice that, in the words of one observer, “held within it all the sweetness of the harp when struck by a master hand, all the power and solemn grandeur of a great cathedral organ.”

To read the entire piece, click here.

–Frank Gruber

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Ronald Takaki Obituary in the L.A. Times, May 29, 2009

Ronald T. Takaki, a “prolific and controversial scholar who helped pioneer the field of ethnic studies and wrote animated histories about blacks, Asians, Latinos and other marginalized Americans during four decades on the UC Berkeley faculty, has died. He was 70.” Click here for the complete L.A. Times obituary.

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“Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman”; Special Screening at LACMA June 7, 2 pm

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art will present a special screening June 7, 2009 at 2 p.m. of a new documentary, narrated by Dustin Hoffman, that explores the monumental career of Julius Shulman, the 98-year-old Los Angeles-based architectural photographer. From the announcement:

Julius Shulman combines the organic with the synthetic, melding nature with revolutionary urban design in images that helped shape the careers of some of the key architects of the twentieth century, including Richard Neutra, Rudolph Schindler, Pierre Koenig, and John Lautner.

The documentary was directed by Eric Bricker and written by Mr. Bricker, Phil Ethington and Jessica Hundley.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036

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Call for Papers: Sabato Rodia’s Watts Towers in Los Angeles: Art, Migrations, Community Development

Submission Due date:  July 20, 2009

As a follow-up to an international conference that took place April 2-5, 2009, at the University of Genova in Italy on the theme of art and migration as they relate to Sabato (Simon) Rodia and the Watts Towers, an independent group of scholars (partly in formation) has announced that it is ready to consider submissions for a volume of selected papers related to the themes of the Genova conference.  From the announcement:

The tentative title of the collected essays will be: Sabato Rodia’s Watts Towers in Los Angeles:  Art, Migrations, Community Development.  The volume will seek to treat the monument and its maker from a diverse spectrum of disciplinary perspectives and cover these areas: 1) The Community of Watts and its Monument:  Physical, Socio-Economic and Political Realities; 2)  Art Environments, Vernacular Traditions, and their Imaginaries; 3)  Italian Migrations:  Literary, Artistic, and Visual Legacies; 4)  Reproducing Nola (the Watts Towers vis-a-vis the Gigli of Nola).  Consult subjects 1 – 4 below for further details.  Please reply immediately with your intention to contribute (include your name, essay title, one-sentence description).  Submit your essay contribution for consideration by July 20.  All submissions will be peer-reviewed by an editorial advisory committee with expertise in the publication’s subject areas:

1.  Migration
– The life of Simon Rodia in the context of 19th to 20th-century Italian immigration
– Italian immigration as bridge between two worlds
– From Nola to Watts:  material culture traditions
– Oral history, oral culture and the Watts Towers
– Watts Towers and migration studies

2.  Art & Architecture
– Varieties of artistic definition:  e.g., Outsider Art, Folk Art, Visionary, etc.
– The Watts Towers and the Architecture of personal fantasy and genius
– Engineering, Construction, Conservation of the Towers

3.  Literary and Visual Legacies
– Los Angeles, the Towers, literature, film, music, etc.
– Visual documentation

4.  Socio-Economic and Political Realities
– Economic underdevelopment and renaissance:  yesterday and today
– In their shadow:  cultural politics and the Watts Towers
– Watts Towers Art Center:  arts education and community activism
– Italy as the New America:  immigrant art and literature in Italy

Submit:  Digital copy of your 20 – 25 page, double-spaced, essay (as an email attachment, Microsoft Word .doc file please).  Please follow the Chicago Manual of Style (
Appropriate critical apparatus (notes and bibliography), as well as illustrations, encouraged.

Send materials to volume editor:

Luisa Del Giudice, Ph.D.
P.O. Box 241553
Los Angeles, CA 90024-1553

Tel.:  (310) 474-1698

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California Ungovernable? Post-Election Woes, NY Times

Arnie Wednesday

The rejection of five propositions on Tuesday suggests, according to this New York Times article, that momentum to convene a state Constitutional convention has reached a “tipping point.” With the governors race still at a simmer, the issue may gain traction as the election grows nearer. CSAers are encouraged to weigh in here and in our respective forums, especially H-California.

California, Out of Money, Reels as Voters Rebuff Leaders –

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Tom Killion at Kepler’s in Menlo Park May 28

Tom Killion will be appearing at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park to discuss his and Gary Snyder’s new book, Tamalpais Walking: Poetry, History, and Prints, on May 28 at 7:30 p.m.  From the Kepler’s announcement:

In a new collaboration by the authors of the bestselling The High Sierra of California, Tom Killion and Gary Snyder, readers are introduced to the unique mountain overlooking San Francisco Bay. A source of story and myth since time began, Mt. Tamalpais has inspired conservationists, trail builders, botanists, artists, and poets for more than a century. With freshness and sustained delight, Tamalpais Walking explores Mt. Tamalpais s natural, cultural, historic, and spiritual dimensions. It is a book shaped by two master craftsmen collaborating on an enterprise nurtured by long and passionate involvement.

Woodcut and letterpress artist Tom Killion grew up in Marin County, on the slopes of Mt. Tamalpais, where the rugged scenery inspired him from an early age to create landscape prints strongly influenced by traditional Japanese woodblock prints. Along with publishing fine art letterpress books, Killion holds a Ph.D. in African history from Stanford University and has taught history at several Bay Area universities.

Kepler’s Books
1010 El Camino Real
Menlo Park CA, 94025
(650) 324-4321 Store Hours