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History of California Humanities – 1985-1994 – New Directions for the Humanities

What were you doing in 1975…1985…1995?

What were you doing in 1975…1985…1995?

Since California Humanities first opened its doors in 1975,  we have sought to encourage people to:

  • learn more about the complex history of our state and all its peoples
  • to gain greater understanding of our individual and collective experiences,
  • to think  about the values, dreams, and aspirations we share so that we can work to create the California we want to see in the future.

This has been and remains at the forefront of our vision of what the humanities should be and can do – connect us all through the human experience.

When we celebrated our 40th anniversary in 2015,we decided it was a good time to take stock of what California Humanities and our partners have accomplished over the past four decades. Organized chronologically by 10-year intervals pegged to milestone events in the wider world, this timeline is supplemented by short stories and illustrative materials related to key programs, projects, and people who have made outstanding contributions to  our mission. As you will see, our history reflects our deep commitment to the core values of the humanities while striving for innovation, relevance, and responsiveness to an ever-changing world.

Over time, we will be adding more material and new information to this site. If you are a past grantee, project partner, or program participant, consider sharing your experiences with us here – we’d love to hear from you. We hope you will enjoy this brief excursion through our past and that you’ll join us as we write the next chapter of California Humanities’ story.

Julie Fry
President & CEO

Credits: This timeline was developed by California Humanities staff with support from two University of California Public Fellows, Sarah Papazoglakis (UC Santa Cruz, Literature) and Cherish Asha Bolton (UC Irvine, History.) We appreciate the contributions made by other staff members, former and current, and the generosity of all those who shared their stories and impressions with us.


Our second decade saw expansion and extension of both grant making and council-conducted programs and increased efforts to reach underserved audiences. The grants program continued support for exhibits, performances and discussions, film and radio scripting and production, and public conferences on a wide range of topics. New tracks were added for mini-grants, planning grants, and film and speaker grants (for CCH-supported films).

Our second decade saw expansion and extension of both grant making and council-conducted programs and increased efforts to reach underserved audiences. The grants program continued support for exhibits, performances and discussions, film and radio scripting and production, and public conferences on a wide range of topics. New tracks were added for mini-grants, planning grants, and film and speaker grants (for CCH-supported films).

The annual Public Humanities Conference and Humanists in the Schools programs were augmented by new council-conducted endeavors designed to fill crucial “holes” in the state’s cultural infrastructure, reach new constituencies, and foster partnerships with and between community-based organizations of many types. Among these were the Rural Museums Consortium (later the California Exhibition Resources Alliance or CERA), which brought high quality exhibits and public programs to rural and under-resourced urban communities; Motheread, a reading program serving low-income families Los Angeles (see timeline entry below); and the cultivation of regional humanities “hubs” in the Inland Empire and San Jose areas. Reflecting the growing significance of, and interest in, ethnic and cultural identity in both academia and public realms, and the state’s rapidly diversifying population; our mission statement had broadened by 1994 to incorporate the goal of “increasing multicultural understanding.

1985-1994

1986

Lemon Grove Incident

Lemon Grove Incident

Paul Espinosa, an Emmy Award-winning Independent Filmmaker and Professor Emeritus of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University, explains that he was “looking for a nontraditional way of combining anthropology and..Read More

1987

Common Threads

Common Threads

The inaugural unfolding of the AIDS Memorial Quilt on the National Mall in 1987 was the event that inspired filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman to make their 1990 Academy-Award..Read More

1988

1989

1991

1992

Columbus & After: Rethinking the Legacy

Columbus & After: Rethinking the Legacy

Columbus & After: Rethinking the Legacy was a National Endowment for the Humanities-led initiative to commemorate—rather than celebrate—the Columbus Quincentenary in 1992. In California, the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival..Read More

1992

Motheread

Motheread

In 1992, California Humanities responded to the civil unrest sparked by the acquittals of the policemen involved in the Rodney King beating by bringing an award-winning intergenerational family literacy program..Read More

1992

1993

1994

Shades of LA

Shades of LA

Project Director: Carolyn Kozo Cole; Project Historian: Kathy Kobayashi Shades of LA was a visual history project conducted by the Los Angeles Public Library in response to the devastating fire..Read More

1994