Cal Humanities

"The understanding of a culture comes from hearing the language, tasting the food, seeing personal interactions, experiencing the traditions, and so much more in context."

— Elizabeth Laval & Candice Pendergrass, Sikh Youth Public History Project

"The understanding of a culture comes from hearing the language, tasting the food, seeing personal interactions, experiencing the traditions, and so much more when it is in context."

— Elizabeth Laval & Candice Pendergrass, Sikh Youth Public History Project

History of California Humanities – 1995-2004 – Rediscovering California

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.

In response to new developments at the national level, as well as growing interest in the distinctive elements of the California experience, we began focusing our efforts on exploring the history, heritage, and culture of the state.

Building on the success of past partnerships and local initiatives, we expanded Motheread and California Exhibition Resources Alliance (CERA) and responded to the public’s interest in local history and community cultural heritage by initiating regional projects like Searching for San Diego and Highway 99 (see timeline entry below). Enthusiasm for both paved the way for an ambitious two-year project, Rediscovering California at 150, to commemorate the “sesquicentennial” of the Gold Rush and statehood era that would engage people and partners in every corner of the state. Our long-standing interest in using the humanities to foster civic participation resulted in the adoption of a new strategic direction in 2001: the California Stories initiative. An array of new programs was created, including the California Story Fund, the California Documentary Fund, and the multiyear Community Heritage and Communities Speaks programs, which supported regionally-focused public humanities collaborations. Following the success of a statewide read of John Steinbeck’s classic The Grapes of Wrath in 2002, we launched a new campaign, California Uncovered, to promote understanding and awareness of the experience of contemporary newcomers to the state. All of these endeavors sought to demonstrate the power of stories and story-sharing to open hearts and minds while strengthening human connections in communities across the state—a need made even more pressing by the 9-11 terror attacks and the resulting climate of fear and uncertainty.



Highway 99: A Literary Journey

Highway 99: A Literary Journey

Highway 99: A Literary Journey, a collaboration between the council and independent Bay Area publisher, Heyday Books, was the first literary anthology of writing from and about California’s great interior..Read More


We are the Humanities - 1999 : LA River Re-Envisioned

Re-Envisioning the Los Angeles River

Re-Envisioning the Los Angeles River was an ambitious, multifaceted, year-long project organized by Occidental College’s Urban and Environmental Policy Institute in partnership with the community-based environmental organization, Friends of the..Read More


California Reads The Grapes of Wrath

California Reads The Grapes of Wrath

“This is the beginning—from ‘I’ to ‘we’” is how Steinbeck describes the Joad’s family journey along Route 66 to California as that “western land nervous under the beginning change” in..Read More


Making Connections: Career Waitresses of San Francisco

Making Connections: Career Waitresses of San Francisco

“I really wanted it to reach the masses,” Project Director Candacy Taylor says of her 2004-2005 exhibit-based project, Making Connections: Career Waitresses of San Francisco. With support provided by a..Read More

The owner of this website has made a commitment to accessibility and inclusion, please report any problems that you encounter using the contact form on this website. This site uses the WP ADA Compliance Check plugin to enhance accessibility.