Introduction

Exhibit Home | Acknowledgements | Introduction
Paths to Empire | The Way California Could Be | Hard Times, High Visions | Coming of Age

Looking Backward: 2000-1887, a utopian novel written at the end of the 19th century by Edward Bellamy depicts a society with a more ideal communal order and organization. The utopian novel provides a vehicle not only for examination of the foibles and defects of society, but also for suggestion of reform or a better way that humanity might proceed. Bellamy's Looking Backward serves as a springboard to ideas formulated in this exhibition which looks at the journey taken by the state of California during the last 150 years.

Indeed the themes of utopia and distopia have been with California from the Gold Rush years of boom and bust to 20th century tales of economic ups and downs. It is the potential of California, given its resources and the ingenuity of its people, that has often drawn people to the state to avail themselves of opportunities and test their skills and luck against others attracted to the state.

This exhibition looks at four key events and celebrations in California during the last 150 years of statehood and examines a few aspects of California's unique development, noting accomplishments as well as a few missteps. The exhibition begins with the Constitutional Convention and California's campaign for statehood in 1850; then looks at two grand world's fairs: The Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 and The Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939; and ends with the celebration of California First Days, 1962-63, when California overtook New York as the most populous state in the Union. California has been perceived by many as the embodiment of "progress," a place that not only looks towards the future but also shapes it.


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