Geography N50AC: California

Geography N50AC
CCN: 50045
(3 units)
Will Payne
Location: 145 McCone
Times: TuWTh 2-4:30

California has been called “the great exception” and “America, only more so.” It has long been a powerful player in the world economy and the spectrum of national politics: the birthplace of both the John Birch Society and Black Power, the first state to pass anti-tax legislation in the 1970s and at the forefront of climate change legislation today. If California were a country, it would be the eighth largest economy in the world, and it contains great concentrations of both wealth and poverty: places like Silicon Valley and Hollywood, on the one hand, and Stockton (which led the country in foreclosure rates in 2008) and Vallejo (which declared bankruptcy in the same year), on the other. It makes sense that a place with such uneven political geographies would also be home to the highest and lowest points of elevation in the contiguous U.S. (Mt. Whitney and Death Valley, respectively), which in fact sit next to each other, in the east-central part of the state.

With California as a laboratory, we will explore classic and emerging themes of the discipline: the relations between nature and culture, space and power, and the politics of uneven geographical development. Consistent with the requirement of an American Cultures course, we will also situate the “place” of California and the West within broader historical forces shaping American life, primarily in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including the rise of capitalism, the relations of race and racism, and the effects of environmental degradation. We will explore these questions and themes through course material that includes scholarly texts, novels, non-fiction-essays, and films.