California: The Golden State - HI6063

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
Canterbury Autumn and Spring
View Timetable
6 60 (30) DR J Wills




Please note that this module is not available to students studying on a short-credit basis (i.e., Erasmus and term/year abroad students).



This special subject explores California history from Native American times to modern day. It charts the rise to power of the US Pacific Coast and the many complexities that come with mass immigration, technological innovation and cultural frontierism. The special subject does not provide a simple narrative of state history, but instead employs a series of case studies to illuminate key periods of California's past and present, auto-stops, if you will, to navigate the Golden State as both a place, an idea and, most significantly, an image. The case studies also facilitate an interdisciplinary approach to the topic, for example, the Great Depression in California is considered by a session on the life of the hobo, his music, migration, work and community in the period. Sources here include Nels Anderson’s classic sociological text 'On Hobos and Homelessness’ and collections of Okie/hobo music of the period. A number of movie showings will relate both the rise of Hollywood as a state industry as well as Hollywood’s own social commentary on the California experience. The California dream and the notion of California exceptionalism will be critiqued across the module. Students will be expected to immerse themselves in the culture industry of the state and truly explore what (if anything) makes California so special or Golden.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

Weekly three-hour seminars throughout the Autumn and Spring term.

Method of assessment

This module's assessment consists of coursework worth 40% and examination worth 60%.

Coursework (40%):
a. Seminar Presentation (10% of coursework component).
b. 2 x 1500 word Source Analysis papers. Students will analysis in detail 2 sources linked with California history and culture, writing a 1500 piece on each. The sources will include film, photography, music, videogames, literature, diaries, political speeches, news media and historical records (15% of coursework component each).
c. 2 x 3500 word essays (30% of coursework component each).

Exams (60%):
Each paper is worth 50% of the exam component.
a. 2 hour Gobbets Analysis Paper. Students will choose from a range of gobbets linked with the California history and culture, writing answers that engage with the context, content and commentary of each gobbet.
b. 2 hour Essay Question Paper.

Indicative reading

CHAN, S., OLIN, S. and PATERSON, T. (eds.) (1996) Major Problems in California History. Boston: Wadsworth Publishing.
DAVIS, M. (2006) City of Quartz. London: Verso Books.
DAVIS, M. (1999) Ecology of Fear. New York: Vintage Books.
GUTIERREZ, R. and ORSI, R. (1998) Contested Eden: California Before the Gold Rush. Berkeley: University of California Press.
JOHNSON, S. (2001) Roaring Camp: The Social World of the California Gold Rush. London: W. W. Norton & Co.
MCWILLIAMS, C. (1999) California: The Great Exception. Berkeley: University of California Press.
MUIR, J. (1912) The Yosemite. New York: The Century Company.
STARR, K. (2007) California: A Modern History. New York: Modern Library Inc.
RAWLS, J. and BEAN, W. (2011) California: An Interpretive History. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.
WALDIE, D. (2005) Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir. London: W. W. Norton & Co.
WILLS, J. (2012) Conservation Fallout: Nuclear Protest at Diablo Canyon. Reno: University of Nevada Press.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

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