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California History Plan: Executive Summary

If California’s population continues to grow at its current rate, we will have 50 million residents by 2040.  This growth places tremendous pressure on the state’s remaining prehistoric and historic sites.  Public ownership, easements, and historic preservation ordinances protect many of these properties.  However, our collection of publicly-owned resources lacks sites that embody some key concepts and themes important to a complete representation of California’s history.  If California is to safeguard its cultural heritage in a way that presents a truer picture of itself, then public and private preservation interests must work together to acquire, protect, and interpret many more of our prehistoric, ethnographic and historic places.

In November 2002, leaders in the preservation movement gathered at the Cultural Heritage Resources Summit to assess the status of historic and cultural resource preservation in California.  One of the goals of the Summit was to develop a common agenda for preserving California’s cultural heritage. 

Subsequently, Director Ruth Coleman committed California State Parks to updating the California History Plan, first published in the 1970s.  She directed that the revised History Plan should describe what is missing from California’s preserved cultural heritage, and describe how the gaps could be filled. 

Updating the History Plan presented a challenge.  The original History Plan treated California’s history as a sequence of dates and events.  People and places, however, do not follow a straight time-line.  Events and actions happen simultaneously, cultures evolve and merge and sometimes fade, and all are woven into a broad tapestry.  In order to evaluate California’s preserved cultural heritage and assess which elements are missing, a different approach was required.

Through a continuing dialog with cultural heritage experts throughout the state, California State Parks developed a new California History Framework.  Consisting of eight concepts and 37 related categories, the Framework responds to evolving concerns and interests, and reflects current scholarship on California history.  State Parks surveyed cultural heritage experts from many public agencies to identify the categories in the Framework that are underrepresented by publicly-owned heritage properties.  The results of the surveys showed that the concepts of Changing Economies and Understanding Cultural Identity were two of the least well-represented concepts.  The surveys also showed that the history and development of agriculture – one of California’s most dominant industries and a determinant of the state’s culture – is also not well represented.

These “gaps” can be filled if California’s cultural stewards commit to acquiring, preserving, and interpreting cultural properties as their common agenda for the future.  California’s cultural stewards are as diverse as the state itself – they range from government agencies to non-profit organizations; from individuals to prominent institutions.  They include volunteer groups and entrepreneurs, and their funding strategies are equally wide-ranging.  However, California State Parks is the only state agency charged with preserving and protecting the state’s most valued cultural resources as part of its mission.

In this History Plan, California State Parks announces its commitment to carrying out this common agenda by using its resources to acquire and interpret cultural resource properties that will help to fill in the gaps in the History Framework.  State Parks is also committed to improving its stewardship and interpretation of existing cultural resources.