JUST RELEASED: “Mapping a Changing California” opens at the California Historical Society


In its new map exhibition, the California Historical Society explores stories of California’s growth and development with a special focus on some of today’s most important topics: environmental change, real estate and gentrification, and tourism.

  • Cartography
  • Growth, Gentrification and Redlining
  • Environmental Change
  • California Iconography

SAN FRANCISCO (August 11, 2022) – The California Historical Society’s (CHS) exhibition Mapping a Changing California: Selections from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century presents the diverse and at times difficult stories of California’s growth and development through maps dating from the seventeenth to the twentieth century.

Diseno del Sanjon de Santa Rita, circa 1841
Diseno del Sanjon de Santa Rita, circa 1841

Beginning in the 1600s, the earliest maps depicted California as an island. Following Spanish colonization, maps of the mission and rancho periods reflect the growth of established settlements and the devastating impacts on Native communities. Interest in plotting the newly formed state surged in the decades following the Gold Rush, and maps documented the rapid urbanization of towns up and down California. 

Mapping a Changing California also considers how maps document change through three thematic lenses: changing environments, real estate and gentrification, and tourism. “These thematic sections provide an opportunity for visitors to dive deeper into the fascinating and often complicated aspects of California’s history. The maps and accompanying materials in these galleries highlight issues that are still relevant to us today, including changing landscapes, surging real estate prices, and iconic attractions that draw tourists to California from near and far,” says Paige Laduzinsky who served as guest curator for the exhibition.

Highlights include maps of Nueva California in the late 1700s, a submerged ghost town in Shasta County, geologic surveys of the Sierras, the burned portion of San Francisco following the 1906 earthquake, and early depictions of downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood. Related photographs, manuscripts, and archival materials help reveal the complex legacy of cartography in California.

Map: Bird's-eye View of CA
Schmidt Label & Lithograph Co., Bird’s-Eye View of California, before 1895. Lithograph. Bird’s-eye view of California. California Historical Society

Mapping a Changing California is drawn exclusively from the California Historical Society’s deep collections. “It is thanks to the diligent efforts of CHS staff and our volunteer map cataloguer, Phil Hoehn, that we are able to feature such a diverse selection of maps from aerial bird’s-eye views to hand-drawn land grant maps,” say CHS Director of Exhibitions and Engagement Erin Garcia.

The exhibition includes Mapping YOUR California, a free hands-on gallery designed for all ages to explore some of the basic concepts behind maps, what they depict, information they provide, and how they relate to our lives. This interactive gallery puts the visitor at the center of the experience, asking them to share what places are special to them and create a map that reflects their California story.

Mapping a Changing California: Selections from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century is on view from August 25, 2022 to March 11, 2023 at the California Historical Society at 678 Mission Street, San Francisco, California.

Admission is free for California Historical Society members and youth under the age of 18. General admission is $10 with discounts for students and seniors.

Upcoming programs related to this exhibition include free webinars Freedom to Discriminate: How Realtors Conspired to Segregate Housing and Divide America on Thursday, September 8, 2022 and Frederick Law Olmsted: Bringing Nature to the City on Tuesday, October 25, 2022.


ABOUT US: The California Historical Society (CHS), the official historical society of California, has been collecting, sharing, and honoring the extraordinarily diverse stories from throughout the state for 150 years. Headquartered in San Francisco with support from California Humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities, San Francisco Grants for the Arts, Yerba Buena Community Benefit District, and all of its donors and members across the state, the nonprofit organization works statewide to inspire and empower people to make California’s past a meaningful part of their contemporary lives.

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