SURF

Kristopher Gibson

Profane California and the Gilded Years

In his diary after the initial 1848 gold strike, the Scottish artist and writer J.D. Borthwick described the terribly violent bull & bear fights drawing crowds of as many as six thousand. Soon after, those fights would be banned, paving the way for new ventures like the Empire Casino in San Francisco. Finally, Jackson Lears describes the abolition of the casinos, only to be replaced by more ‘civilized’ and contemporary speculative ventures. My research question asks what factors fostered the emergence of such a seeming anomalous California gambling culture between 1849-1859, and what caused its steady shift from the “profane” to the “civilized?” To answer this question I will engage in historical analysis of primary sources using selected secondary sources to maintain a conceptual framework. Other supporting questions of interest include whether and/or how the emergence of women caused moral shift, or whether the changing economic conditions, from speculative extraction to sober market, elicited the rapid change. My senior thesis research is significant because it will help to explain the evolution of Californias speculative nature during its earliest years, reconciling the state’s unique history into a larger national narrative.

Message to Sponsor

For me, the opportunity to do independent research is invaluable. Not only am I engaging my senior thesis materials and getting an early start, but I am able to do so within the supportive network of the SURF fellowship. The research itself, the collaboration with others, and of course, the final product are all integral components essential for me to to get the most of my UC Berkeley experience. As someone who intends to make a career in academia, the skills and methods learned and the relationships built are truly priceless.
  • Major: History
  • Mentor: Mark Brilliant, History