USC, Huntington Create Institute

"This partnership will allow scholars who study California and the West to work directly with the critical sources of the past," said USC College historian William Deverell, who will direct the new Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West.

Photo/Cynthia Fox
In an innovative collaboration, The Huntington Library and USC’s College of Letters, Arts and Sciences have established a new scholarly center dedicated to examining California’s history, economy, cultural influence, demographics and prominence on the world stage.

The Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West links outstanding faculty from USC College with the Huntington’s unparalleled collections on the history of the western United States, including rare books and manuscripts, maps, photographs and other treasures.

The institute is directed by William Deverell, who recently joined the USC faculty as a professor of history following eight years as a Caltech faculty member.

"This is an unprecedented event," said Steven S. Koblik, president of The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. "In California, we have the fifth largest economy in the world, remarkable innovation and achievement, enormous diversity and demographic change over time, and a state that has more influence worldwide than many countries do."

"The institute will do what no other has look at California and the rest of the West, from a historical perspective including what factors shaped this place, how that knowledge helps explain who we are and where, perhaps, we are headed," Koblik said.

The institute is one of the nation’s only collaborations between an independent research library and university that offers team-taught history courses at the graduate level, sponsors a wide variety of scholarly investigations and offers an array of public symposia, workshops and conferences.

The institute will bring together historians and other scholars, students, writers, journalists and policymakers to investigate and debate the rich history of California and the American West, with full access to The Huntington’s rare materials.

"Preserving and studying the rich history of California and the West is a priority for USC College. Many of our historians are leaders in this field and we have been recruiting more faculty with similar expertise," said USC College Dean Joseph Aoun.

"Wedding this expert group of USC College faculty to the Huntington’s world-class archive will expand our horizons and magnify our capabilities. This partnership positions the Institute as the premier destination for scholars, graduate students and postdocs who are interested in advancing their research on California to even higher heights," Aoun said.

The institute will provide a valuable opportunity for 21st-century scholarship and intellectual energy to explain 18th, 19th and 20th-century California and the American West to the general public and the next generation of historians, Deverell said. "This partnership will allow scholars who study California and the West to work directly with the critical sources of the past."

With the institute in place, The Huntington will serve as an even more powerful magnet for researchers. USC faculty and graduate students will have opportunities to study for a semester or summer at the Huntington, which has been one of the nation’s most important scholarly centers of western Americana and California inquiry since the 1920s.

"The Huntington’s phenomenal archive is tantalizing to scholars," Deverell said. "The rare material, ranging from personal and business papers to photographs, maps and government documents, is invaluable to people who really want to understand the history of the western United States in the last 250 years."

The institute will offer USC graduate students access to the Huntington’s collection of rare books and manuscripts, as they write the new books and articles to be used by the next generation of scholars. In addition, Institute graduate courses will be taught in the classrooms of the Huntington’s new Munger Research Center.

Because graduate students in history and allied fields will be introduced to the Huntington’s sources and scholars from the moment they enter graduate school, the Institute will enhance graduate education at USC and help recruit graduate students from other top institutions.

"My colleagues and I plan to recruit the best and brightest graduate students from other top programs in the country," Deverell said.

The institute’s benefits will extend beyond academia. Experts from universities and non-university settings will come together to study contemporary California issues. Themes range from public health and the history of medicine to visual culture and Latino identity.

The institute will also create a new postdoctoral instructor program. Beginning with an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation postdoctoral appointment in 2005, the Institute will sponsor instructors who will be jointly appointed to both USC and the Huntington.

The institute will sponsor its first panel discussion on California history at the annual Organization of American Historians meeting in San Francisco in April. A week later the same panel will explore the question "What Does California Mean?" at a symposium at the Huntington or USC.

Panelists include Kevin Starr, former California state librarian and USC College history professor, Miriam Pawel of the Los Angeles Times and Janet Fireman, editor of the scholarly journal California History. Historians Albert Camarillo of Stanford and David Igler of UC Irvine will also participate.

Given the importance of local, California and western American history in elementary through high school curriculum, the Institute will also develop a series of partnerships with local schools, Deverell said. The Huntington Library’s rich history in education programming and USC College’s Joint Educational Project, which encourages outreach to local Los Angeles public schools, will be an invaluable resource in developing these partnerships.

The University of Southern California is one of America’s 60 major research universities and one of only two private research universities in the West. The College of Letters, Arts and Sciences’ internationally distinguished faculty offer academic programs and distinctive learning opportunities that link classroom study with real-life challenges, encouraging discovery and innovation at the intersections of disciplines.

The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens is a collections-based research and educational institution serving scholars and the general public.

Contacts: Gilien Silsby at (213) 740-4751 or Susan Turner-Lowe at (626) 405-2147 or