Exhibition Review—“Curating the Bay: Crowdsourcing a New Environmental History”—A California Historical Society Exhibit

The California Historical Society (CHS) is a membership-based non-profit organization with a mission to inspire and empower people to make California’s richly diverse past a meaningful part of their contemporary lives. Located in the Yerba Buena District of San Francisco, CHS encompasses a museum with rotating exhibitions, the North Baker Research Library, and Ten Lions Book Store, which carries publications from Heyday, and a temporary Park and Pond pop-up shop

Visitors Visitors viewing 'Curating the Bay: Crowdsourcing a New Environmental History'

ChildrenThe current exhibit, “Curating the Bay: Crowdsourcing a New Environmental History,” celebrates the Year of the Bay—a year that is bringing the high-profile America's Cup yacht races to the Bay, the opening of a new Bay Bridge span, and the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Port of San Francisco. The show’s opening on April 7, 2013 was a great success. People who enjoy the exhibition include a wide demographic ranging from students interested in the ecological aspects of the Bay, to senior citizens, travelers, and curious people just passing by. Curating the Bay will be open until August 25, 2013 with hours Tuesday through Sunday, Noon to 5PM.

Built around beauty and majesty, San Francisco allured settlers long before the gold rush of 1849. The booming industrial age provided jobs and urban growth, drawing workers from all over the world to make a living amongst a place with seemingly abundant natural resources. Curating the Bay showcases the progression of the land—from before it was built to the arrival of immigrants, and its time of spectacular growth to its natural destruction, which ultimately led to today’s land conservation.

What do you see when you close your eyes and think of the bay? This, along with other thought-provoking questions, is posted throughout the exhibit. Curating the Bay encourages visitors to reflect not only on history but also on perceptions of the land as experienced firsthand.

Map Thought-provoking questions for croudsourcing

Curator Jon Christensen, currently an adjunct assistant professor and Pritzker fellow at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and the Department of History at the University of California, Los Angeles, created an overview of the Bay’s environmental history with an untraditional twist: The exhibit encourages people to bring stories and photographs which help bridge informational gaps in history. Christensen refers to this as crowdsourcing—asking the public “to create a new environmental history of the Bay.” Within the exhibition guide, Christensen explains, “Through crowdsourcing, we now can include everyone who wants to participate in contributing, collecting, and caring for historical materials, crafting stories out of these materials, making histories and making history, in public, as co-curators.” By way of collaborative curating, the goal is to come across new places, people, and connections that individuals themselves have experienced in the Bay. The exhibition is less about telling strict facts; rather, it encourages and makes room for individual interpretation.


As part of Christensen’s vision to bring history to life, CHS has collaborated with HistoryPin and Year of the Bay through interactive technologies. HistoryPin—an online platform providing a “global community collaborating around history”—contains a plethora of photograph collections from people around the world. There are global photographic “tours,” which encompasses users to upload photos and pin them to specific locations on a map. Viewers can see modern day photos of specific locations or travel back in time to see how that exact same spot looked like decades or one century past. HistoryPin has a plethora of location-specific projects: Year of the Bay is just one that is focused on the Bay Area.


Several computer and iPad stations are located within the gallery where users can scan physical photographs and have them uploaded onto HistoryPin’s website. These photos are then projected on a large-format slideshow, played in constant loop at the front of the exhibition. Both visitors and Bay Area natives can enjoy interactive fun while being part of the curating process. If you would like to include a submission, please make sure that the photos you bring are not much larger than the standard 5X7 size. If you are unable to bring your photos to CHS, HistoryPin can be accessed online.


The California Historical Society gives docent tours with advanced notice. Please call us to make arrangements or stop in and to see the gallery Tuesday through Sunday, open Noon to 5PM. There are also many weekly events. Please check our events calendar. We look forward to having you here at the California Historical Society!

Andrea Dumovich is a guest concierge at the California Historical Society. She received her B.A. from University of California, Berkeley in English literature with a Sustainable Design minor. As a Southern California native living in San Francisco, Andrea enjoys all parts of California including its natural spaces, outdoor activities and cultural life. She is enthusiastic about historic preservation, and is working to incorporate its relevance with modern urban planning in the Bay Area.



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