Nathan Sayre, Professor

Open (1) Exploring Climate Extremes in California: the Mega-flood and Drought of 1861-1865

Open. Apprentices needed for the fall semester. Enter your application on the web beginning August 15th. The deadline to apply is Monday, August 27th at 9 AM.

I hope to write a historical geography of the mega-flood of 1861-62 and the subsequent severe drought of 1862-65 and use it to think about California today and into the future. The flood put Sacramento under 10 feet of water, and inundated most of the Central Valley for as much as six months' time. The drought wiped out the remnants of Spanish and Mexican dominance in landownership, especially in the livestock sector, ushering in Anglo control of rural California. The two events have almost never been explored together, however, as manifestations of climate variability and its impacts on communities, societies and landscapes. Today, vastly more people and infrastructure lie in the path of climate extremes, and extreme events are projected to grow more common and more severe as climate change advances. How can the events of 1861-1865 help us understand what California faces going forward?

The project is in the very early stages, and I seek an apprentice to help collect primary materials from archives located principally in the Bancroft Library. These begin with newspapers from throughout California for the years 1860-1870, of which there are many. Memoirs, diaries, letters, and photographs will also be important. At this point I want to cast the net wide and pretty much anything that documents what happened in concrete detail is worth collecting.
The apprentice can expect to learn archival research skills across an array of Bancroft holdings. Down the road, the project will probably involve other kinds of sources--government reports, scientific studies, maps--and other kinds of skills.
I am working in loose collaboration with Prof. John Chiang, a climate scientist in my department who is studying extreme rainfall patterns such as the "atmospheric rivers" that occur in California. He has a URAP student researching the biophysical and climate literature about climate extremes, especially extreme rainfall events.
The new URAP student can expect to participate in regular meetings with Prof. Chiang, his URAP student, and myself, to discuss how to bring archival materials into fruitful dialogue with more scientific data sources and theories.

Qualifications: A strong interest in archival research and an appreciation for how much fun it can be--even if it may sometimes seem tedious! Curiosity coupled with patience and attention to detail: you need to be ready to follow a new lead at any time, judge how far to take it, and keep close track of all the details along the way (precise source information, for example). An interest in California history and climate, and more generally in the interactions between societies and the environment.

Weekly Hours: to be negotiated

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