Jason Heppler, “Machines in the Valley: Community, Urban Change, and Environmental Politics in Silicon Valley, 1945-1990.” Ph.D. dissertation.

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Using Silicon Valley as a case study, this dissertation examines how activists influenced by the environmental movement reconfigured urban culture in the American West. Machines in the Valley argues that the spatial influences of the region’s urban development gave rise to modern environmentalism that arose to criticize growth, but along the way failed to ultimately shape growth policies. While high technology sought to introduce a new urban form predicated on “clean and green” industries and an environmental urbanism, the premise of “clean” industry proved elusive.

High technology industrialization emerged as a key component of economic and urban development in postwar era, particularly in western states seeking to diversify their economic activities. Industrialization produced thousands of new jobs, but development proved problematic when faced with competing views about land use. The natural allure that accompanied the thousands coming West gave rise to a modern environmental movement calling for strict limitations on urban growth, the preservation of open spaces, and pollution reduction. These views on land use lay at the center of these conflicts. Conflict over the Santa Clara Valley’s land use tells the story not only of Silicon Valley’s development, but Americans’ changing understanding of nature and the environmental costs of urban and industrial development during the postwar era.

The dissertation makes three contributions. First, it challenges the “Rise of the Right” narrative that argues for the collapse of growth liberalism in the 1970s. Instead, Silicon Valley demonstrates that a suburban liberalism was forged in high-tech regions. Furthermore, the suburban liberal character of Silicon Valley challenges the view of suburbs as bastions of conservativism. The suburbanites of the Valley maintained a belief in the role of government, quality-of-life, civil rights, and environmental quality in their communities. Second, it brings “nature” into the story of Silicon Valley, arguing for the concept’s role in the shaping of the region. Third, the study expands the story of Silicon Valley beyond the usual narratives of key figures of the technology industry. By focusing on the development of Silicon Valley in the postwar era, this study uncovers the ways the political economy of Silicon Valley was laid after World War II.

Advisor: Patrick Jones

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Greetings! My name is Jason Heppler. I am a Digital Engagement Librarian and Assistant Professor of History at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a scholar of the twentieth-century United States. I often write here about the history of the North American West, technology, the environment, politics, culture, and coffee. You can follow me on Twitter, or learn more about me.