The Machines in the Valley Digital History Project

I am excited to finally release the digital component of my dissertation, Machines in the Valley.

My dissertation, Machines in the Valley, examines the environmental, economic, and cultural conflicts over suburbanization and industrialization in California’s Santa Clara Valley–today known as Silicon Valley–between 1945 and 1990. The high technology sector emerged as a key component of economic and urban development in the 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 the reduction of pollution. Silicon Valley stood at the center of these conflicts as residents and activists criticized the environmental impact of suburbs and industry in the valley. Debates over the Santa Clara Valley’s landscape 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.

The digital edition of my dissertation is yet a work-in-progress–there are probably things that don’t quite work right and plenty of more exposition and narrative I’ll be adding over the next few months. The project will go through iterations as I finish my written dissertation. The project will house several features, including interactive visualizations, dynamic narratives and analysis that extend upon themes covered in my chapters, and access to certain primary sources. I do this in the spirit of making my research open and extending upon themes in my research. Not every piece of digital scholarship can make the transition to print form–the act of trying to fully describe a dynamic visualization can be come lost. Better that readers have a chance to interact directly with the same tools, views, and material that I used to draw my conclusions.

I also aver that putting your work online gives you access to your publics–researchers, educators, interested readers, students, and so on. To me, such access has been invaluable. I have correspondence with people on a monthly basis who have discovered some facet of my digital scholarship who are interested in my work, have questions they want to ask, ideas they want to challenge, and collaborations they want to engage with. That has become one of the most valuable contributions digital history made to my professional life. The writing of history for other academics serves an important function, but that cannot be our only function. Out engagement with new narrative ideas in electronic form gives us a chance to reach audiences that can be difficult to find with books and articles. Digital scholarship not only makes my work better, but hopefully contributes to accessing knowledge.

The digital dissertation joins other digital scholarship that I’ve made available over the last few years, including Framing Red Power and “Self-sustaining and a good citizen”: William F. Cody and the Progressive Wild West. If anyone is interested in the code used for the site, you can find the details on Github.

So, check out the project and let me know what you think!