Was Leland Stanford a ‘Magnanimous’ Philanthropist or a ‘Thief, Liar, and Bigot?’

The Railroad Baron and Governor of California Was Starkly Contradictory and Infamously Disruptive

Born in his father’s East Coast backwoods bar, dying in a magnificent West Coast mansion built from his self-made fortune. Condemned as the complete robber-baron, consecrated as a singular titan of American enterprise. Exalted as the magnanimous founder of a world-class university, damned as a thief, liar, and bigot.

With all of the stark contradictions in his character, Leland Stanford—a man best known as a railroad magnate, California governor, and putative philanthropist—embodies American typecasts that have bedeviled us for centuries. Today’s infamously disruptive, get-rich-quick, world-altering, ill-mannered, entrepreneurial culture traces …

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Why California Should Mourn the Loss of Topgun | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Why California Should Mourn the Loss of Topgun

The Navy's School for Elite Pilots, Once Based in San Diego, Taught Us to Deal With Technological Failure

Bring back Topgun!

By that, I do not mean Top Gun, the cliché-ridden, late-Cold War, Tom Cruise film about speed-crazy Naval fighter pilots that still defines San Diego in the public …

The Heartbreaking Love Letters That Spurred an Ohio Blacksmith to Join John Brown’s Raid | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

The Heartbreaking Love Letters That Spurred an Ohio Blacksmith to Join John Brown’s Raid

Dangerfield Newby’s Enslaved Wife Wrote Increasingly Desperate Missives That Inspired Her Husband to Join the Abolitionist Rebellion

Every October 16 marks the anniversary of John Brown’s historic raid on Harpers Ferry in West Virginia in 1859. Accompanied by 18 supporters, Brown, a radical abolitionist, hoped to …

How Museums Help Diverse Nations Reimagine Themselves | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

How Museums Help Diverse Nations Reimagine Themselves

By Embracing the Ambiguity of Old Myths, the Best Exhibits Broaden a People’s Sense of Belonging

Museums are often dismissed as irrelevant diversions, as places apart, as tombs for pasts that don’t have much to do with the present.

But I study the world’s heritage museums—the …

Why Small, Beleaguered Vallejo Is Huge in California Hip Hop | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Why Small, Beleaguered Vallejo Is Huge in California Hip Hop

A Bankrupt Neighborhood’s Gift of Gab Created Music Rooted in a ‘Sweet, Idiosyncratic, Hustler Culture’

Conventional wisdom is that California’s greatest art is produced by collisions between the different peoples and cultures in the centers of our biggest cities.

But if that’s true, how …

When Did Americans Go Crazy for Celebrities? | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

When Did Americans Go Crazy for Celebrities?

In 1849, a Riot Between 10,000 Fans of Two Rival Actors Left 22 People Dead

May 10, 1849, New York City. Twenty-two people lay dead and 150 were injured in the deadliest event of its kind in the city up to that point. The …