On August 3-4, 2007, fifty years after the Sputnik satellite launched the space race, ICW organized a conference on “Rocket Science and Region: The Rise, Fall, and Rise of the Aerospace Industry in Southern California,” bringing together scholars, writers, archivists, visual artists, corporate executives, and Air Force generals for two days of insightful and provocative discussions at the Huntington Library.
The conference posed a couple basic questions: how and why did southern California become a focal point for aerospace? And what were the effects of this concentration, on the industry, the region, and the world? Speakers took various historical approaches—economic, political, social, environmental, cultural—to address these questions, in the process examining aerospace intersections with Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and the Antelope Valley; women, the Asian-American community, and local Chumash tribes; labor unions and the environment. The conference attracted great public interest, with an audience numbering well over a hundred people each day and coverage in the Los Angeles Times and other outlets. [Audio clips from the conference are available on iTunes.]
A resultant volume of essays, Blue Sky Metropolis: The Aerospace Century in Southern California, edited by Peter Westwick (Huntington Library Press/University of California Press), was named to L.A. Public Library’s list of Best Non-Fiction of 2012. Above all, the conference provided an initial reconnaissance of the scholarly and archival territory subsequently explored by the Aerospace History Project, ICW’s effort to document the history of aerospace in Southern California.
ICW is currently relaunching the Aerospace History Project (what we are calling “Aerospace 2.0”). The revived project will continue to build the archival collections and oral histories and foster new research, but we will now put more emphasis on teaching and outreach. We will also extend our efforts to examine connections between aerospace and other aspects of science and technology in California, from electronics, telecommunications, and infrastructure to entertainment, clean tech, and recreation. Finally, we also hope to involve other local universities in research and teaching collaborations, creating a community of scholars and students interested in questions about high technology, literally and otherwise, in Southern California.
Peter Westwick is director of ICW’s Aerospace History Project and adjunct professor of History, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Science. He has published several books on the history of the Space Age, Southern California’s aerospace industry and surfing.