PHOTO: CHARLES ALLEN
Michele Zack's book, Southern California Story: Seeking the Better Life in Sierra Madre, is available through the Sierra Madre Historical Preservation Society. It received an Award of Excellence from the American Association of State and Local History in 2010.
Sierra Madre, a San Gabriel Valley suburb in the orbit of Los Angeles, has a particular history. By contrast, Southern California’s story is big and varied and often difficult to penetrate. Bringing the two together in an examination of how Sierra Madre reflected regional and national experiences—and how its inhabitants interpreted these through local circumstances—provides a handle that makes the whole more approachable. Unlike histories of regions, states, and nations that draw broad strokes at the expense of details about place, this history uses a more intimate scale to illuminate and to connect the dots to a broader cultural understanding.
Peeking out from behind local stories, big historical themes emerge: The Industrial Revolution, Westward expansion after the Civil War, the role of illness in forming regional culture, Americanization policies of the Progressive Era, post-war development. Sierra Madre provides an extraordinary, sharp lens through which to focus on Southern California’s intense allure, its history as a real estate deal, and its racial ambivalence. The context of a specific town—and the personal quest to better one’s life—lends a bottom up perspective that deepens and expands our understanding of the Southern California Story.
"In Southern California Story: Seeking the Better Life in Sierra Madre, Michele Zack again delivers urban history at its best. As with Altadena, she pays her subject the tribute of extensive research and lively narrative. Whether it be people, politics, water, the environment, or social and racial issues, Zack places Sierra Madre’s story in a regional and national context—so that this history encompasses the range and richness of Southern California for those seeking a better life. Here is a regional history that offers us real insight into American life."—Dr. Kevin Starr, author of the California Dream series
"Magnificently illustrated with photographs, maps, and works of art, this book will please all who love Southern California and its environment. Michele Zack, local historian, fills her history of Sierra Madre with fascinating information while also showing how it relates it to larger historical developments."—Daniel Walker Howe, 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848.
At the 2010 Annual Meeting of the American Association of State and Local History in Oklahoma City, Michele Zack shows off the award for her book, Southern California Story, with AASLH and Sierra Madre Historical Preservation Society officials. Her book, along with 30 other books, films, exhibitions, and projects from around the county, was honored by the only national organization whose purpose is to promote education and excellence in this field of history.
In 2011, Michele Zack joined the The Huntington-USC Instititute on California and the West (ICW) as Senior Advisor, Local History and K-12 Outreach. ICW pairs a great research university (USC) with a great research library (The Huntington) for a number of projects in doctoral education, public outreach, and thematic and innovative investigations of Western History.
Her appointment followed years of work with ICW director Bill Deverell on three federal Teaching American History grants that provide professional development for k-12 history teachers.
"My role is to connect local history to broad historical themes, which I will continue to do. Now I have an academic home, and welcome the affiliation to such a prestigious institution," she says.