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Diversity in the Changing State

People from all over the world hoped to strike it rich in California's gold mines.
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About the Images

The images in this topic clearly illustrate the great ethnic diversity of California's population during the Gold Rush years. People from all over the world hoped to strike it rich in California's gold mines. Soon Europeans, Asians, and African Americans and Native Americans from other parts of the country joined the Native Californians and Californios.


The Gold Rush had a tremendous impact on the population and culture of California. Before the Gold Rush, the population consisted mainly of Native Californians and Californios (settlers and landowners of mixed Spanish, Native Californian, and African descent). But gold fever brought people to California from all over the country and world. The Anglo Americans (of English, Irish, or Scots descent), other Europeans (including Italians, Russians, and others), Chinese, Asians, African Americans, and many more who came and stayed changed the ethnic makeup of the state's population.

Some images show different ethnic groups working and living side by side: in a saloon, a horse market, and along a riverbank mining for gold. The drawing entitled "A Road Scene in California" depicts social changes — European American miners drive a wagon, and a group of Native Americans leaves the mining area as Chinese miners enter it. Daguerreotypes show a group of Chinese and European American pioneers panning for gold; and African Americans working alongside European American pioneers at the mines.

The Modoc War (1872-73) was a result of the conflict between the interests of the European American pioneers and Native Californians. Photographs of various tribes, some taken by noted photographer Eadweard Muybridge, give a glimpse of how they lived.

Three-dimensional stereoscopic views offered people outside of California a glimpse of the West. Stereo views in this topic include portraits of Native Americans and Chinese workers.

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Definition: daguerreotype

Daguerreotypes are one-of-a-kind images created on silver-plated copper. Daguerreotypes are named for their creator, the French commercial artist Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, who discovered the process in 1837.

Definition: stereoscopic view

Stereoscopic views were a new form of entertainment in the mid-1800s. These photographs of people and places, which appeared three-dimensional when viewed, offered viewers a way to "travel" without leaving home. The technology is fairly simple: two nearly identical photos offering slightly different views of the same scene are printed next to each other on a card. When seen through a stereo viewer (a simple handheld device), they create a 3D effect.


"The Gold Rush Era: Diversity in the Changing State" was curated and written by the University of California in 2005.

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The text of this exhibition is available under a Creative Commons CC-BY license. You are free to share and adapt it however you like, provided you provide attribution as follows:

The Gold Rush Era: Diversity in the Changing State curated by University of California staff, available under a CC BY 4.0 license. © 2005, Regents of the University of California.