Mark Kanazawa, Ada M. Harrison Distinguished Teaching Professor of the Social Sciences and Director of Environmental Studies at Carleton, discussed his upcoming book on the subject of the California Gold Rush. The lecture, which took place on April 12 in the Alumni Guest House, was well attended by students and colleagues.
Kanazawa has been researching the California Gold Rush “for the past several years” and spent the summer and fall of 2010 working on a “book-length manuscript” on the subject. In the manuscript, he addresses the dominant perceptions of the Gold Rush that suggest the majority of miners were so gripped by “gold fever” that they were willing to make irrational decisions at the drop of a hat without any real knowledge on the subject of gold mining.
In his pursuit to better understand the Gold Rush from the perspective of the ‘49ers, Kanazawa couldn’t help but wonder if maybe the miners hadn’t just been swept up in a frenzied wave of excitement. “I think there’s a lot of evidence to show that these ‘49ers made the most informed decisions they could have,” said he.
The fact that an estimated quarter of a million people “drop[ped] everything and endure[d] great hardships to travel thousands of miles” has always fascinated Kanazawa. However, after extensive research, he remains skeptical about the classification of the event as an “epidemic.”
Kanazawa builds part of his case around the dissemination of information from the foremost academics and geologists from the period down to a local California newspaper, the Daily Alta California, to show that the Gold Rush miners actually had access to (and made use of) the best information for finding gold. “My piece,” said Kanazawa, “is kind of a counterweight to the dominant perception that ‘gold fever’ was influencing the vast majority of miners.”
However, even though he has successfully compiled research and framed his argument, he said he is still open to suggestions for a title. “Rationally and Level-Headedly Searching for Gold in an Informed Manner,” joked Kanazawa, “doesn’t quite have the same appeal as ‘Gold Fever.’”