Machines in the Valley is a digital history project that serves as a companion to my dissertation.

Between 1945 and 1990, the Santa Clara Valley experienced profound environmental change during an unprecedented wave of urban and industrial growth. With those changes came conflict over landscape change. Answering that question means extending historian Kenneth Jackson’s observation that “the space around us—the physical organization of neighborhoods, roads, yards, houses, and apartments—sets up living patterns that condition our behavior.”1 In Silicon Valley, the attitudes, ideas, and values that people impart on to nature—biological and idealized—reveals how ideas about nature played out in postindustrial American society. By examining the ways that people created place, the politics they engaged in to protect that place, and examining the physical changes to the landscape that resulted, my research argues for the importance of understanding how space creates politics. The story revolves around whose space Silicon Valley would become: A postindustrial trend-setter? A fertile and beautiful agricultural producer? A countryside paradise? A metropolitan leader?

Space forms the central component of my work. Geographer John Wright has argued that “places are best seen as shifting stages where the exercise of power and resistance to it vie for dominance.”2 Physical and conceptual boundaries were drawn around competing landscapes in the Bay Area. These boundaries encapsulated three landscapes: agriculture, industry, and suburbs. By examining what Richard White called hybrid landscapes, I argue the interconnections between these competing idealized landscapes shaped environmental, cultural, and political identities in the Bay Area.3


Much of this project is still a work-in-progress. Features, analysis, and narrative will appear over time as ways for me to ask questions of my research, illustrate points I’m trying to make, and extend upon subjects and themes covered in my dissertation chapters. Various aspects of the project are bound to change over time.

About the Author

I am Jason Heppler, the Digital Engagement Librarian at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.


If you are interested in collaborating or contributing to the data I have collected, please email me or ping me on Twitter and I can give you access to the Github repository.

  1. Kenneth Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 3. 

  2. John B. Wright, “Land Tenure: The Spatial Musculature of the American West,” in Western Places, American Myths: How We Think About the West, ed. Gary J. Hausladen, p. 85 

  3. Richard White, “From Wilderness to Hybrid Landscapes,” The Historian 66 (September 2004): 562-664.