Early California Cultural Atlas

About the ECCA Project

Project Description

The Early California Cultural Atlas visualizes historical transformations in California before 1850 by mapping the migration of Indians from their native villages to Franciscan missions, the immigration of soldiers and settlers to California from northern Mexico, the initiation and growth of domestic agriculture and animal husbandry at the missions, and the transfer of huge parcels of land from California Indians to Spanish and Mexican landholders. The ECCA does not merely deliver material and ideas that are already available in print. Rather, it is creating new knowledge about where Native peoples lived in California, the extent to which colonization disrupted their lives, and how the human and social geography of much of California was radically altered in the century after 1769. The ECCA is the only means through which an enormous amount of new and vital material on colonial California can be made accessible to a wide range of users in an integrated manner that lends itself to greater interpretation and nuanced analysis. Equally important, the ECCA can inspire other scholars and digital humanists working with similar data and seeking to draw parallel connections with other colonial frontiers of the early modern period. In a broader context, the spatio-temporal mapping of multiple dimensions of demographic and geographic change over time developed for ECCA provides a technical model for study of dramatic changes that have occurred across the globe.


The ECCA deepens humanistic inquiry by calling attention to the way databases tend to erase or render meaningless geographical information. Databases are increasingly common in the humanities and social sciences. They are often full of geographic information, but coding and database structures can reduce this information to mere place names and administrative units. This leaves records with spatial information that can only be deduced or understood by experts who have local knowledge and special maps. The ECCA, by linking to a dynamic map the spatial and temporal attributes in the of vital records of individuals found in the Early California Population Project (ECPP), reintroduces the geographical component into the study of early California and its peoples, illustrates how massive historical change is often the result of similar decisions by large numbers of individuals, and creates a foundation for historical and geographical inquiries while resisting the false certainty reflected in nearly all maps. While our project focuses on early California, one of our main objectives is to explore and resolve important issues that have often made it difficult for humanities scholars to adopt emergent technologies. Thus, the ECCA has at its core a willingness to acknowledge and map ambiguity, an issue that has bedeviled humanists’ attempts to use new mapping technologies. Typically, computer programs that historians use to map events spatially and temporally do not have a means to handle ambiguity. By addressing this issue, the ECCA contributes to the movement toward deep mapping (or thick mapping), defined as an effort to bend geo-spatial technologies to the needs of humanists to create rich, multi-scalar, and dynamic maps embracing uncertain qualitative data.


The ECCA is an integrated investigation of the relationship between data sources, generations of scholars’ work with this material, and new processes for digital scholarship and classroom pedagogy. Over the past decade, scholars have begun to utilize spatially aware technologies for a broad range of applications. Humanists (and especially historians), however, have only recently adopted technologies to account for spatial ambiguity. Most people still tend to like maps that situate people, cities, and villages in one place even though this creates a false sense of certainly and can mislead. We believe that new spatio-temporal technologies allow us to move beyond the simplistic, one-dimensional maps of the past. The ECCA has developed methodologies to handle these issues and to create visualizations that support more complex narratives.

Project Team

Steve Hackel
Steven Hackel, the ECCA principal investigator, is an award-winning expert on California Indian history and American colonial history. He is professor of history at UC Riverside, the general editor of the Huntington Library Early California Population Project, the creator of the Pobladores Database, and author of books and articles on early California. Hackel’s work on California Indians and missions has been widely recognized and garnered significant awards. Recently, he curated an international loan exhibition on missions, missionaries, and Indians in the California missions for the Huntington Library.

Jeanette Zerneke, the primary project consultant and a founder of the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative (ECAI), serves as ECCA lead technical consultant, and will oversee the technical aspects of ECCA data collection and documentation as well as visualization and website design and implementation. Zerneke’s current work includes collaboration with Academia Sinica on the set up of the ECAI data portal, data collection and gazetteer development for the Maritime Buddhism Project and the subset project on the Roots of Buddhism in Austronesian Navigation and hosted workshops in Japan and Taiwan. To exploit the spatial and temporal components of the ECPP and Pobladores data, the ECCA is partnering with the technical experts at ECAI. Additional web technology and user interface design experts at UC Berkeley will be brought into the project through their affiliation with ECAI.

Natale Zappia, an Assistant Professor of History at Whittier College, is an expert on the history of early California. His past work particularly explores the movement of indigenous commodities throughout California and the Far West during the colonial period. He has also participated in numerous public outreach public history projects involving K-12 teachers and students exploring California history curricula. In his capacity as ECCA Associate Director, Zappia coordinates the compilation of historical data for the project, work with staff to stay on task and on schedule and spearhead outreach and publicity efforts.

Anthropological Consultants
Richard Carrico (San Diego State University), Adjunct Professor, American Indian Studies 
John R. Johnson (Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History), Curator of Anthropology

Native American Consultants 
Rebecca Kugel (UC Riverside), Associate Professor of History 
Andrew Galvan (Chochenyo), Curator, Mission San Francisco 
Andrew Salas (Gabrieleño) Chairman, Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians-Kizh Nation

Spatial History Consultants 
David Bodenhamer (Indiana University-Purdue University Indiana) Professor of History; Executive Director of The Polis Center 
Erik B. Steiner (Stanford University), Creative Director Spatial History Project, Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis

Database Engineer 
Nicolas Husson, NH Consulting, Pasadena, California

Curriculum Development 
Raul Almada (Whittier Unified School District), Master Teacher and Curriculum Development Expert 
Tobias Higbie (UCLA), Associate Professor, History; Director, National Center for History in the Schools

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