Backing Into a History Commons: A History of Shaping San Francisco

Historical Essay

by Chris Carlsson

This essay was originally published in River of Fire: Commons, Crisis, and the Imagination edited by Cal Winslow, published by Pumping Station, Arlington, MA: 2016.

History haunts the streets of San Francisco. But most residents and visitors have little knowledge of the City’s storied past. When people have any idea about San Francisco history it is usually reduced to some variation of missions to gold rush to railroads; then 20th century wars and depression and suddenly it’s on to the beatniks, the hippies, and the Summer of Love. Finally it’s Gay Liberation, the murders of the Mayor and Harvey Milk, and an endless series of boom and bust cycles of real estate speculation and development, leaving us where we are now, in a hyper-gentrifying neoliberal city based on tourism, technology, medicine, and finance. Obviously, this is a bad cartoon version of local history.


Some of the core production team for the first edition of Shaping San Francisco (left to right) Jim Swanson, Marina Lazzara, Joe Caffentzis, Greg Williamson, Magali Barre, Chris Carlsson; (not pictured) Jim Fisher, Dimitri de la Marea, Daniel Steven Crafts, and a host of other friends, interns, and contributors…

Twenty years ago, a small group of contrarians, writers, and radical agitators embarked on a quixotic effort to use the then new multimedia technology to create a radical history of San Francisco. We were determined to go beyond the endlessly repeated “cable car, sourdough, and Golden Gate Bridge” versions of local history to document the conflicts and contestation that shaped the city and the region. The rise and fall of Black San Francisco, the ebb and flow of class war from the mid-19th century through the tumultuous 1934 General Strike, the post-war re-engineering of the City along brutal modernist lines through “redevelopment” and an expanding downtown, the forgotten dunes and creeks that still lay under the built environment—these were the kinds of histories we wanted to tell. Using nonprofessional writers, oral histories, histories from the neighborhood and underground press, we assembled a dense and complicated, multi-voiced presentation of local history.

As a 20-year+ example of the still young concept of a participatory history commons, Shaping San Francisco hosts Talks and Tours to encourage and promote public life beyond the virtual.(1) We also curate and edit the archive, which is one of the go-to online archives of San Francisco history. The story of how this project came to occupy this unusual role, practically a public utility largely maintained by a team of three(2) (with lots of help from a wider community of hundreds), reveals as much about the evolution of historiography at the turn of the 21st century as it tells our specific story. We didn’t know we were building a history commons from the beginning, but two decades later we can say with some pride that we have a very substantial public archive that will be an ongoing foundation for critical history in perpetuity. Moreover, we have co-evolved with dozens of other groups and individuals—locally and in other countries—doing the kind of history we emphasize: history from below, contested history, history as an iterative process. But let’s take it from the beginnings…

A decade before the end of the 20th century, there was a widely held feeling that life (and therefore, history) was speeding up. After the Soviet empire unraveled in 1989-91, President George H.W. Bush declared a “new world order.” Pundits rushed to anoint the U.S. as the world’s sole “hyperpower,” and some even claimed that the end of the Cold War represented the end of history itself! Francis Fukuyama published his much-quoted essay “The End of History” in 1989 and expanded it into a book in 1992 (a concept he came to repudiate years later). It fit the self-congratulatory triumphalism of U.S. capitalism and empire, determined to silence and bury alternatives—historical or prospective—to its heavy-handed hegemony. The hubris underlying such propaganda, so eagerly embraced by U.S. defenders, belied a profound historical amnesia that set the stage for the barbaric follies ahead. Of course, it reinforced an ongoing silencing of voices of dissent within the United States, too.

To launch his new world order, President Bush had his ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie tell Saddam Hussein that the U.S. had no position on their claim to Kuwait.(3) But as soon as Iraqi troops seized the oil-rich neighbor, Iraq became the easy target for the U.S. to show off its new status as the world’s police force. As the promised war to expel Iraq from Kuwait drew near, over 150,000 San Franciscans filled the streets to protest weekly. Local news barely covered the demonstrations, giving equal time to small groups of flag-waving pro-war demonstrators in nearby suburbs.

The war came and went in a month, and that nascent anti-war movement lost its raison d’être. With the collapse of the Soviet Union old left activists were confused and demoralized; a decade of Reagan and Bush had already gone a long way towards demobilizing and demoralizing the remnants of the new left. During an April 1991 march for “Jobs, Peace, and Justice,” a friend bitterly complained that we hadn’t had a decent anti-war movement “since Vietnam!” I was astonished and reminded him of the big marches we were in only a few months earlier. Ruefully he acknowledged his memory lapse. Later I recognized this episode as an important motivation to start Shaping San Francisco. Relying on commercial media to reflect and document our real lives was dumb. We needed to create a way to tell our own histories, and if we didn’t, so much important history would be buried, forgotten, overlooked, or never told. Even our own memories were less reliable without some kind of independent repository that validated our own experiences as history too.

I was no historian, but I had been busy making history for more than a decade. Along with hundreds of collaborators I had been writing for and publishing Processed World magazine from 1981–1994. The magazine featured “tales of toil,” first-hand accounts from the automating office and beyond, as well as blistering satires and occasional long essays on politics, culture, and the larger dynamics of life in the 1980s. We found most of our readers and writers through distributing the magazine directly on the streets of the Financial District on Friday lunch hours.

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Dressed in strange papier maché costumes (VDT heads, detergent boxes, peanut cans, all with satirical labels) we met dazed temps, secretaries, account clerks, and other white collar proletarians as they stumbled from their offices for lunch. Confronted with our radical and utopian critique of pointless work, many would insist that the office world was timeless and eternal, that “it’s always been this way and always will be.” And yet, it was historically very specific—we were at the dawn of the so-called “automated office” and the birth of Neoliberalism. The historical obliviousness that made it possible to return to work day after day with the necessary resignation and submission rose before me as one of our most important targets. In 1994, Processed World’s surprisingly resilient 13-year run as an all volunteer magazine finally hit the wall, curiously just as the web was pushing millions of new people into the vacuous digital world we had been documenting (and lampooning) for more than a decade.

In 1992 I had been among the several dozen co-conspirators who had launched the Critical Mass bicycle rides—and had the great satisfaction of watching this “organized coincidence” spread across the planet and kickstart a dramatic resurgence of daily bicycling in hundreds of cities. It also took anarchistic political practice developed over several decades of anti-war, anti-nuclear, and civil rights activism, and applied it to the daily commute and the movement of bodies through cities. In so doing, Critical Mass reclaimed the streets as public space, something that had almost disappeared from the popular imagination. Critical Mass, at least in its first euphoric years, helped propel a celebratory style of political expression that emphasized participation and enjoyment rather than the more typical leftist sacrifice and duty.

The friends who worked together on Processed World, some of whom also helped shape the nascent culture of Critical Mass, had a place to gather—our office. We occupied a corner suite on the back of the second floor of the venerable 1903 Grant Building at 7th and Market where we moved a few months after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Behind our office was the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in a century-old federal building, and on the northwest corner of 7th and Mission stood the old Greyhound bus station. Directly beneath our windows was Dave’s Smoke Shop specializing in horserace betting forms and porno paperbacks. Seedy strip joints lined our block of Market and heroin and crack were openly sold on the corners. The Grant Building with its bargain rents began to fill up with nonprofits, artists, weird magazines, writers, and a smattering of “normal businesses.”

Our official business was typesetting, but not long after moving in, new font technologies appeared on desktop computers that anyone could use. Computerized publishing had suddenly outflanked the technology on which my old business—phototypesetting—depended. Our days were numbered and we pondered how to adapt, like so many people before us who also faced sudden and disruptive technology changes in their work.

In San Francisco, the new technology industries were buzzing with excitement about “interactive multimedia,” a way of delivering “infotainment” that promised to challenge television, radio, newspapers, and magazines with CD-ROMs, or at least to muscle in on their turf.(4) Electronic games like SimCity and Myst were all the rage, staking out a new industry that in a few years would rake in billions while occupying a generation of youth shut in by pervasive (unfounded) fears of random crime. The web itself, barely two years old, was still largely text and small low-resolution photos; the new-fangled websites that were appearing like mushrooms after an autumn rain favored chartreuse and magentas over more classic aesthetics, hinting at the radioactive toxicity they would inflict on earlier media forms. Everyone was predicting that when audio and video could be quickly sent over the Internet it was going to change everything… someday! In 1995 we went online with 56k dial-up modems, hoping for the telltale “bedong-gedong + white noise” that signified a successful connection.

I had learned typesetting in 1980-81 by producing galleys of type for Processed World. Now I would learn this new technology by launching a project based on the lost, forgotten, and suppressed histories of San Francisco. I would develop new skills while working on a project that I was intrinsically interested in. Theoretically I would be able to hire my skills out in the coming years. We started with big sheets of paper and tried to imagine how to present local history using the new capabilities presented by “hyperlinks” and nonlinearity. My habit of collecting old photos, maps, and books about San Francisco suddenly seemed prescient, giving us abundant materials to begin with.

The original brainstorm hit me as I was bicycling past the Mills Building on Montgomery Street in the Financial District. Imagine an immersive multimedia experience in which you (the user) could be in the room (virtually) as a businessman hands a politician an envelope stuffed with cash that changes the course of history! From that germ of an idea grew our first effort, lasting more than a year, to create a game that we called “Wheels.” Working primarily with programmer Greg Williamson and my business partner (and talented illustrator) Jim Swanson, we set up our game with the idea that you are a bike messenger who has made a package pickup. An animated sequence from “your eyes” goes down the hall and into the elevator. While in the elevator the next big earthquake strikes, and after much shaking, the doors open and you soon discover that you’ve been “knocked into the past.” The game then challenged you to solve historic puzzles about San Francisco in order to accumulate enough points to get back to the present and win the game.

Sounds like fun at first, but as the months wore on, we came face to face with our antipathy to computer games on one hand and the extremely unreliable state of the software tools we were using on the other. We worked with our contributors to organize essays, images, audio, and videos into a complicated structure that refused any grand narratives. It became clear that our plan to present local history in this way was already so challenging and complicated—and potentially confusing—that having a “game” with arbitrary “points” as the driving motivation was not only superfluous but intellectually insulting to what was beginning to take shape—an open, participatory, living archive of local history.

Our goal from the beginning was to facilitate a flourishing participation in “making history” because we were (and are) living in an amnesiac society. Few Americans think actively and critically about history, about how the hell the world turned out THIS way! If they think about history at all, it’s usually a misinformed cliché about ending slavery or beating the Nazis, proving how we’re always on the right side of right. We sought to use a participatory commons of history making to generate complicated and contrarian historical understandings that would slowly change the way San Franciscans understood their own city. To be sure, we were rooted in a radical opposition to capitalism and the “American way of life.” By taking on the inculcated amnesia so essential the functioning of U.S. culture, we saw our history project as a worthy effort in the subversive tradition from which we emerged. In our more grandiose moments we imagined we were pioneering a new model for urban history that could spread to other places around the U.S. and the world, serving the same subversive purposes we gave it.

Our initial effort to gather credible histories produced a robust foundation, but we knew our many summaries and “tertiary” histories needed reinforcement with deeper articles. Jim Brook took the lead in organizing a companion anthology of contrarian and critical San Francisco histories published by City Lights Books in early 1998, Reclaiming San Francisco: History, Culture, Politics.(5) It coincided with the release of our first edition CD-ROM,(6) which with the inclusion of many excerpts from the Reclaiming collection was a solid and critical contribution to local history.

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Jim Brook and Nancy Peters at the Reclaiming San Francisco book release party at Modern Times, January 1998.

Our focus from the beginning was on the histories that we felt were sorely underrepresented. I had an ongoing interest in both labor history and ecological history, in part because of how separate both subcategories kept themselves from each other. Labor historians tended to focus on the history of unions with occasional looks at broader political movements, labor parties, etc., but never connected the workers’ movement with the natural environment. On the other hand, the burgeoning field of environmental writing focused on earth sciences, or, if willing to examine the political history of ecologically inspired activism, rarely connected it with the work done in society at large. The most basic question of who decides what work gets done or how it is to be organized has been absent from late 20th century workers’ politics AND from the environmental movement. It seemed a strange disjuncture, and for the twenty years that Shaping San Francisco has been developing, we have consistently tried to sharpen those connections, and juxtapose work-based activism to the environment, and vice versa, foregrounding a social and ecological history of work and nature.

Beyond that, we put a lot of effort into presenting overlooked stories about moments of contestation in local history, for example, the early 8-hour day movement just after the Civil War, the racist riots by white workers against Chinese immigrants in 1877, the 1934 General Strike, and the White Night Riot of May 21, 1979. An early video oral history interview with Harry Hay provided us with incredible material detailing not only his involvement in the 1934 strike and funeral, but his life-long work that launched the modern Gay Rights movement (as a founder of the Mattachine Society, among other things). Other early interviews we conducted with former Sun-Reporter editor Tom Fleming, radical feminist and Native American activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, and Mission district poet and Sandinista fighter Alejandro Murguía (most recently, San Francisco’s Poet Laureate) all added rich and previously unavailable histories to our collection.

Surprising overlapping efforts in the late 1950s/early 1960s to block PG&E from building a nuclear power plant on the San Andreas Fault in Bodega Bay, to block the California Dept. of Highways’ plans to crisscross San Francisco with elevated freeways (and destroy many neighborhoods in the process), and finally to Save the Bay from being filled for development, were given special attention. The subsequent campaign to “Save San Bruno Mountain” has been largely invisible to San Franciscans but we put it squarely in the center of our understanding of local ecological history, and helped publicize the way the mountain was used to create a major loophole in the Endangered Species Act. The radical changes wrought in San Francisco since the 1950s by the Redevelopment Agency—and the many efforts to block and contest that Agency—have also gotten extensive treatment in our archive.


The cover from the first Shaping San Francisco CD-ROM, published in January 1998.

Beyond publishing our work on a CD-ROM, we also installed five free public kiosks around San Francisco, notably at the Main Library, City Lights bookstore, Modern Times bookstore, and a couple of more temporary machines that moved every few months from branch library to community center to co-op grocery store over the next few years. For us, the interactivity that might emerge from our project was not between “users” and “content.” We hoped the public location of our kiosks would inspire discussion and argument between actual people! We wanted to use this hyped “high technology” as a Trojan Horse, a hi-tech bauble to stimulate public human interaction. We collected logs of what people did with our machines, but the data remains undigested to this day. The main “interactivity” we experienced at the time was relentless vandalism, until we wrecked our own keyboards by ripping keys out and gluing things in place so vandals couldn’t hack into the Windows background we were running in.

We wanted the project to evolve beyond us, to become by and for the public. Our most dearly held fantasy was that volunteer editors and writers would appear for dozens of topics and neighborhoods to deepen and expand the collection in their area. A series of branch library introductions and demonstrations invited new contributors. Many people, while impressed by the project, demurred when it came to contributing. Either they didn’t see themselves as writers, or if they did write, they didn’t feel qualified to write history. This was precisely what we were trying to address: the overdependence on “professionalism” that blocked people from contributing to the recording and shaping of the historical record. But few new writers or contributors, even when they wanted to, could overcome the technical bottleneck of our very particular technology—a system that meant only a few of us could easily add or change content. Still, our team of volunteer writers continued to produce material, filling our “pipeline” with new essays and images. We redesigned and improved our interface for a 2nd edition CD-ROM that came out in 2000.


Greg Williamson, chief programmer of the original project, here at the 1998 unveiling at the Main Library.


Joe Caffentzis shows off the "Newsie" kiosk at the Main Library rollout, 1998

By 2001, our efforts were thriving. CDs and books were selling, and our kiosks were more popular than ever. But we hadn’t thought about our vulnerability to a commercial company like Microsoft. When they introduced Windows XP in 2001, our Shaping San Francisco CD-ROM stopped working. Changes in the underlying operating system required changes to our software platform but the company who originally created it was no longer “supporting it.”(7) We would have to figure out how to “chase Bill Gates” ourselves, potentially hundreds of hours of work. Instead we paused, realizing that projects like ours were going online.

We knew about open source, nonproprietary software, and we recognized a kindred philosophy. It took years, but our programmer Greg Williamson manage to extract everything from the very odd customized software underlying the CD-ROM versions of Shaping San Francisco. We imported it into open source web software created by academics in New Zealand called “Greenstone Digital Library.” With this we got about 85% of our content into crude web pages with some of the navigational connections intact (though none of the attribution data!).

Recognizing the indispensable role—even in the digital age—of book publishing, we published two more books with City Lights Foundation. The Political Edge (2004)(8) captures the radical thinking, activism, and vision in the wake of the failed Gonzalez Mayoral campaign in 2003, including over two dozen essays that take hard looks at the “McFrisco” produced by the shady dealings of the Willie Brown regime through a “Decade of Displacement,” the way the “Race Card” was played to accelerate the eviction of poor African Americans from the city, and how “Queerly Shifting Affinities” had thrust the once radical Gay rights movement into the limelight with the ultimate assimilationist campaign for gay marriage.(9) Ten Years That Shook the City: San Francisco 1968–78(10) was published in 2011 with original essays exploring that explosive decade and tracing many contemporary political movements to their origins in that period. We also produced a companion 24-stop audio walking tour. The book won a California Book Award that year, while the walking tour pioneered a self-guided audio experience linked through public signs and QR codes, a model we have continued to experiment with.

Shaping San Francisco spent the years 2004–2008 helping to found CounterPULSE as a space dedicated to “arts and activism.” Starting in 2006 Public Talks and Bicycle Tours were hosted at CounterPULSE at 9th and Mission. Shaping San Francisco’s Talks and Tours embody a commitment to history from below, to history as lived, to documenting our time alongside critical, in-depth, sometimes controversial histories of the past. Crucially, they take place in real time, face-to-face, and happen in public. The tours put people in historic locations and then pull back the modern built environment to reveal stories of buried waterways, former industries, secret music venues, terrorist bombings, and much more.


Ecological history tour c. 2007.


Transit history tour during Bike Summer 1999.

As we reactivated in 2006 with Talks and Tours, a new group formed to plan the technical evolution of the project. One woman suggested we consider the wiki platform, well known through its Wikipedia flagship. Of course! We had always wanted to be open to all sorts of voices and contributors. The wiki model would be perfect for us, and unlike the complicated software we used for the original versions, it should be easy for anyone to use it. The first volunteer to do the big software conversion from the Greenstone version to a wiki format took a year before she realized she really didn’t have time to do it. The second volunteer took most of a year to come to the same conclusion. Finally our third volunteer Jeff Rector focused on the project and got it done. With the design work of Gabriella Marks we launched in January 2009.(11)

Following so-called “new historians” who thrived in the critical spaces opened by the social movements of the 1960s and ’70s, we set ourselves apart from both academic and traditional history. In seeking to popularize a participatory process of making history, we rejected the Wikipedian “neutral point of view.” As Peter Burke describes it, “we moved from the ideal of the Voice of History to that of heteroglossia, defined as ‘varied and opposing voices.’”(12) We opened Shaping San Francisco to multiple points of view on any given subject, event, or epoch. Fully embracing a wide river of contrarian and opinionated perspectives, we hold and provide the space for the dissenters and outsiders who have always been left out of official history. We also refuse to follow the lead of Wikipedia in insisting that everything must be sourced online—so much history is pre-Internet! We also understand our project as both a research tool as well as a repository. Thus, we encourage contributions based on personal experiences, memoirs, diaries, etc., and label such contributions “I was there…”

It is to these vital parts of the historian’s task that oral history—tradition and reminiscence, past and present—with its detail, its humanity, frequently its emotion and always its well developed skepticism about the entire historiographic undertaking—is best addressed. Without access to such resources, historians in modern mass-literate, industrial societies, that is, most professional historians, will languish in a pool of understanding circumscribed by their own culture, like abandoned lovers standing in the flickering circle of light under a single lamp-post in a dark and wind-swept street.(13)

The project has been influential far beyond San Francisco and the Bay Area. Back in 1998 I was invited to present Shaping San Francisco to a group of fired dockworkers in Liverpool, England. After an enthusiastic reception, plans were hatched to produce a “people’s history” for Liverpool’s 700th anniversary in the following year. Regrettably, it didn’t get off the ground.


Chris sandwiched between Jimmy Nolan and Jimmy Davies, Liverpool dockers who invited him to present Shaping San Francisco in Liverpool in 1998.

CD-ROMs traveled well in the late 1990s. A friend gave it to a friend who had it on his computer in Chiapas, Mexico, as he accompanied the ongoing Zapatista rebellion there. A visitor from England saw it and, inspired by the idea of a local history project focused on “history from below,” went back to his home in Bristol and helped a bunch of friends at a local sports club start the Bristol Radical History Group, which in turn has inspired many other local history groups around the UK. The international project HistoryPin has a San Francisco office managed by Jon Voss until early 2016, who was also inspired and informed by his early exposure to Shaping San Francisco. During the past few years two European-based associations have emerged to expand a commons-based approach to local history—the History from Below network and the annual Unofficial Histories conference. Shaping San Francisco has been a model and an inspiration for many of the new participating groups and individuals.

Since unveiling the online archive at the beginning of 2009, it has expanded by nearly 20% thanks to a thousand new photos and more than 200 articles that have been added. New oral histories and public talks have produced dozens of video and audio clips that are used throughout the archive, while full-length Public Talks and oral history interviews are freely available online for future historians to use. Local contributors have sharpened our accuracy with many corrections. A half dozen university classes directed students to produce new entries for the archive. Essays and excerpts from many recent books on San Francisco history as well as other websites have simultaneously broadened and deepened our collection. In 2015 averages about 35,000 visitors a month and has served up over 20 million page views in seven years.

In addition to hosting Talks and Tours, we are often asked to give private group tours, guest lectures at local universities, and provide research assistance to writers and documentarians. As part of a consortium of local history groups in San Francisco, and with the indispensable support of the Internet Archive, we organized a volunteer effort to digitize 50 years of neighborhood newspapers. Years of monthly papers from the Tenderloin, Visitacion Valley, Potrero Hill, Bernal Heights, Glen Park, and Noe Valley are online now for researchers anywhere to explore.

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Chris Carlsson and LisaRuth Elliott (Shaping San Francisco) at the Internet Archive, 2015.

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Internet Archive at Park Presidio and Clement Street, the host of all the Shaping San Francisco Talks and oral histories in audio and video.

Photo: Chris Carlsson

A “History Commons” depends on an active, involved public. Such a public has so far only appeared as a self-organized, self-directed agent of history for brief moments in time. A Commons of critical memory, a place of contested histories, should be a bedrock institution of a radically egalitarian and horizontalist culture. Exhortation aside, a halting beginning to a genuine Bay Area History Commons has been created.

Shaping San Francisco and its FoundSF archive is a starting point but now dozens of independent local history groups are making history (e.g. Bernal History Project, Western Neighborhoods Project, Potrero Hill Archives, Chinese Whispers), publishing, hosting public events, organizing walking tours, and more. The broader ecology of grassroots historical engagement is flourishing in the late 2010s in ways we couldn’t imagine in the 1990s. Without seeking exclusivity or ownership of any history we collect, we continue to invite broad participation in our digital commons. It is open, free, and encourages everyone to look at their own lives through the prism of critical history, of self-conscious analyses, and ongoing curiosity.

The real history of our lives cannot be left to professional and academic historians. They have important contributions to make, we hope, but a history worthy of our times calls for a vastly more diverse population of scribes, skeptics, and thoughtful people. Giovanni Levi argues that “the true problem for historians is to succeed in expressing the complexity of reality, even if this involves using descriptive techniques and forms of reasoning which are more intrinsically self-questioning and less assertive than any used before.”(14)

Your experience matters! If you don’t record it for posterity, who will? And once recorded, share it! As our motto has it, “history is a creative act in the present!”


LisaRuth Elliott next to Woody LaBounty and David Gallagher of the Western Neighborhoods Project at the 100th anniversary of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.


The Shaping San Francisco table at the PPIE 100th...

Photo: Dave Gallagher


1. Chris Carlsson, Greg Williamson, and Jim Swanson, Shaping San Francisco, a multimedia excavation of the lost history of San Francisco, Cloverleaf Multimedia Productions, 2nd ed. 2000.
2. Co-directors Chris Carlsson and Lisa Ruth Elliott, with essential back-end programming support from Jeff Rector.
3., accessed August 17, 2015;, accessed August 17, 2015.
4. I contributed an essay “The Shape of Truth to Come: New Media and Knowledge” to the City Lights collection Resisting the Virtual Life (San Francisco: City Lights, 1995) ed. James Brook and Iain Boal, which discussed this transition in some detail. The article originally appeared in a different form in Processed World #32 (1993).
5. James Brook, Nancy J. Peters and Chris Carlsson, [eds.,] Reclaiming San Francisco: History, Politics, Culture (San Francisco: City Lights, 1998).
6. A technical aside (with unanticipated social consequences!): In late 1995 we spent pooled funds to buy a new 386 computer and a then-huge 500 megabyte hard drive, choosing to stick to the PC platform that we were already using in my office rather than converting to the Apple Mac environment. We didn’t think the Mac was going to be around a lot longer as Apple was sinking and the Mac was only 3% of the market at the time. It also cost twice as much, and the software tools we would use on it would also cost much more than we could afford. The unanticipated consequence of this choice (or budgetary constraint if you prefer) came with the release of our first CD-ROM in 1998. More than half of the people who wanted our CD wanted a Mac version and we only had software that would work on a PC. (This may have been the apex of the “war” between Microsoft and Apple platforms, with Apple-istas especially self-righteous about their choice. Apparently we were Satan’s spawn because the first edition of Shaping San Francisco was for PC only!)
7. Our public kiosks continued to run for many more years. The Main Library installation lasted until 2008. If anyone is interested in the user data we collected, track me down!
8. Chris Carlsson, [ed.,] The Political Edge (San Francisco: City Lights, 2004).
9. All quotes are titles of essays in The Political Edge.
10. Chris Carlsson and LisaRuth Elliott, Ten Years that Shook the City: San Francisco 1968–1978 (San Francisco: City Lights, 2011).
11. We took the URL and name “” because we were just completing two years of negotiations with the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society to have them co-sponsor the website as one part of their Museum project. It didn’t work out, and two and a half years later the deal was canceled. All the content and the website were retained by Shaping San Francisco.
12. Peter Burke, “Overture. The New History: Its Past and its Future” in Peter Burke, ed., New Perspectives in Historical Writing (University Park PA: Penn State University Press, 1992).
13. Gwyn Prins, “Oral History” in Burke, ed., New Perspectives in Historical Writing.
14. Giovanni Levi. “On Microhistory” in Burke, ed., New Perspectives in Historical Writing.