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What is

FoundSF is a participatory website (based on the same software as wikipedia) inviting historians, writers, activists, and curious San Francisco citizens of all kinds to share their unique stories, images, and videos from past and present. There are over 1,900 screens here presenting primary sources, essays, images, and videos... and we invite you to add to it from your own life or that of your ancestors. That old box of photos, Grandma's diary, rediscovered letters, your old college papers that were so interesting to write but are lost in a file cabinet somewhere... We're interested!

Who manages FoundSF?

FoundSF is the digital history archive managed by Shaping San Francisco (a project of Independent Arts & Media, a California nonprofit corporation). For more than a decade Chris Carlsson and LisaRuth Elliott have curated the content while also producing an ongoing series of Public Talks, Bicycle and Walking Tours, and several books of San Francisco history. You can reach us with your comments on this project, questions about San Francisco history, or suggestions for improvements by emailing us. We'd love to hear from you.

FoundSF is the latest incarnation of Shaping San Francisco, begun in 1997 originally as a Windows-based multimedia excavation of the lost history of the city. From those early days on CD-ROM and public kiosk, the project has evolved and expanded considerably. Since 2009 it has been online at this website, and for many years has had over 35,000 visitors a month. FoundSF is a living archive of the city providing people with access to its lost history. Hundreds of people have contributed stories, photos, video oral histories, and more. Our long-term goal is to facilitate the discovery, presentation, preservation of, and access to local history, incorporating the past into a rapidly changing future.

We seek to demonstrate and reinforce the simple observation that History is a Creative Act in the Present! By this we mean that the meaning and understanding of the past is always an intellectual and social process carried out in our own time. Given the many so-called "history wars" that have beset U.S. culture in the past decades, and the frequency with which our understanding of our shared history is revised, we think it vital to invite as many people as possible into the process of literally making history.

We look forward to your contributions to this evolving collection. You can go to our help screen and see our guidelines and learn how to use the system. If you've ever edited on Wikipedia, you'll find this quite familiar. If not, you will find it relatively easy to learn. If you would like to schedule a workshop for your community group, your classroom, or even just yourself and a few friends, please contact us.

How can I access the articles here?

There are four ways to explore the articles in FoundSF. You can use the search bar beneath the masthead to look for terms of interest, click on the "Random Page" link under the "Navigation" link at top left to jump to a surprise article, check out the Categories to search by topic, or explore the themed collections featuring grouped articles of interest.

The Categories allow you to browse articles by:

Is the information on FoundSF neutral and balanced?

No. Unlike Wikipedia, FoundSF does not have a mission to present a "neutral point of view." Instead, we are focused on presenting real artifacts of history, and some of the best of these are highly biased and provocative. For example, Mark Twain's searing satire of General Funston is a unique, provocative, and highly opinionated piece of history. We strive to provide well researched histories, but we think the best histories are those that have a point of view, a particular argument. Many pages have uncontroversial presentations of both well known and lesser-known histories of San Francisco and surroundings, but we also feature dozens of sharply argued, opinionated histories that we hope provoke critical engagement.

So how can I tell what to believe about the information on this site?

Each article on FoundSF is labeled at the top as an historical essay, primary source, "I was there" account, or unfinished history. The primary sources and "I was there" accounts are authentic pieces of history and are subject to contemporary historic interpretation and judgment. The historical essays usually have citations and always are signed by the original author. "Unfinished history" pieces are works-in-progress still taking shape, a process you are invited to contribute to!

Can I contribute my own stories and edit the articles here?

Absolutely! You can edit any article labeled unfinished history, or create your own following these steps.

If you would like to contribute a primary source or "I was there" account, your article will represent your experience alone and you will be responsible for verifying its authenticity. Please email us to discuss if your work is appropriate to be included as a primary source.

Who owns the content on FoundSF?

FoundSF uses a Creative Commons license (attribution, non-commercial, share alike). For more information on what this means, check out the full license here.