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Is California an Island?

Sheryn Morris, Librarian, Central Library,
1650 map of North American showing California as an island.
Map: Amérique Septentrionale, 1650 (detail)

California has been a land of hopes and dreams, opportunities and endless possibilities, and a place with allusions to glamour and danger. It is a state where fact and myth often overlap. According to some geologists when one of the big quakes comes, California will break off from the mainland and become an island. Was the state ever an island?

"The idea of California as an island is supposed to have originated with a Carmelite Friar, Father Antonio Ascension, possibly on a misconception of the reports of the Spanish navigators Juan de la Fuca 1592 and Martin d’Aquilar 1602, one of whom reported a great opening in the west coast and the other a vast inland sea north of Cape Medocin. Father ascension about 1620 drew up a map of his idea of California as an island and dispatched it by ship to Spain. The ship was captured by the Dutch and the chart taken to Amsterdam." —Tooley, R.V. The Mapping of America, 1980; p.110.

Valck World Map (detail). California appears as an island.

World map by Gerard and Leonard Valck (detail), ca. 1714. USC Libraries

This week, you will have the opportunity to hear from award-winning speaker, librarian, and geographer, Manuel Urrizola, as he answers the question, "Is California an Island?" Mr. Urrizola will also discuss his spectacular 17th and 18th century engravings. Join us at the Central Library on Wednesday, August 30th at 12:30 p.m.


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