Calisphere: The coolest resource you might not know about
What has 600,000 images, documents, videos and audio recordings from the great museums, libraries and archives of California? Why, Calisphere, of course!
Developed and maintained by UC’s California Digital Library, Calisphere.org gathers resources from 173 institutions, including all 10 UC campuses, and presents them in an easily searchable database. With free access available from any device, any time, and no registration required, Calisphere is an invaluable repository of images and information dating from the 15th century to the present day. Significantly revamped and expanded in 2015, it’s now one of the largest collections of digital archival material in the state — and continues to add new resources every week.
So, what’s in Calisphere? Well, to start with, there is a bounty of California history:
Images ranging from haunting black and white photos of Death Valley to paintings of Yosemite show the extraordinary beauty of our vast state. Artifacts such as the diary of a member of the Donner Party and stark photos of San Francisco in ruins after the 1906 quake and fire remind us of the peril and tragedy that Californians have endured. The state’s vibrant history of political action is well-represented in photos and documents related to the struggles of Cesar Chavez, the Black Panthers and many others who have fought for social justice.
But Calisphere’s reach extends beyond California, with treasures such as an eyewitness account of President Lincoln’s assassination, the oral histories of Vietnamese refugees and political prisoners, and an early recording of Scott Joplin playing his famous “Maple Leaf Rag.” Want to see how much technology has changed just since 1982? Step into Calisphere’s time machine and watch a video demonstrating one of the earliest Apple computers.
Finding these nuggets used to require separately searching over 100 institutional archives or poring over hundreds of online search results. Calisphere not only makes these resources more visible and accessible, but applies an elegant organization to them. All items are grouped into collections that add background information and context while curated exhibitions such as “Murder and Mayhem in the Gold Rush Era” provide a deep dive into a topic or an era.
What can Calisphere do for you? Well, just for starters, you might use it as:
- A database for academic, historical or organizational research
- A source of images for communications, teaching or artwork
- A tool for teaching one of the many topics in its exhibitions
- A resource to point students to for their assignments
- A repository of state history and genealogy
- A source of content and inspiration for artists, writers and other creatives
- A collection of digital resources to be mined and remixed by developers
All it takes is one search to see the truth of Calisphere’s motto: “The deeper you look, the more you’ll discover.” So why not explore it? You never know what you might find.
Questions about Calisphere? Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Calisphere offers posters featuring six stunning archival images from the collection, and will mail them without charge to students of all ages, teachers, faculty and UC staff. To order a poster, please visit calisphere.org/posters.
Photo on home page of Link: Looking towards Marin County from Fort Point in San Francisco, as the floor of the Golden Gate Bridge takes shape, October, 1936. Credit: Charles M. Hiller. From the collection of the Marin County Free Library. Read more about this photo and see related images.