California State Parks Foundation’s second Hidden Stories Conference, “Russian Influences in California’s History,” was a rousing success! Generously supported by grants from the Renova Fort Ross Foundation, the Russkiy Mir Foundation, Chevron, and the Consulate General of the Russian Federation, San Francisco, as well as a valuable partnership with the Fort Ross Interpretive Association, the day was attended by over 150 people from all over California.
The morning began with a panel about Russian trade along the California coast in the early 1800’s: “Sea-Otter Skins, Grain, and Warm Ports: Russia’s Maritime Frontier in Early California.” Speakers Dr. Ken Owens, Professor Emeritus of History, California State University, Sacramento, Dr. Kent G. Lightfoot, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley, and Dr. Glen Farris, Historical Archeologist and Ft. Ross Interpretive Association member, gave a spirited and fascinating account of life in California at the turn of the century, and the very active role Russian sailors and traders played in that life.
The next panel focused on immigration: “Russian Immigration: Routes, Arrival and Assimilation.” Dr. Michael W. Tripp, Professor of Geography, Vancouver Island University, British Columbia, Ms. Maria Sakovich, MPH, MA, Historian and Author, and Ms. Eugenia Bailey, Historian and Russian Émigré, all not only told the story of Angel Island and the Russian community in San Francisco, but also shared personal family history that added perspective and depth to their presentations.
Lunch included talks from Ms. Olga Miller, Director, Renova Fort Ross Foundation, Ms. Sarah Sweedler, President of the Fort Ross Interpretive Association, and our keynote speaker, Vasily Istratov, Deputy CEO of the Russkiy Mir Foundation. All highlighted the importance of parks and bringing “hidden stories” to light.
The last panel of the day focused on recreation: “Russian Scouting in California Parks and Wildlands.” Panelists Ms. Irene Bogoslovsky, Scoutmaster, St. George Pathfinders, Dr. Anatol Shmelev, Curator, Russian/CIS Collection, Hoover Institute, Stanford University, and Archpriest Alexander Krassovsky, Rector of Sts. Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church, not only explained the history and importance of scouting in Russian culture, but also shared personal memories and experiences.
Conference participants then broke out into four groups to discuss topics as diverse as “Parks and Outreach,” led by Donna Pozzi, Chief of Education and Interpretation, California State Parks, “Historic Preservation,” led by Elizabeth Goldstein, President, CSPF, “Education,” led by Michael Boland, Chief Planning, Projects & Programs Officer, The Presidio Trust, and “Media,” led by Jerry Emory, Director of Communications, CSPF. Each group reported back out to a plenary session, followed by an inspiring closing speech from Ruth Coleman, Director of the California State Department of Parks and Recreation.
The evening ended with a delightful reception at the Russian Consulate, generously hosted by Mr. Vladimir N. Vinokurov, Consul General of the Russian Federation. To the sound of live Russian folk music, guests enjoyed cocktails, hors d'oeuvre and animated conversations. CSPF presented Mr. Vinokurov and Ms. Sweedler with gifts to express our appreciation for their unstinting support. A good time was had by all.
CSPF was truly impressed by the passion and enthusiasm shown by all the conference attendees for Russian culture and history in our state parks. As we approach Fort Ross’s 200th anniversary in 2012, we are reminded of the critical role parks play in understanding and appreciating California’s history. The material presented at the conference, along with all the innovative ideas presented at the plenary session, will be gathered and analyzed by CSPF staff and partners to evaluate priorities for moving forward in the future. CSPF has established a “seed money” fund for programmatic initiatives and will be looking to encourage and develop ways to collaborate with community partners and experts to drive an acquisitions and interpretive strategy that fills significant gaps in the story told in the parks system, and beyond. Programmatic initiatives could include projects such as a lecture series, monographs, books and other publications, interpretive programs at specific parks (such as living history), and a wide range of social media innovations. Other strategies could address media, academia, libraries, schools, etc. Stay tuned for more news from Hidden Stories!