Program Overview

“This is my first NEH experience and it was great to see the collegiality the directors created among the teachers. The topics and site visits were organized in a way that we were able to create a mind map of events and 


WORKSHOP QUESTION: How did World War II transform California and the nation?

In visits to World War II home front landmarks such as the SS Red Oak*, the last remaining victory ship completed in the Kaiser shipyards, participants will make explicit connections between regional landmarks and the national war effort.Participating educators will explore the important historical events memorialized in San Francisco and East Bay cities as well as the innovations developed by scientists on the UC Berkeley campus.

Walking through shipyards and state and national parks, participants will also gain insight into the geography of the California Bay Area, which contributed to its central role in the mobilization for war.

  • Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historic Park - The National Park Service has developed a multi-state historic park commemorating the experiences of women who joined the home front workforce.  The visitor's center features rich museum content, including teacher resources, oral histories, photographs, and film in addition to outlining a tour of historic sites.
  • Japantown and the Fillmore District - Anchored by malls, Japanese oriented businesses, and a peace pagoda, Japantown's symbolic center of the Japanese American community in San Francisco presents a modern consumer oriented face while also serving to illuminate the Japanese experience in the Bay Area. The neighborhood abuts the Fillmore district where black migrants to the Bay Area during WWII established a vibrant community.
  • Mare Island – On July 17, 1944, 320 men were killed when two ships, which were being loaded with munitions to be carried to the Pacific theatre, exploded. It was the war’s deadliest home front disaster and highlighted racial disparities within the armed services. Nearly two thirds of the men killed were African American. Following the explosion, the men refused to work and were charged with mutiny. Port Chicago, an active munitions supply site, will be closed to visitors during our workshops. We will visit Mare Island, where the work stoppage was initiated.
  • MIS Historic Learning Center– The Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center is the original site of the military language school for which Japanese American soldiers were secretly recruited to enlist in November 1941. The site offers docent-led tours of its exhibits, a short film about the site’s historical significance, and meeting space for a lecture.
  • UC Berkeley Campus – Scientists at UC Berkeley led the development of the atomic bomb, which was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We will visit campus buildings.

*Please note that access to the S.S. Red Oak Victory requires the use of a steep ramp and stairs as well as narrow passageways.


The below text provides the intellectual framework for the week of study. Participants will be asked to read these text in entirety, or significant portions of these, as well as additional primary and secondary sources.

  • California-Specific Framework: Kevin Starr, Embattled Dreams: California in War and Peace, 1940-1950 (2005) locates the changes in American society within the specific context of California, highlighting how national trends were concentrated, magnified, and accelerated in the state.

  • Young Adult Text: Steve Sheinkn, Port Chicago 50 (2017).

  • Fiction as a Historical Source: Chester Himes, If He Hollers (1945).

Participants on SS Red OakParticipants on CliffRosie the Riveter Visitor's Center