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The Inland Empire People’s History Conference

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The Inland Empire People’s History Conference seeks to bridge university research and community activism to explore the art, culture, and histories of Inland Southern California. As one of the most ethnically diverse parts of the United States, the inland region of Southern California, referred to locally as the Inland Empire or IE, is historically significant to the development of race, ethnicity, gender, civil rights, and social movements in California, the American West, and throughout the United States. Home to more than 4.6 million residents, the IE accounts for approximately 12% of California’s total population and is the 12th largest metropolitan area in the United States. Inland Southern California has also served a key role as a frontier development region for U.S. expansionist policies, capital investment, and human migration.

In recent decades, the region has emerged as one of the nation’s most important warehouse sectors for the logistics industry, serving as a major trade hub for the U.S. and global economies. The region has long played a historic key role in transportation and commerce. For instance, the rail lines that make up so much of the region’s and the nation’s supply chain were established in the late-19th century and provided a catalyst for the dispossession of Native peoples and the eventual expansion of white settlement and racialized immigration into the region. Simultaneously, the agricultural farming sector, particularly citrus, came to define the region’s history for much of the 20th century. Investment in rail and U.S. subsidies that enabled this expansion facilitated a land boom that eventually engulfed all of Southern California. In the mid-twentieth century, the expansion of the interstate highway system and military bases in the Inland Empire reshaped a rapidly suburbanizing landscape and produced new histories of migration, racial dispossession, and resistance.

The conference is organized by a collaborative, multi-disciplinary, and multi-institutional group of scholars, community history keepers and practitioners, and members of A People’s History of the I.E. We are committed to bringing forward the history of Inland Southern California–including the full reach of San Bernardino and Riverside counties, the inland deserts, and the Pomona Valley–and the diverse forms of cultural production that have flourished here. We also aim to build “histories-from below” to document racialized communities, including Indigenous, immigrant, Asian American, Latino/a/e/x, Middle Eastern,  African American and diasporic populations; working people; and LGBTQ+ communities. The collaborative connects local community history to larger topics beyond the Inland Empire.

Hosted at California State University, San Bernardino, this conference will place scholars, community history keepers, writers, poets, activists, and artists into conversation and collaboration across the region. The conference will also provide a space to share historical knowledge and cultural productions that illuminate our understanding of the region with educators and develop strategies to localize ethnic studies curriculum. One of the goals of the conference will be to produce an edited volume of essays from conference participants that will contribute to the growing scholarship on the Inland Empire.

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