California State University, Long Beach
alt="A NASA pilot looks up at a passing aircraft from the sand"

Cold War In California

When one thinks of the Cold War, sunny Southern California normally doesn’t come to mind. Still, during the bleak times of the Cold War, it became a hot spot for aerospace engineering and helped shape the twentieth century. This past summer, Cal State Long Beach played host to a workshop for educators exploring the various effects of the aerospace industry boom during this time.

The workshop called “Cold War Home Front: Aerospace in Southern California” was made possible by two grants received from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Landmarks of American History and Culture program, totaling $332,000. The goal of the NEH program is to help teachers align their curricula to various landmarks near them, as well as explore how these landmarks were affected by different historical events.

Professor Tim Keirn, one of the directors of the summer workshop and a full-time lecturer for the departments of history and liberal studies, said the workshop is a chance to help teachers perceive history through an all-inclusive global lens.

Nearly 40 workshop participants explored iconic landmarks of the aerospace field in the Los Angeles area. These landmarks, from Long Beach to Downey in southern California, make up what Keirn said was the “home front” of the Cold War. It was at these locations that engineers utilized aircraft manufacturing skills from World War II to pioneer groundbreaking aerospace engineering.

“We want to provide teachers with the tools to teach history through a truly global perspective,” Keirn said.

Teachers had a chance to speak to retired engineers who worked for aerospace companies during the time when the aerospace industry was at its peak in the region. Keirn said he believes the oral history that the engineers provide give an insight that can be often overlooked by textbooks and teachers.

“Most of the engineers we talked to… they weren’t doing it to defeat the Soviet Union. They were doing it because they saw it as a really challenging engineer problem,” Keirn said.

The goal was for teachers to leave with a better understanding of how to teach history to their students.

“It not only expanded the number of resources I have for teaching the Cold War, but it also provided a new perspective, the aerospace industry, that I had not known about previously. In addition, the course of study allowed me to make connections to other historical time periods, a necessary historical thinking skill,” teacher Justin McNamara said.

Keirn said it is important to make those connections between history and science.

Words: Michael Colbert