The Whitsett Program


Since the establishment of the W.P. Whitsett Endowment in 1986 — honoring the legacy of San Fernando Valley developer W.P. Whitsett — the History Department at CSUN has become a hub of professional research and student-centered programming on the history of California and Los Angeles. Directed by W.P. Whitsett Chair, Dr. Josh Sides since 2005, CSUN’s Whitsett Program includes:

The Whitsett Lecture:

Each year since 1987, a mid-career or senior scholar is invited to deliver the Annual W.P. Whitsett Lecture. The lecture series encourages an interdisciplinary approach to subjects related to California and the lecture is published in the Southern California Quarterly. Register for the 2021 lecture here!

The Whitsett Public History Interview:

Each year, in conjunction with the Department’s public history offerings, we host a live interview and discussion with a leader in the field of scholarship, exhibition, and curation related to California and Los Angeles. Register for the 2021 Interview here!

The Whitsett Graduate Seminar in California History:

The seminar showcases the strongest graduate work in a one-day seminar moderated by top scholars in fields related to California History. We seek submissions from graduate students at any stage of completion of the doctorate (including MA students) and those with PhDs still seeking full-time employment. Register to attend the Graduate Seminar here!

Whitsett Scholar Awards:

Each Spring semester, members of the Whitsett Committee nominate one or two exceptional graduate students to be a Whitsett Scholar. Whitsett Scholars will receive a stipend to support summertime revision of their best work for submission to a scholarly journal. Articles will be given special consideration for publication in the state’s flagship historical journals Southern California Quarterly and California History, both published by the University of California Press.


W.P. Whitsett Portrait, 1947
W.P. Whitsett Portrait, 1947.
Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library

William Paul Whitsett (1875-1965) was a pioneering real estate developer who founded Van Nuys — “The Town that Was Started Right”. Born to an affluent family that controlled coal mining interests in Pennsylvania, the precocious Whitsett demonstrated “enduring energy, faith, optimism, and impressive competence” from an early age, concluded historian John E. Baur. In 1905 Whitsett moved to southern California and in 1911 he became the enthusiastic founder of Van Nuys describing valley land as "among the richest and best in California, but to the inexperienced eye those acres looked like a wasteland,” Whitsett later recalled — no nearby roads, light fixtures, water pipes, gas, or telephone facilities. Whitsett, however, pushed ahead with the sale of land sites, the organization of Van Nuys, the introduction of agricultural advances, banking, and water from the Owens Valley. Whitsett served on the board of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and as the first chairman of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California from 1930 to 1947. He led the successful effort to bring Colorado river water to Los Angeles which facilitated the post-World War II expansion of southern California.

W.P. Whitsett (standing on running board of car on right) with his salesmen at his Van Nuys real estate office, 1911
W.P. Whitsett (standing on running board of car
on right) with his salesmen at his Van Nuys real
estate office, 1911. Courtesy Los Angeles Public

In November, 1986 the W.P. Whitsett Foundation and California State University, Northridge, established the W.P. Whitsett Endowment at CSUN to honor Mr. Whitsett. The Whitsett Foundation's gift was intended to honor the memory of W.P. Whitsett and his pioneering role in San Fernando Valley history. Whitsett's three granddaughters--Mrs. Myrtle Harris, Mrs. Eleanore Robinson and Mrs. Sarah Ann Siegel--and family friends, Mrs. Mary Jane Petit and Mrs. Sara Baur--generously supported the department's efforts to implement the different parts of the endowment starting with the late Dr. John Baur's published essay on W.P. Whitsett.

The establishment of the W.P. Whitsett Chair in California History in 1994 completed the implementation of the endowment. This is the first endowed chair at CSUN and one of the first in the entire California State University system. Professor Gloria Ricci Lothrop accepted the position in June 1994 and joined the department for the 1994-1995 academic year. Professor Lothrop taught at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona since 1970 and retired from CSUN in 2002.In Fall of 2005, Professor Josh Sides became the second Whitsett Chair.

Source: John E. Baur, “William Paul Whitsett: A Biographical Sketch,” Southern California Quarterly (Spring 1994): 5-30.

  • 1987 Glenn Dumke, "The Boom of the 1880s in Southern California"
  • 1988 Andrew Rolle, "Exploring an Explorer: California, Psycho-History and John Fremont"
  • 1989 Kevin Starr, "From Oz to Tarzana: Metaphor and Real Estate Development in Southern California in the Early Twentieth Century"
  • 1990 William Goetzman, "Re-Mythologizing the American West"
  • 1991 Doyce Nunis, "Medicine in Hispanic California"
  • 1992 Martin Ridge, "California: The Imagined Country"
  • 1993 Gloria Lothrop, "Rancheras on the Land: Women and Property Rights in Hispanic California
  • 1994 David Weber, "Writers, Readers, and the Meaning of the Spanish Frontier in North America"
  • 1995 Richard Griswold del Castillo, "Cesar Estrada Chavez: The Final Struggle"
  • 1996 Donald Worster, “Landscape with Hero: John Wesley Powell and the Colorado Plateau”
  • 1997 Iris Engstrand, “The 18th Century Enlightenment Comes to California”
  • 1998 Richard White, “Disney’s Nature: Walt Disney and the Nature of America”
  • 1999 Norris Hundley, Jr., “Whither Californians and Their Water: Environmental Protection or Environmental Disaster”
  • 2000 Glenda Riley, “‘Saving the Wild West’: Women’s Role in the Early Conservation Movement”
  • 2001 Janet Fireman, "Horizons of Paradise: Perspectives on Los Angeles History"
  • 2002 Elliott West, “Listen Up: Hearing the Unheard in Western History”
  • 2003 Leonard Pitt, “The ‘Quiet Revolution’: The History of Neighborhood Empowerment in Los Angeles since 1850"
  • 2004 Stephen Aron, “The Afterlives of Lewis and Clark”
  • 2005 Roger Lotchin, “The Bad City in the Good War: California Cities in the Second Great War”
  • 2006 Phil Deloria, "Tear Down the Butte! Drain the Lake! Build Paradise!: The Environmental Dimensions of Political and Economic Power in Boulder and Benzie"
  • 2007 William Deverell, "Convalescence and California: The Civil War Comes West"
  • 2008 David Igler, “Captives, Hostages, and the Nature of Culture Contact on the Northwest Coast”
  • 2009 George Sanchez, “Edward R. Roybal and the Politics of Multiracialism”
  • 2010 Thomas G. Andrews, “Toward an Environmental History of Hubert Howe Bancroft’s Works: The Nature and Culture of an Audacious Western Enterprise.”
  • 2011 Steven W. Hackel, “Digging up the Remains of Early Los Angeles: The Plaza Church Cemetery”
  • 2012 Brian DeLay, “So Far From God, So Close to the Gun Store: Borderlands Arms Trading and the Travails of Mexican History”
  • 2013 Josh Sides, Jake-Alimahomed-Wilson, Scott Saul, Natale Zappia, “Post-Ghetto: Reimagining South Los Angeles”
  • 2014 Natalia Molina, “How the Starbucks Generation is Erasing Cultural History”
  • 2015 Dr. Margaret Salazar-Porzio, “Practicing Public History: California Stories at the Smithsonian”
  • 2016 Jon Wilkman, “Floodpath: The Deadliest Man-Made Disaster of 20th Century America and the Making of Modern Los Angeles”
  • 2017 Stacey Smith, "From Citizens of Nowhere to Subjects of the British Empire."
  • 2018 Natale Zappia, "Food Frontiers: Native Landscapes and Power in Early North America"
  • 2019 Genevieve Carpio, “Collisions at the Crossroads: How Place and Mobility Make Race”