Kyle Larkin


Kyle Larkin was inspired to conduct his project through a course titled “History Research Seminar.” In it, Professor Igler guided students through the process of designing and carrying out a large-scale project, from forming a research question through to its completion. Kyle particularly enjoyed the opportunity to travel to archives—such as the Sherman Library in Corona del Mar—to dig through their collections for useful material. After graduation, Kyle is planning to take a year off before attending law school to pursue his passion for environmental law.triangle.gif (504 bytes)




The Santa Ana River is the largest river located solely in Southern California; however, today it hardly resembles a river at all. Instead, a series of man-made concrete channels and dams dominate the river’s course to the sea. This paper aims to explain the transformation of the river from a perennial waterway to a contained series of concrete channels. In it, the traditional explanation—the construction of the Prado Dam in 1940—is acknowledged yet challenged. This paper instead argues that the true transformation occurred in the 1850s to the 1880s when southern California towns and cities began to emerge. Americans in the region commodified the river, changing its role from a natural waterway to a source of profit for an emerging agricultural industry, as well as a source of water for a growing urban population. This paper argues that demographic changes and the emergence of American settler values in the mid- to late-nineteenth century lower Santa Ana River Valley ultimately transformed the landscape of the river. This study also highlights a conflict between competing systems of water appropriation, thereby acting as a microcosm of the complex history of California water law. The result of this research is a more nuanced understanding of the Santa Ana River’s transformation that illuminates an often-overlooked period of dramatic change in the lower Santa Ana River Valley.triangle.gif (504 bytes)

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Faculty Mentors                                                                                                                

David Bruce Igler
School of Humanities

Laura J. Mitchell
School of Humanities

This study details the extent of the physical changes wrought by human action in the last century and a half. From a rocky and sometimes roaring current to a tamed trickle framed in concrete, the Santa Ana River's story is intertwined with capitalism, land hunger, industrialization, and waves of community displacement. This paper shows what's possible with a careful reading of local history. Larkin's research reveals the social dynamics, political struggles, and environmental consequences of the early U.S. colonial settlement of Orange County. This is an important story about unforeseen consequences and a powerful reminder of the unacknowledged past contained within familiar local landscapes.triangle.gif (504 bytes)

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