February 4, 2022

“Garages & Gadgets,” a new Stanford Libraries exhibit highlights the history of Silicon Valley

Photo of Steve Jobs. Photograph by Douglas Menuez, 1986. Courtesy of Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries.

Entrepreneurial spirit and technological innovation associated with the region known today as Silicon Valley has been at the center of global change over the last century, affecting many aspects of our lives. This exhibit explores how these changes came about.

Stanford, CA Garages & Gadgets, an exhibition curated by the Silicon Valley Archives, is an invitation to researchers and students to explore critically the vast collections of documentation in the Stanford Libraries about how the changes in the region came about.

This exhibit is the inaugural exhibition for Hohbach Hall, the renovated first floor of the Cecil H. Green Library’s East Wing. The newly designed space has created new opportunities for students and scholars to engage more directly with Stanford Libraries’ Silicon Valley Archives including an exhibition promenade. Garages & Gadgets includes selections from the Libraries archive and guides visitors through the transformation of the region, including a section devoted to Stanford’s role in the early development of breakthrough technologies that shaped the region into what it is today.

Arcade: Before beginning his career as a photographer, Nowinski had worked at the California Academy of Sciences in the ichthyology department. Later in life, he would return to natural history with projects such as photographs of fauna and landscapes of the Galapagos taken in 2002 and 2003. While this set of interests might seem remotely connected to videogame arcades, Nowinski pointed out that, “It’s like when you are involved in Natural History, it sort of fits into photography. It fits cabinets, you know, and things that are similar but not in the natural order somehow. And so a lot of my photographs of arcades are the cabinets.” 

“When we set out to create a community of technical scholars in Silicon Valley, there wasn’t much here and the rest of the world looked awfully big. Now a lot of the rest of the world is here,” said Fred Terman, who was a Stanford alumnus, faculty emeritus and former provost, when reflecting back on the growth of Silicon Valley.  Terman was often credited as one of the fathers of Silicon Valley and the Libraries collection includes his papers.

As visitors make their way through the main exhibit area, a sequence of cases loosely follows the historical narrative of the region, with dedicated sections for electronics, chips, computing and digital culture respectively. On permanent display are two interactive digital screens  that offer additional perspectives on the various contributors, including individuals whose names have become synonymous with Silicon Valley and others whose work was essential but whose narratives are not as prominent in the retelling of the region’s history.

“As the world’s greatest repository of materials related to the history and development of Silicon Valley, we have a responsibility to present the historical narrative, which includes making sure all of the various communities of contributors are also reflected,” said Henry Lowood, the Harold C. Hohbach Curator and manager of the Silicon Valley Archives.

The intent of the exhibit, Lowood explains, “is to provide a sampling of the documents and objects that make our collections relating to the history and development of Silicon Valley through the 1990s uniquely extensive.”  The next challenge, Lowood shared, will be to develop collections that “better reflect the full diversity of people, technologies, and problems of this region not only through the 20th century, but also in the more recent past, and forward through the 21st century.”

Garages & Gadgets is on display until June 30, 2022 during regular operating hours for Green Library. Given COVID-19 policy, access to Stanford Libraries is currently restricted to students, faculty and staff with a current Stanford ID. 

More stories