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Nathan Masters on LOST LA and mining LA’s digital archives

Published by USC Bedrosian Center on

by Brettany Shannon

Public historian Nathan Masters is host, producer, and managing editor of LOST LA, a KCETLink-produced television and blog series dedicated to using the region’s historical archives to recover LA’s lost histories and share them with a broader audience. The show, which just started its second season, is produced in partnership with the USC Libraries-hosted LA as Subject research alliance and represents an expansion of Nathan’s popular archival imagery-based photo essay series he started writing in 2011.

With his KCET and USC co-producers, Nathan demonstrates a broad knowledge and deep understanding of the LA region’s fascinating social, built, and natural histories, producing a show that gives as much airtime to LA’s often problematic history of social inequality and acts of environmental folly, as to its more charming tales. If you’ll allow a Hollywood metaphor: LOST LA recasts LA from a single (and often stifling) leading lady role into a myriad of far more interesting character actor ones. Nathan explains, “There’s this yearning for history in Los Angeles,” and digital archives’ ease of access and dissemination both help, “build a sense of community, a sense of place” and, “model for others just how easy it is to really tell these digital histories.”

In LOST LA, and as with any good history project, Nathan and his collaborators mine LA’s past to make us think more critically and expansively about its present and future. “When we were developing the series, in the beginning, we said one of the things we wanted to do was complicate nostalgia…. What we try to do is take something that we might want to remember fondly or think fondly about, and then show why it’s a lot more complicated than that.” Nathan joins us to talk about LOST LA and, in the process, shares a lot of by turns delightful and shameful — but always complicated — stories about LA’s past.

This conversation, like LA’s history, is wholly engrossing and because of its topic, touches on all of our themes this season, preservation, resistance, healing, and transformation. Because why study history at all if we are not to concern ourselves with the larger cultural-philosophical questions? Many thanks to Nathan for joining us in the Price School recording studio and to you, as always, for listening. Leave us a review and tell us what you thought of the conversation on Twitter (Bedrosian, me), Facebook, or email.


Follow Nathan on Twitter at @nathanmasters and on his website. And watch LOST LA! In keeping with KCETLink’s transmedia mission, you can find the show on multiple platforms, but start either at or the show’s YouTube page. Here’s the episode list:

S101: Wild L.A.
S102: Before The Dodgers
S103: Reshaping L.A.
Special: Descanso Gardens
S201: Borderlands

Also, do visit LA as Subject’s 12th-annual Los Angeles Archives Bazaar on Saturday, October 21st, from 9 am to 5 pm in the Doheny Memorial Library on USC’s University Park Campus. Here is the program online and in PDF, as well as the list of exhibitors.

Finally, longtime listeners may remember our inaugural guest was KCET’s Chief Creative Officer Juan Devis. We talked about ARTBOUND, participatory cultural journalism, and Southern California’s creative spirit. If you haven’t yet, check it out.

LA#Itself is produced by Aubrey Hicks, Jonathan Schwartz, and myself, and mixed by Corey Hedden. Stream the interview on this page, or you can download it and subscribe through ApplePodcasts, Soundcloud, or Google Play.

Bedrosian Center