Chapter 1 provides the basic motivation for the book, which is to understand the origins of California water law and the development and use of water as a central part of how gold mining is done. It begins by describing the state of present scholarly understanding of these origins, as well as the gap in our understanding. It goes on to outline the basic theoretical approach taken, which is to apply a number of notions of the determinants of institutional change taken from the New Institutional Economics. Finally, it describes a number of scholarly threads in Gold Rush historiography, focusing mostly on work done by economic historians on Gold Rush institutions, and it describes the contribution of the research to this literature.
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