Beyond Día de los Muertos: Curator comes full circle with exhibit on Mexican celebrations

The walls are splashed with vibrant, multicolored hues. A centuries-old map of Mexico City, stretching 7 ½ feet wide and 5 feet tall, graces the back wall.

The Bancroft Library Gallery has transformed for a new exhibit, featuring materials from Bancroft’s Latin Americana Collection dating as far back as the 16th century. The show, called ¡Viva la Fiesta!: Mexican Traditions of Celebration, explores the cycle of traditional religious and patriotic celebrations that have been woven into Mexican culture for generations.

“I thought it would be fun to show a lighter (side) of Mexico we’re not getting because of the news,” said José Adrián Barragán-Álvarez, who curated the exhibit.

Student Marina Henriquez, left, looks over the opening of the "Viva La Fiesta" exhibit, along with other visitors, in Bancroft Library on Oct. 12, 2017. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)
Student Marina Henriquez, left, and others attend the opening of ¡Viva la Fiesta! at The Bancroft Library on Oct. 12. (Photos by Jami Smith for the University Library)

‘Let’s go to Bancroft’

Although he started here just last year as curator for Latin Americana, Barragán-Álvarez is very much at home at Bancroft.

He was introduced to Bancroft when he was an undergrad at UC Berkeley, double majoring in Spanish and Latin American studies.

William B. Taylor taught José Adrián Barragán-Álvarez in a few Latin American history classes, and Barragán-Álvarez considers Taylor a mentor. (Courtesy of Jim Block)
William B. Taylor taught José Adrián Barragán-Álvarez in a few Latin American history classes, and Barragán-Álvarez considers Taylor a mentor. (Courtesy of Jim Block)

He remembers professor William B. Taylor, who taught him in a few Latin American history classes, encouraging students to take advantage of the library’s vast collections. “Let’s go to Bancroft and do some research,” he recalls the professor saying.

Barragán-Álvarez took him up on the offer.

“I remember several sessions at the round table in the old reading room watching him learn to read the script from different periods and make sense of what he was reading,” Taylor recalls.

Barragán-Álvarez, who considers Taylor a mentor, remembers it fondly: “It was really fun for me as a 19-, 20-year-old to be able to play with a (primary) document,” he said.

Decoding the manuscripts was “like a little puzzle,” he said. “And who doesn’t like that?”

A visitor looks at the collection during the Bancroft Library opening of the "Viva La Fiesta" exhibit on Oct. 12, 2017. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)
A visitor looks at the collection at the ¡Viva la Fiesta! exhibit.

‘Where all this began’

¡Viva la Fiesta! — the first exhibit that lists Barragán-Álvarez as the sole curator since he started — takes a multifaceted approach, exploring patriotic celebrations, Christmastime rituals, and the festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe — among other traditions.

The exhibit highlights Día de los Muertos, which, contrary to popular perceptions, is not like Halloween, Barragán-Álvarez said.

“Halloween is about dressing up as ghouls and witches and ghosts,” he said. “Día de los Muertos is sort of the opposite of that. It’s about remembrance.”

An altar, complete with books, papier-mache food, and flowers, illustrates how families honor the dead. The altar represents the ones families set up in their homes, which, Barragán-Álvarez said, provide a “pathway” for departed loved ones to return to visit.

Left to right: Kenny Grove, Peter Hanff, and Bo Wreden chat at the opening of the "Viva La Fiesta" exhibit in Bancroft Library on Oct. 12, 2017. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)
From left, Kenny Grove; Bancroft Deputy Director Peter Hanff; and Bo Wreden chat near the altar at the opening of the exhibit, in The Bancroft Library Gallery.

In keeping with the spirit of the holiday, visitors are encouraged to interact with the exhibit by writing down and displaying the name of their lost loved ones on paper tags, which become part of the exhibit and, ultimately, part of the Library’s collections.

As for the huge map? Made in 1807, the hand-colored artifact has long been a treasure of the collection at Bancroft, but it was too fragile to handle.

“Large sections of the map were literally in tatters,” said Elaine Tennant, director of The Bancroft Library. Starting in 2015, the map was faithfully restored by Karen Zukor and her team at Zukor Art Conservation in Oakland in an extensive process that took more than a year.

Visitors near a map
Visitors look at photographs near an 1807 map of Mexico City on Oct. 27.

Other notable materials on display in the exhibit include early baptismal records and, sprinkled throughout the gallery, vivid broadsides by artist José Guadalupe Posada, who went on to influence famed painter Diego Rivera.

That Barragán-Álvarez is curating this particular exhibit seems “especially fitting,” Taylor notes.

Barragán-Álvarez grew up in a small ranching community in the Mexican state of Michoacán for the first years of his life. Of the celebrations explored in the exhibit, the one he remembers the most vividly from his upbringing is Las Posadas, a Christmastime tradition where a group travels from house to house, reenacting the biblical story of Mary and Joseph’s search for an inn. Participants are turned away until they reach the designated house that lets them inside. “Then there would be a big celebration at the house,” Barragán-Álvarez said.

“He is more than a student of these traditions,” his mentor said. “They are deeply rooted in his life.”

Barragán-Álvarez agrees: “I think I’m attached to just about everything (in the exhibit).”

A ‘great feeling’

What has it been like working on this exhibit?

Barragán-Álvarez said it deepened his familiarity with the Latin Americana collection, which is Bancroft’s second-largest.

José Adrián Barragán-Álvarez, curator of Latin Americana for Bancroft Library, poses for a portrait in October 2017.
José Adrián Barragán-Álvarez curated the ¡Viva la Fiesta! exhibit.

“It’s rewarding, but, more importantly,” he said, “it gave me a better sense of what we have.”

“Each (Bancroft Gallery show) is a selected sample of Bancroft materials organized around a theme,” Tennant said. “As it tells its particular story, the exhibition attempts to signal the breadth and depth of the Bancroft collections and to encourage visitors to come back and ask us to show them more!”

“I hope this exhibition, focused on Mexican celebrations, reminds visitors that Bancroft documents the many cultures and communities of the American West,” she said.

Although Barragán-Álvarez’s path has diverged from that of his mentor — with Taylor retiring as a professor in 2008 and moving to Maine, and his former student graduating from Berkeley in 2000 and going on to participate in the Ph.D. program in Latin American history at the University of Texas at Austin — Barragán-Álvarez “has stayed in touch all these years, now as a colleague, friend, and curator in the library where all this began,” Taylor said.

How does it feel for Barragán-Álvarez to be back at Berkeley — this time as a curator?

“There will always be this great feeling,” he said. “I’m at a real place, and we have a great collection.”

¡Viva la Fiesta! is on display in The Bancroft Library Gallery through February 2018. The gallery is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.


Mystery, murder, mayhem: Meet the man behind the Library’s detective fiction collection


Crime doesn’t pay.


But for Randal Brandt, it does.

For the past few years, in addition to Brandt’s primary job as the head of cataloging at The Bancroft Library, he has curated Bancroft’s California Detective Fiction Collection, numbering about 3,000 mystery novels set in the Golden State or written by California authors.

Of those, nearly 1,700 are Bay Area mysteries.

A particularly significant item? A first-edition copy of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. Although the book, which inspired the 1941 movie of the same name, starring Humphrey Bogart, doesn’t have its original dust jacket, “the title page is beautiful,” Brandt said.

“That’s definitely one of our collection highlights,” Brandt said.

The city of Berkeley makes appearances in a fair number of mysteries. For example, most of the action in Oakland native and longtime Berkeley resident Anthony Boucher’s first novel, 1937’s The Case of the Seven of Calvary, takes place on or near the UC Berkeley campus. (The Bancroft Library has a first-edition copy that the author presented to his mother.)

Even The Bancroft Library itself pops up in Julie Smith’s 1987 Huckleberry Fiend.

And in The Maltese Falcon, private detective Sam Spade sends his secretary across the bay by ferry to confirm facts with a UC Berkeley history professor.

“Part of what I love about mysteries is the sense of place — and what they say about the place,” Brandt said.

And it’s this place — in Berkeley at Morrison Library — that will serve as the backdrop for a night of mystery and intrigue Wednesday, featuring best-selling Northern California authors Laurie R. King, Sheldon Siegel, and Kelli Stanley. But more on that later.

Books, books, books

Brandt’s own journey to Berkeley began in the late ’80s.

Before moving here in 1989 — after graduating from Fresno State and right before the Loma Prieta earthquake  (“We had earthquakes, too, but nothing like that one”) — he came to Berkeley to visit a friend who was living here.

He remembers riding on the back of his friend’s motorcycle, checking out used bookstores.

But his interest in books goes back even further than that.

“One of my earliest memories of reading mystery fiction was reading Agatha Christie novels,” he said. “My mom would check them out from the library for herself, then pass them along to me.”

He also showed an interest early on in tales of adventure, devouring Walter Farley’s “Black Stallion” books, and, later, James Bond novels.

“I remember going to the library and getting an armload of books,” he said, “and returning them to get another armload.”

Brandt earned his Master’s in Library and Information Studies from UC Berkeley in December 1990, and he began working at the Library the next year. He’s been here ever since.

With his passion for mysteries, does Brandt think about penning his own?

“I have no inclination to write a novel,” he said, adding that he prefers writing about fiction. He has written introductions to works by the late David Dodge, his favorite author. (The Berkeley native wrote To Catch a Thief, which inspired the Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name.)

But true crime? Well, that’s another story.

“I got this email from someone out of the blue,” Brandt said. “She had been a student here. She wanted to know if I knew about the murder.”

The murder she was referring to happened nearly six decades ago, in 1960.

The scene of the crime? Doe Library.

Brandt had known about it, albeit vaguely. But the email prompted him to dig deeper — and do some sleuthing of his own, uncovering information that he intends to draw on for an article he plans to write about the case.

The killer was a brilliant man — he began to read and write at age 3, and he skipped at least three grades in school, according to his mother’s testimony after the murder — but he suffered from mental illness and trauma, he later said, because of the racial differences in his family: His mother was black, and his father was white.

The victim was a woman with whom he was in love. The two had been students at UC Berkeley.

According Brandt’s research, the murder took place in what is now the Roger W. Heyns Reading Room, on the second floor of Doe Library. Based on photographs of the crime scene he dug up in the San Francisco Examiner Photograph Archive, and comparing them to contemporary photographs of Doe found in the University Archives, he now has a good idea of the exact spot in the room where it likely occurred.

As for the details? They’ll be explored in Brandt’s article.

Though the case is intriguingly layered — with elements of race, mental illness, and trauma — one thing is for sure: “It’s a tragedy from start to finish,” Brandt said.

A night of mystery

Brandt wears many hats — many of them the detective variety.

Brandt has created a bibliography, called Golden Gate Mysteries, that, although incomplete as yet, contains 2,300 titles set in San Francisco and the Bay Area.

In 2011, he co-curated an exhibit in the Bernice Layne Brown Gallery, called Bullets Across the Bay, which drew on the Library’s materials to highlight East Bay and San Francisco’s deep tradition with mystery novels, and he helped organize a night of readings by local mystery authors.

Wednesday’s event — called Crime Does Not Pay — Enough! — is part of the Northern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America’s slate of Mystery Week events. Current and former MWA NorCal presidents Laurie R. King, Sheldon Siegel, and Kelli Stanley will read from the works of some of the founding members of the Northern California Chapter — works that Brandt hand-picked from the Library’s collection — as well as selections of their own works.

“We’re lucky to have so much literary talent in Berkeley and the Bay Area,” said Stacy Reardon, Literatures and Digital Humanities Librarian at UC Berkeley. “That creativity is fueled by an amazing history, particularly for the mystery genre. The format of Crime Does Not Pay — Enough! underscores the legacy that twentieth century detective fiction writers continue to have on some of its most successful authors today.”


Vivid, vintage posters bring Bollywood exhibit to life

Students view the "Love Across the Global South" exhibit after its opening event on Oct. 6, 2017. (Photo by Cade Johnson for the University Library)
Students view the Love Across the Global South exhibit on opening night, Oct. 6, 2017. (Photo by Cade Johnson for the University Library)

The first thing you notice is its size.

Stretching across an 8-foot expanse, it features a blockbuster movie trifecta: crime, intrigue, a handsome leading man.

The six-panel billboard, digitally shrunk from its original size by about 30 percent, advertises the 1975 film Deewaar. (The movie, cited as a masterpiece of Bombay cinema — or Bollywood cinema, as it’s often called — influenced, among other works, Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire.)

And it’s just one of the vibrantly hued, richly textured, and beautifully preserved movie posters on display in a new exhibit at Doe Library’s Brown Gallery, called Love Across the Global South: Popular Cinema Cultures of India and Senegal.

The posters, dating from 1957 to 2011, were collected by exhibit co-curator Sugata Ray on his travels in India, and they offer eye-catching portals into the genre and its influence.

“Every single piece is an integral part of the story we tell,” co-curator Ivy Mills said.

Read the full story at stories.lib.berkeley.edu.


A first-of-its-kind look at Chinese overseas treasures, scholarship

UC Berkeley's Chinese American archives, including photos, manuscripts and artwork, such as the piece shown here, is one of the largest in North America. (Image courtesy of The Bancroft Library, Chinese in California Collection. BANC PIC 1986.015:73--PIC)
The UC Berkeley Library’s collections include photographs, manuscripts, prints, and artwork, such as the piece shown here, of the Chinese in California and the American West. (Image courtesy of The Bancroft Library, Chinese in California Collection. BANC PIC 1986.015:73–PIC)

To trace the story of Asian American studies, you must go back to the 1960s. And any story about the genesis of the discipline would be incomplete without Ling-Chi Wang.

He was there from the beginning: In the late ’60s, amid student protests demanding diverse representation in academic programs, Wang helped establish the disciplines of Asian studies and ethnic studies at UC Berkeley.

Now a professor emeritus at UC Berkeley, Wang will deliver the keynote address Thursday at the Chinese Overseas Symposium, a first-of-its kind event focusing on UC Berkeley-oriented Chinese overseas scholarship and curatorship for an international audience.

‘Transforming American history’

With three other graduate students, Wang taught the first course in Asian American studies at UC Berkeley, in the winter quarter of 1969. Later that same year — and at the same time — the very first ethnic studies programs were born at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State. They were unlike anything the country had seen.

“Berkeley can justifiably be proud of its role in transforming American history and identity and making interdisciplinary American studies inclusive,” said Wang, who retired in 2006.

In just two years, in 2019, Berkeley’s Asian American studies program (now called Asian American and Asian diaspora studies) is marking its 50th anniversary — a momentous occasion for which Wang is involved with fundraising efforts.

“We have a proud legacy upon which we can build our future and engage the nation in the study of race and gender and in global diaspora studies,” he said. “We need to invest and change our priorities if we are to lead.”

‘Best of our highlights’

The event Thursday aims to honor that legacy — and to “sow the seeds of good will,” according to symposium co-chair Virginia Shih — while showcasing the Library’s world-class collections. The free, daylong event is a prelude of sorts to a conference Friday in San Francisco, called “This Land Is Our Land: Chinese Pluralities Through the Americas.”

And it’s a true collaboration, featuring an interdisciplinary group of speakers that includes librarians and professors alike.

“One of the exciting things about Chinese overseas is it spans the whole world,” said symposium co-chair Sine Hwang Jensen, who serves as Asian American studies and comparative ethnic studies librarian at UC Berkeley. “That’s why the perspectives that everyone brings — and we bring — contribute something unique to the topic.”

The Chinese Overseas Symposium's logo.
The Chinese Overseas Symposium’s logo

Harvey Dong, for example — one of the featured speakers — participated in the student strike in 1969 that led to the creation of ethnic studies and Asian American studies and will bring this perspective to the symposium in his talk about how the rediscovery of early Chinese American history has influenced generations of students. And Professor Emeritus Wang will talk about the past, present, and future of Chinese American studies at UC Berkeley and beyond.

In the afternoon, visitors will get a taste of what the UC Berkeley Library has to offer. The tours stop at four libraries — The Bancroft Library, the C. V. Starr East Asian Library, the South/Southeast Asia Library, and the Ethnic Studies Library, which boasts one of the largest Chinese American collections in North America. Tours will highlight the Library’s wide range of materials, including photographs, manuscripts, prints, and paintings documenting the experience of the Chinese in California and the American West, as well as materials from the vast collection of film critic and historian Paul Fonoroff — which is the largest Chinese film studies collection in North America — among other treasures.

“(The event) gives the people the best of our highlights — in one day,” said Shih, librarian for the Southeast Asia collections.

A relevant occasion

The symposium’s organizers hope that showcasing the Library’s resources will encourage scholars to take advantage of the materials — and perhaps even inspire scholarly collaborations.

But it comes a time when the country is in a state of deep division, with questions of identity and inclusion rising to prominence.

“Where we’re at politically, (the event) is more essential,” said symposium co-chair Jensen. “We’re having a national conversation about belonging.”

“It’s very relevant today,” she said.

Admission is free, and registration is closed, but those who show up will not be turned away, as space allows.

For details, including a schedule, go to the Chinese Overseas Symposium’s website.


Soups, wraps — and ice cream? Here’s the lowdown on UC Berkeley’s newest cafe.

Students order juice and coffee drinks at the opening of the new Press cafe outside the fourth floor of Moffitt Library on Oct. 2, 2017. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)
Students order juice and coffee drinks at the opening of the new Press cafe outside the fourth floor of Moffitt Library on Oct. 2, 2017. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)

What’s shiny, shaped like a box, and full of holes — and delicious food?

It’s UC Berkeley’s newest cafe.

Opening Oct. 2 outside the fourth floor of Moffitt Library — on a campus brimming with places to get coffee — Press, as it’s called, sets itself apart through its design as much as its fare.

“The cafe architecture is totally unique,” said Sukhjit Johal, who, as part of the Design Office, is in charge of the capital projects at the UC Berkeley Library, including Press. Like the reimagined fourth and fifth floors of Moffitt, the cafe was designed by Gensler, a firm with headquarters in San Francisco.

Perhaps the most stunning part of the design?

Square-shaped perforations, cut using waterjet technology — think of a Super Soaker on steroids — are dispersed throughout the cafe’s exterior metal panels. The cutouts allow light, generated by LEDs, to shine through.

“The full impact of the design (is) best viewed in the evening and at night, when the lights on all sides are turned on so the box glows like a jewel box,” Johal said. “When closed and lit, it takes on a bit of a mystery.”

The Press cafe will include lighting to increase visibility near Moffitt Library at night. Photo made in September 2017 during construction of the cafe. (Photo courtesy of Charles Payne/Gensler)
Press will include lighting to increase visibility at night. (Photo courtesy of Charles Payne/Gensler)
The Press cafe will include lighting to increase visibility near Moffitt Library at night. Photo made in September 2017 during construction of the cafe. (Photo courtesy of Charles Payne/Gensler)
The square-shaped cutouts were created using waterjet technology. (Photo courtesy of Charles Payne/Gensler)

Other interesting features?

The cafe uses an aircraft hangar door — adding a sense of drama and also serving a practical purpose: When open, the door acts as a shade. When is the last time you saw something that cool at Starbucks?

“Because of the size and location as well as the beautiful aesthetics, I think this place is more of a fun ‘snack shack,’” said Daryl Ross, a UC Berkeley alum who operates Press, as well as the Free Speech Movement Café, also at Moffitt, as well as cafes at the law and business schools, and owns Caffe Strada, on College Avenue; and Free House restaurant, on Bancroft Way. “(Press is) a place to get fun, healthy food that students can bring into the library and enjoy while they study.”

As with the architecture, the fare at Press goes beyond what you might expect from a traditional quick-stop cafe.

Besides serving up the requisite coffees and teas, Press offers soft-serve ice cream; smoothies such as the Green Machine, with kale, pineapple and ginger; hearty soups, such as Red Lentil Dal and Spinach; paleo muffins; and hot wraps, from roasted turkey with honey garlic aioli to peanut butter and banana with honey, according to Ross, who notes that more offerings are coming in the future.

As for the name?

Press (there’s no “The,” by the way) was favored because of its associations with libraries (think printing press), food (panini and coffee presses), current events (the press), and people (a press, or crowd, of people) — and it fit the cafe’s aesthetic, according to Elizabeth Dupuis, associate university librarian for educational initiatives and user services and director of the Doe, Moffitt, and subject specialty libraries.

Press will be open 7:30-5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday but will open a little later on the first couple of days — around 10 a.m., according to Ross.

Students visited the new Press cafe outside the fourth floor of Moffitt Library on its opening day, Oct. 2, 2017. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)
Students visit Press on its opening day. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)
Tea, muffins and fruit are among the items for sale at the opening of the new Press cafe outside the fourth floor of Moffitt Library on Oct. 2, 2017. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)
Tea, muffins and fruit are among the items for sale at Press. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)

Video: Fake news vs. real news — can you spot the difference?

Let’s get real: Fake news is a big problem.

We put a group of staff and students to the test, asking them to discern between real news and phony facsimiles.

As it turns out, it’s not always easy to tell the difference.

But the Library aims to make it easier.

A free event Thursday, called “Media Manipulation, Fake News, and Trolls: A Critical Media Workshop and Skill-Share,” aims, in part, to help empower students to identify and combat media misinformation.

What do students think about the effort?

“It’s absolutely important,” said UC Berkeley junior Ashley-Grace Vo, of The Daily Californian, citing the onslaught of fake news littering the media landscape. “It’s a very confusing time to be alive.”

The workshop is part of the Library’s new Level Up initiative, which includes an online guide to Weeding out BS, designed to help students navigate fake news, shoddy scholarship, trolls, and media bias.

The workshop runs 5:30-7 p.m. at 405 Moffitt, and pizza and soft drinks will be provided.


Beyond Hamilton: Hit musical inspires Library pop-up exhibit

History graduate students Nicole Viglini, left, and Amy O’Hearn discuss “Hamilton, in Maps,” a pop-up exhibit Viglini helped to curate in the Earth Sciences & Map Library in McCone Hall on Sept. 22, 2017. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)
History graduate students Nicole Viglini, left, and Amy O’Hearn discuss Hamilton, in Maps, a pop-up exhibit on display Friday at the Earth Sciences and Map Library. Viglini co-curated the exhibit. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)

Didn’t score tickets to Hamilton?

Even those who haven’t seen the pop culture juggernaut firsthand were able to gain insight into the life and times of the founding father, thanks to a pop-up exhibit at the Earth Sciences and Map Library on Friday.

“I wanted to harness the interest people have in Hamilton,” said Nicole Viglini, a UC Berkeley grad student studying history, who co-curated the pop-up Maps and More exhibit, with help from librarians Sam Teplitzky and Susan Powell.

This year, as part of the campuswide On the Same Page program, new students and faculty members were encouraged to listen to the Hamilton soundtrack — and are given opportunities to engage with the work and discuss it with others.

Using the hit Lin-Manuel Miranda musical as a starting point, Hamilton, in Maps explored the important topics of race, immigration and inclusion.

“Maps can help tell the story of African-Americans’ various movements for emancipation and political and social equality,” said Viglini, who highlighted the stories of slave uprisings and of African-Americans’ participation in the Revolutionary War — in which between 20,000 and 100,000 slaves were said to flee to British lines.

Among the notable items on display was a copy of the letter Alexander Hamilton wrote about the famous hurricane that set his course for what would become America (and is now immortalized in a song).

The exhibit also raised the question of who gets to tell someone’s story — and why some stories are overlooked, a theme that is also explored Hamilton, which, notably, has people of color playing the founding fathers.

The Maps and More series, in its fourth year, also aims to highlight the resources the Library has to offer.

“One of the goals of the series is to encourage (students to) use the collection,” Teplitzky said.


Want to upgrade your digital skills? The Library’s Level Up initiative can help.

Virtual reality, fake news, do-it-yourself web design — what do these things have in common? All are part of our ever-changing information landscape, for better or worse. And all are explored in a new initiative, Level Up, which aims to help students take a closer look at the technology in their lives through dozens of fall workshops and online guides. Want to learn about 3-D printing? Need help getting started on a research project? We’ve got students covered.

“We want to empower students to create new media, experiment with emerging technologies, and be critical consumers of information in an age when bogus stories are increasingly common,” says E-Learning and Information Studies Librarian Cody Hennesy, who is designing and implementing the initiative.

This week, the Library launched a Level Up web resource, which includes information for students interested in enhancing their digital information skills and teaching tools for faculty members on these topics.


Exhibit examines Russian Revolution 100 years later

Vladimir Lenin was known for his oration skills, illustrated here. Smokestacks, representing an industrialized future, and the red banner are common motifs in Soviet propaganda. (Valentin Shcherbakov, “A Spectre Is Haunting Europe, the Spectre of Communism”)
Vladimir Lenin was known for his oration skills, illustrated here. Smokestacks, representing an industrialized future, and the red banner are common motifs in Soviet propaganda. (Valentin Shcherbakov, “A Spectre Is Haunting Europe, the Spectre of Communism”)

Russia has dominated popular discussion recently, as news junkies and casual observers alike can tell you.

But how much do you actually know about the country’s history?

As it turns out, 2017, which has been anything but uneventful so far, marks 100 years since the Russian Revolution. And although the Kremlin may not be officially commemorating the centenary, the UC Berkeley Library is exploring the topic in a vivid new exhibit at Moffitt Library.

For those who need a refresher, the revolution consisted of a pair of coups, both in 1917: The first saw the demise of the monarchical government of Tsar Nicholas II, and the other, led by Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks, led to the rise of the world’s first communist state, which would fall in 1991 (which, for some millennials, might as well be ancient history).

With feedback from key scholars on campus, Liladhar Pendse, Slavic and East European studies librarian at UC Berkeley, curated the exhibit, called “The Russian Revolution Centenary: 1917-2017: Politics, Propaganda and People’s Art.”

“The revolutions result in upheavals that generally lead to big transformations and social changes,” Pendse said. “How do those who have come to power behave? What kind of social and economic changes do they implement in the name of ‘humanity’? How do artists and authors behave and create new ‘transformative’ genres?”

The exhibit explores these questions through three major themes: politics, propaganda and the people’s art.

Because of the widespread illiteracy in the Russian Empire at the time, imagery became a potent force in conveying ideas. The result is an exhibit that is “highly visual.”

This poster by Russian artist Dmitry Moor is among the most recognizable pieces of Soviet propaganda. (Dmitry Moor, “Did You Register as a Volunteer?”)
This poster by Russian artist Dmitry Moor is among the most recognizable pieces of Soviet propaganda. (Dmitry Moor, “Did You Register as a Volunteer?”)

Revolutionary posters served as tools of propaganda for the early Soviet government. (You’re probably familiar with the aesthetic, which has served as an inspiration for everything from album covers to candy ads.) The Communists tried to replace familiar religious iconography with images of warriors or workers, symbols that were used to evoke the “just society” they envisioned. And the public art that was created by — and for — the people reinforced the expected norms of equality in the “new world,” Pendse said.

Pendse hopes the exhibit will help students learn about other viewpoints, encourage them “to think outside of the box” and remember the past, he said.

“At the back of my mind is what we can learn from history,” he said.

The exhibit is on view through Jan. 8. See the exhibit on the third floor of Moffitt Library — you’ll need a Cal 1 Card for entry. Click here to see the exhibit’s virtual counterpart.


From K-pop to the school-to-prison pipeline: Launch Pad program to offer rare glimpse into undergraduate research

Moffitt Library will be hosting the inaugural Launch Pad event Wednesday. Launch Pad provides a rare look at the undergraduate research process. (Photo by Alejandro Serrano for the University Library)
Moffitt Library is hosting the inaugural Launch Pad event Wednesday. Launch Pad offers a look at the undergraduate research process. (Photo by Alejandro Serrano for the University Library)

Shelby Mack was scared.

She and a friend, both high schoolers in Southern California, had been heading to a fast-food joint — ditching class, admittedly — when a school security guard stopped them and took them to the principal’s office.

Mack remembers bursting into tears, not knowing what punishment would await.

One thing led to another. What started as a visit with the principal and a phone call to her mother (plus a court date and a fine) ended with Mack going to the Police Department and participating in a juvenile delinquency program known as Divergent, she said.

“We didn’t even make it to McDonald’s,” Mack quipped.

The experience — one of many from Mack’s life that underscores the disparity in discipline between black girls and white girls — helped influence the topic she would research as a Haas Scholar.

The UC Berkeley senior, majoring in American studies with a concentration in black education, is studying black female enrichment programs such as Oakland-based African American Female Excellence and how these programs can be used to replace and dismantle zero-tolerance policies — policies that critics say play a role in the school-to-prison pipeline.

Shelby Mack, a senior majoring in American studies with concentration in black education, will talk Wednesday about the process behind her research into black female enrichment programs. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)
Shelby Mack, majoring in American studies, will talk Wednesday about the process behind her research into black female enrichment programs. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)

On Wednesday, Mack will be one of two undergraduates discussing the research process with fellow students as part of of the inaugural Launch Pad event at Moffitt Library.

Launch Pad’s undergraduate talks on the research process open “a creative space for discussion and growth,” explained Ashley Bacchi, events coordinator for the UC Berkeley Library and creator of the series. “Rather than focusing on results of students’ research, the talks provide insight into the research process itself, inviting participation from students from inside and outside of the discipline.

“The fourth floor Central Commons in the Moffitt Library offers a unique space for an event series that highlights the spirit of collaboration, innovation, and process learning that is embodied in this new addition to the Library system.”

For her research, Yena Lee, a senior at UC Berkeley who is majoring in media studies and minoring in journalism, also is focusing on a pervasive problem — albeit an entirely different one.

“The sexism in K-pop is very prevalent,” said Lee, a fellow with the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program, or SURF. Along with misogyny, homophobia and other problematic themes are common in lyrics and other aspects of so-called star text, which encompasses not only artists’ work, but also their publicity and promotional materials.

The troubling lyrics have caused a rift within fan communities, causing tension that has played out across Twitter in the form of hashtags and, in some cases, cyberbullying.

On one side are the diehards, whose unwavering loyalty is consistent with the established norms of being a K-pop fan. And on the other side are the fans who are challenging the status quo by demanding that their favorite artists address their problematic lyrics. (#WeWantBTSFeedback and other hashtags were created for that purpose.)

“(Most) artists are not doing anything, basically,” Lee said. “They don’t want any fans to be excluded, so they just keep quiet.”

Through in-depth interviews and data analysis — and a trip to Korea, funded by the SURF Fellowship program — Lee is taking a look at the people who, by holding their idols to account, are redefining what it means to be a K-pop fan.

Yena Lee, who is majoring in media studies and minoring in journalism, will be a presenter at Launchpad on the UC Berkeley campus on Sept. 13. Launch Pad is a program for undergraduate students to discuss the research process among their peers. (Courtesy of Yena Lee)
Yena Lee, majoring in media studies and minoring in journalism, is looking at tensions within K-pop fan communities and how those tensions play out across Twitter. (Courtesy of Yena Lee)

Both of Wednesday’s talks explore topics within the social sciences, but future Launch Pad events will focus on a variety of disciplines. October’s event will focus on science and engineering (formula-style racing, to be exact), and the talk in November will delve into the arts and humanities.

The subject areas are far-reaching, but the goal remains the same: to foster collaboration and innovation among students and to support the research process.

“I think it’s a really great effort by (the UC Berkeley Library) to bring everybody together,” Lee said.

Wednesday’s Launch Pad event takes place at 12:10 p.m. on the fourth floor of Moffitt Library. Each student’s talk will last about 10 minutes, and a Q&A session will follow.