Sara Bard Field, born in 1882 to a strict orthodox Christian family, was a poet and prominent early member of the suffragist movement. A series of interviews with Field, conducted by the UC Berkeley Oral History Center in the late 1950s through the early 1960s—barely a decade before her death in 1974—reveals a woman of striking political acuity and deep concern about the world’s inequities. In her oral history, Sara Bard Field (Wood): Poet and Suffragist, Field recounts her storied life: from a childhood stifled by her father’s overbearing presence, to disillusionment with orthodox religion in her adult life, to a growing interest in local politics that eventually culminated in her involvement with suffragist activism at a national scale.
“I kept saying to myself again and again, until women get the vote they’re not going to be much of a power in society.”
Field spent much of her early adult life abroad; she was married in her late teens to her first husband, Reverend Albert Ehrgott—a relationship with an almost twenty-year age gap—and accompanied him on his ministry work overseas. Upon returning to the US, Field became involved in local politics in Cleveland, Ohio before assisting with several national suffrage campaigns and joining the National Women’s Party. Following a move to Portland, Oregon, Field became acquainted with lawyer and political activist Charles Erskine Scott Wood; the two later married and lived together on their estate “The Cats” in Los Gatos, California.
Field speaks frequently of her interest in the arts, a fascination which began at a very young age. “My mother tells of me at four,” she says, “of hearing me improvise as I sang my baby brother to sleep. I’d begin with a song that was known and that had been taught to me, then I would start improvising.” In her later years, Field published several poems and poetry collections, evidence of a lifelong passion for poetry which began in childhood with, if not “a knowledge of its beauty, at least a sense of the beauty” that poetic writing conveys.
Aside from her longstanding interest in writing, Field remained invested in politics and social issues. Field’s later activism was informed in part by her travels in India and elsewhere with Albert Ehrgott, where she developed insights about social inequity and what she referred to as the “almost frightening sense of the inadequacy of the capitalist system.”
According to Field, “hard as it was, I feel it was one of the great, at least if not turning points. . . in my thinking, it was a curse on my mind to think about social conditions in the world, because for the first time in my life I saw starving people mingling in the crowd.” She recalls feeling a sense of inherent wrongness at witnessing the mass exportation of food and other goods from India while the country’s colonial administration remained “indifferent to people who were starving in a land in which they lived and were exploiting.”
At the same time, Field was also wrestling with the dissolution of her steadfast relationship with faith. Field describes her dissatisfaction with the widespread practice of conversion in predominantly Buddhist countries and the idea that people “had to become Christian to be good. They were already good.”
These experiences formed the foundation for Field’s further involvement with women’s suffrage campaigns in the US and prepared her for activism at the national scale, first as a state campaign organizer in Oregon and later as a country-wide spokesperson for the National Women’s Party. Thinking back to the origins of the suffrage movement and lack of support initially available to the movement’s members, Field offers her perspective on the early days of the fight for suffrage:
I want to say again, you who are young and have been born into a time when women are in politics, when they have the power of the vote, I think you can’t realize what an obstacle it was to women, not only to action but to learn more, because they didn’t have any reason, as it were, or any field to exercise their interest, and this I kept saying to myself again and again, until women get the vote they’re not going to be much of a power in society.
When discussing the motives behind her decision to join the suffrage movement, Field recollects her own childhood, which was marred by shame and the extreme lack of clarity surrounding women’s roles that defined her family life. She recalls learning from her own experiences as a young, naive minister’s wife and advocating for educating young women about the world. Speaking specifically about marriage and the expectations it entails—children, sex, and the responsibilities of a spouse—Field expresses her wish that young women not struggle the same way she did as a result of a lack of knowledge:
I told women that in the course of my days, young as I was. “They should be told,” I said, “and they should be told thoroughly and not given any impression that you are afraid of telling them because then they’ll get it mixed in crazy ideas and they’ll learn it from sources they shouldn’t learn it from.”
She remembers in particular an interaction with a woman whom she met in Huronia Beach as a young adult, whose name she cannot remember but whose words stuck with her and helped inform her perspective on liberation. Says Field, “Here was a woman who was a person in her own right regardless of anybody else and that’s what she wanted everybody else to be, of course. I remember she said to me that day—she talked to me about my fear of my father. She said, ‘You know, you can’t imagine how bad it is for a person to feel that anybody else could hurt them inside. Your father can’t hurt you inside. You’re a person.’”
“I think few young people in their lives, especially a girl who had wanted to go to college and didn’t get to college, have such a chance for awakening experiences outside of books, outside of the academic world.”
Field’s insights illuminate the reality of many suffrage activists, who often struggled to establish a balance between devoting themselves fully to a cause while at the same time meeting the requirements of personal and family life. Reflecting on the commitments required by the movement, Field notes the expectation of “utter impersonality when there is a work greater than ourselves to be done,” something that requires “much sacrifice and effort.”
Sara Bard Field’s oral history is long—the final publication numbers just under 700 pages—and provides an incredible amount of insight into the life of an intelligent and politically active woman in a time that was not always welcoming to Field and her contemporaries. In her own words, “I think few young people in their lives, especially a girl who had wanted to go to college and didn’t get to college, have such a chance for awakening experiences outside of books, outside of the academic world.”
Field’s testimony is full of observations about the social and political reality of the world in the early twentieth century. She details the record of her travels in Southeast Asia and later across the US as a suffrage activist, preserving a wealth of information useful for historians and curious readers alike.
You can find the interview mentioned here and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria.
Shannon White is currently a fourth-year student at UC Berkeley studying Ancient Greek and Latin. They are an undergraduate research apprentice in the Nemea Center under Professor Kim Shelton and a member of the editing staff for the Berkeley Undergraduate Journal of Classics. Shannon works as an editorial assistant for the Oral History Center.
Related Resources from The Bancroft Library
This interview is part of the Suffragists Oral History Project. For interested parties, these interviews also tie in quite nicely with several other projects in the Oral History Center’s collection, including the Women Political Leaders oral histories and the Rosie the Riveter World War II American Home Front Oral History Project. Many of the interviews from these projects coincide in time, presenting detailed and intimate accounts of women’s careers and lives during the twentieth century. My article “Voices of a Movement: The Oral History Center’s Suffragists Oral History Project” offers an overview of several narrators involved in the Suffragists Oral History Project, including Sara Bard Field. In addition, The Berkeley Remix podcast has a season dedicated to women in politics, and Episode 1, “Gaining the Vote,” makes use of several oral histories from the Suffragists project.
The Bancroft Library contains several collections of material from Sara Bard Field and Charles Erskine Scott Wood, including photographs, personal papers, speeches, and published writing. Here are some:
Sara Bard Field papers, 1927–1956 (BANC MSS 79/46 c)
The Speech of Sara Bard Field, presented to Congress on behalf of the women of the nation, 1921. p JK1896 .F5
Charles Erskine Scott Wood papers, 1914–1942 (BANC MSS C-H 106)
The Pale Woman by Sara Bard Field. Bancroft (NRLF) ; x F855.2 .F436 1927 Copy 2
About the Oral History Center
The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library preserves voices of people from all walks of life, with varying political perspectives, national origins, and ethnic backgrounds. We are committed to open access and our oral histories and interpretive materials are available online at no cost to scholars and the public. You can find our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. Sign up for our monthly newsletter featuring think pieces, new releases, podcasts, Q&As, and everything oral history. Access the most recent articles from our home page or go straight to our blog home.
The library has started a one-month trial for Drama Online’s ArtFilms collections. We have access through April 25th, 2023. We would love your feedback on the value of these collections to your research and teaching.
Please send any comments to sreardon at berkeley dot edu.
The Asian Theatre video collection is an essential resource for students of theatre design and production, as well as contemporary theatre practice. It offers interviews with leading performers and practitioners, and houses a tranche of filmed performances, documentaries, rehearsal footage, and training videos. From Butoh to Bollywood, Bunraku to Topeng, this collection is a vital repository for students and academics interested in Asia’s rich theatrical traditions.
Through its focus on contemporary avant-garde troupes such as The Sydney Front, this video collection is an invaluable resource for the study of British, American, and Australian theatre. From the nuances of American puppetry and the skills of Australian Circus performers, to large-scale sculptural productions and political dance pieces, this collection’s rich array of biopics, interviews, workshops, and filmed performances provides a unique multi-media insight into the traditions and adaptations of British, American, and Australian theatre over the last fifty years.
Spanning the schools of mime, acrobatics, and puppetry, as well as the theatrical traditions of Belgium, Serbia, and Germany, the European Theatre video collection contains a wealth of stimulating content. Through rare filmed recordings, archival footage, and critical commentaries by leading directors, this collection explores avant-garde groups such as France’s Théâtre du Mouvement, Denmark’s Odin Teatret, and Serbia’s JEL Theatre.
Blending interviews with rare rehearsal footage, documentaries with production excerpts, the Playwrights and Practitioners video collection is an essential resource for students, actors, and academics. From the songs of Brecht to the provocations of Burlesque, the collection rings with the voices of Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winners and offers a rich insight into the creative processes of some of the industry’s most esteemed writers and directors.
Showcasing behind-the-scenes videos at the Globe, candid interviews with renowned Shakespeare actors and directors, as well as controversial adaptations of the Bard, the Shakespeare video collection is an ideal resource for students, academics, and practitioners. Rare documentary footage focuses on the Globe’s status as a unique theatrical institution, whilst the collection’s critical commentaries aim to demystify and illuminate Shakespeare’s most challenging works.
The Theatre Making and Performance Training video collection uses masterclasses, documentaries, and actor interviews to guide students and early-career practitioners through the art of auditioning, vocal training, and stage combat. Through a tailored selection of ‘How To’ resources, the collection also proves essential for those specializing in the design elements of theatre, such as make-up artistry, set design, theatre safety, and lighting.
By Design: Graphics & Images Basics Thursday, April 6th, 3:10-4:30pm Location: Doe 223 Lynn Cunningham
In this hands-on workshop, we will learn how to create web graphics for your digital publishing projects and websites. We will cover topics such as: sources for free public domain and Creative Commons images; image resolution for the web; and basic image editing tools in Photoshop. If possible, please bring a laptop with Photoshop installed. (All UCB faculty and students can receive a free Adobe Creative Suite license: https://software.berkeley.edu/adobe) Register here.
“It is a spoken account, offered by the interviewee in response to questioning, and as such it is reflective, partisan, deeply involved, and irreplaceable.” This quotation is part of a description of what we at the Oral History Center do. It sits at the beginning of every oral history we publish. It was written by Willa Baum, the longtime director of the Regional Oral History Office (the former name of the OHC until 2015). It highlights quite beautifully the conceptual foundation of modern oral history: the deliberate exploration of the unique, subjective historical truths of individuals. While oral history was once considered a poor evidentiary cousin to official records stored in archives, academic oral historians from the 1960s on proclaimed proudly the value of subjective evidence. It was the subjectivity itself that was to be recorded and studied. At the same time, oral historians promised to expand the archive by interviewing people whose views had not been recorded in archives or studied by historians. So, there are two related ideas: oral history as a practice of inclusion that diversifies and enriches the archive, and a belief that the historical record can be made more accurate, more true, by conceiving of it as a living, evolving, contentious space in which there is little in the way of a settled, single consensus about what actually happened. “What actually happened” is a translation of a phrase coined by German historian Leopold Von Ranke, who regarded government documents as the apex of authoritative sources because he saw the 19th-century nation state as the prime mover of history. When I took historical methods courses ages ago, this phrase was trotted out by professors as a particularly primitive, dated, and possibly morally bankrupt form of reasoning. History is about power, the professors would argue, written by the winners, erasing the views and the experiences of the excluded. What mattered in modern historiography was making sure that different experiences and viewpoints were represented in the historical record, and in the interpretations of the historical record.
Recognizing that history is about power, oral historians evolved practices for sharing authority with interviewees, whom we in the field refer to as “narrators” to highlight their authority as originators of a narrative, as opposed to passive sources for an interview. Sharing authority might involve planning an interview far in advance with the narrator, apportioning time to topics, putting up guardrails, and sharing the text of the transcript after the interview to permit them to reflect on their own words and correct them if necessary, or to protect themselves or others from anticipated harm. I call this process the construction of the “deliberate self.” With all the pressure and stimulation of undergoing a recorded interview in real time, even the most seasoned and trained speakers can, in a moment, misrepresent themselves, speak in a disorganized fashion, and mischaracterize what they remember. This is the spontaneous self. To be ethical, and above all trustworthy, interviewers should give narrators the opportunity to see themselves in their own words and refashion them to better represent themselves and the past for posterity. This works well if oral historians are already aligned more or less with their narrators with respect to what is known and how what is known is understood. This “shared authority,” to use oral historian Michael Frisch’s term, is part of what practitioners call the co-construction of oral history.
But what happens when a single, official narrative of state history is washed away by a revolution, and what remains is the collective trauma of decades of misinformation, surveillance, and punishment? How does one conduct interviews in this space? More importantly, how does one interpret what is said?
Over the past four years, I have conducted interviews with a group of Czech physicists. This project evolved into an exploration of how a scientific community functioned under a totalitarian order. The Czechoslovak Academy of Science and courageous scientists emerged as important spaces and agents that supported intellectual diversity and underground political activism. Scientific orientations and a certain form of asceticism underpinned political activism against dogma, propaganda, and the repression of fellow scientists and citizens. These interviews highlighted the contributions of scientists to the underground political movements established before the Velvet Revolution and to the democratic political order that followed.
Why was I doing this research? I study “scientists in trouble.” I am interested in the ways in which a scientist’s commitment to objective truth – a truth completely separate from the background, ideology, beliefs, and values of people – plays out in the messy political world in which scientists must live and operate. What happens when an individual scientist’s commitment to scientific truth clashes with powerful political forces? It could be the Iowa dairy industry during World War II or the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia. In the latter case, what is the relationship between a scientist’s commitment to objective truth and the demands in a totalitarian society of an absolute commitment to dogma? In my conversations with these narrators, and with scholars and students in the Czech Republic, I was confronted by a different understanding of the value of oral history from what we have constructed in the United States and a few other countries.
Last fall, I conducted two workshops on oral history methods, for faculty and oral historians at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague and for graduate students at Masaryk University in Brno. My primary motivation for doing this work was to use oral history to meet the challenges of a difficult past and of an increasingly difficult present, one in which state-sponsored versions of the truth pose grave threats to democracies in Central and Eastern Europe. I was also considering the value of oral testimony in the historical shadow of a police state, where many official records from the totalitarian period have now been destroyed. Finally, I wanted to share ideas about the role of trauma in these stories – the difficulty of telling stories that, to this day, are not supposed to be told in Czechia.
But it was when I came to lead the training in Brno for graduate students in a history department that I learned about the implications of a particular form of collective trauma for the practice of oral history with populations who lived under or in the shadow of totalitarianism. After I explained the involved process of co-construction of an oral history from beginning to end, the importance of sharing transcripts with narrators, for example, a hand went up. “My adviser told me not to share the transcripts with the narrators.” Why? Part of the project this student was undertaking was to interview former members of the Czechoslovakian secret police. I said to the class that transcripts should be shared with narrators if possible. The student replied, “Why should we share anything with them? We give them more consideration than they ever gave us!” I trotted out my explanation of the “deliberate self.” Another student spoke, “If you say something in court, it’s in the record forever. You can’t erase it.” Still another said, “If you give them the opportunity to see how they really look, they will cut everything of any historical value out, and we will have nothing!”
I took my time to respond. “This type of interviewing will work, exactly once. But when you break trust with narrators, the reputation of your process, and those of anyone else claiming to do oral history, for that matter, will be tarnished in direct proportion to the notoriety of the exposure of the narrators’ hidden stories.” (Full disclosure, I said this at the time much more awkwardly than what I wrote here, but I am asserting my prerogative to reconstruct my narrative.)
The discipline of oral history relies on multiple narratives to tell a composite, textured story of perspectives about how complex phenomena can be understood, and framed. It was oral historians from Italy, a nation with a comparably complex political history as Czechoslovakia’s, who helped shape the field of modern oral history. For Alessandro Portelli and Luisa Passerini, oral history was the analysis and interpretation of the complex interplay between memory and recorded history. Portelli studied collective memory and press reports about labor protests in Italy. He wrote about how narrators transposed the death of a protestor at the hands of the police to a different protest about a different cause that actually happened four years later. Passerini wrote about the deafening silence in the life histories of those who described a “before” and an “after” of the Italian fascist period.
With these kinds of approaches in mind, I offered some suggestions to the Czech students. If you are disturbed by what you perceive as false narratives, lies to whitewash the narrator’s complicity in an evil political order, you can do at least two things. You can interview those who suffered at the hands of the police, explore the consequences of surveillance and interrogation on families of the suspected and accused, and/or you could also serve as a trustworthy partner of narrators whose deeds and perspectives you find abhorrent, but in the process potentially produce a more candid text than might otherwise be obtained through spontaneous revelations in some kind of interview trap. Then, you could interpret the alignment and differences among those perspectives. Allowing these perspectives to talk to one another through your historical interpretation is one way to understand oral history work.
So, were these graduate students chastened and enlightened, having been brought up to date on the latest best practices in oral history from the United States via postwar Italy?
The modern oral history method, this careful co-construction of the story between interviewer and narrator, is in my opinion the best way to interview the survivors of trauma and to collect and archive their stories. It gives the narrators control, the absence of which is at the center of trauma, which offers the potential to be a salve for the wounds of the past.
I wonder, however, if there isn’t some kind of American exceptionalism, or Italian exceptionalism, to this version of oral history practice. The evolution of the discipline or practice of oral history is towards diversity and inclusion, both in terms of sources of narratives and the ways in which narratives may be cultivated, framed, archived, or disseminated. Truth is plural, and the plural truths stand in contrast to one another. It’s a model of history as mosaic, not a king’s chronicle. In fact, the value of oral truth is that it comes from a narrator, filtered by the narrator’s history, memory, background, and position in the world.
When I did my initial interviews for the Czech physics project, one thing that struck me was that, of all the books smuggled into Czechoslovakia, the most important to this group was the works of Karl Popper. Karl Popper is a philosopher, known in some sectors of the academy for his rigid definitions of the mechanisms of science and the nature of scientific truth. More recently, some historians have pointed to Popper’s right-of-center political commitments as evidence that a belief in positive knowledge independent of the knower – that is, a truth that is not a matter of perspective, of background, or of prior knowledge – is a tool and a smokescreen for right-wing hegemony.
And yet, the people’s struggle, in Czechoslovakia, the poet’s revolution of Vaclav Havel, was fought by people who took this definition of truth as their north star. It is not hard to understand why.
It is not just the narrator who is traumatized in the Czech Republic, and so many other places; it is an entire society. The source of the trauma is more than the narrator’s experience of a lack of control in their past; it is the fundamental interdiction of independent meaning-making that is the lifeblood of a totalitarian state. It was the insistence on a daily truth that brooked no examination, discussion, or independent verification that so scarred those who are trying to tell their stories in Czechia now. One of the critiques of social science and humanities research is that the instrument of knowing cannot really know itself. How can humans really know humans the way we measure the chemical composition of matter? But that kind of objective clarity is in a way what these young historians in Czechia want. The heat of this discussion came in part from the problem of interviewers interviewing other interviewers about their interviewing practices. Oral history practice evolved partly in response to the historic menace of the interview: the confession, the interrogation, the Inquisition, self-incrimination through recorded, and always in some way compelled, speech. The tables turned, the student viewed the formerly powerful as liars, now minimizing, erasing, or justifying their practices as police interrogators. Is historical truth here a salve or a weapon? Can it be both?
It is often said that testimony about trauma has been a path to healing. Witness the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa in the 1990s (though the results of that process are still being evaluated). But what if a society is still very much stuck on the truth part? One of the students came up to me after the workshop and apologized. “I don’t think we as a society are ready yet for your high ethical standards.” There was not a hint of sarcasm in his statement, though maybe there should have been.
This encounter with post-Velvet Revolution graduate students in Czechia did not change my mind about current oral history best practice as I understand it. Making the narrator feel safe and in control is the best guarantor of their representation of themselves and what they experienced. But in our search for plural truths, we need to respect the fact that one person’s truth is often a claim to “capital T” truth, not a perspective or opinion, and that their participation in an oral history project can be part of their battle against obfuscation, propaganda, erasure, and lies. That goes for both the narrator and the interviewer. So we need to be careful when we consider the epistemology of oral history, and reflect on what objective truth means to many individuals and communities, as a matter of cultural and actual life and death. And we might further consider the extent to which our commitment to co-construction shapes both the archive and a historian’s interpretive freedom. If trust-as-alignment is paramount, how much room is there for skepticism, comparison, or independent evaluation? Fortunately, oral history is an evolving field, and it is through these encounters with meaning-making in different contexts that we stumble towards our provisional truth of what we think we know about ourselves and what we do, much as Karl Popper once claimed was the ideal practice of science.
The East Asian Library has received the following email from East View Information Services:
March 17, 2023
We bring to your attention some important, breaking news. As all are surely aware, recent weeks have seen an acceleration in policy changes at the government level in the People’s Republic of China. East View has been monitoring the situation, and we are doing all possible to remain closely informed by our partners, such as CNKI.
The Cybersecurity Administration of China (CAC) has recently imposed new oversight requirements on Chinese publishers and exporters of information. In short, many content types that were previously viewed as mundane have now been flagged by the Chinese authorities to be subject to government review. We were just informed in recent days that this may lead to a review of:
As of the evening of March 15, 2023, East View was informed that the Cybersecurity Administration will require Chinese publishers to temporarily suspend access to full-text downloads of these content types, as soon as April 1 as CAC creates new compliance standards for publishers.
These conditions are also breaking news for our partners in China, who supply the content for overseas use.
East View has learned that similar measures have been imposed in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, and will occur in South Korea, Japan, and elsewhere. East View is attempting to learn the extent to which actions imposed in those countries are similar to or divergent from any actions that will be applied for North America.
The fact that these developments are emerging at a moment of heightened international tension is clear. Our partners are operating under difficult circumstances to become compliant with recently created regulations and short deadlines. The duration of such suspensions is not yet known, but we have been told that access will resume upon CAC determining that Chinese publishers have addressed their requirements for the review of the affected content types. While we are working with partners to understand their circumstances, we are also advocating frankly for our customers’ interests and have registered our concern about the timing and scope of these actions.
East View’s mission is to provide meaningful access and solutions for research content from dynamic regions from which such access is not unproblematic. Whether it is content from within or beyond China’s borders, and whether it is collaboration with partners operating under evolving regulations of this nature, this remains our mission. East View is always grateful for your support, and we are eager to provide you maximum transparency and positive outcomes in fulfillment of your missions. We will be engaged with China and with you, our library partners, actively as we learn more about these emerging developments.
East View Information Services
Ukraine Fights On: One Year Later Ukrainian Publishers and Literary Critics Speak
In this second event, womenpublishers and literary critics from Ukraine will update us on the current state of publishing, the different strategies they are using to mitigate the tragic circumstances of their war, and how publishing has evolved since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
It is with great pride and pleasure that we announce the launch of four new oral histories with San Francisco Opera, continuing a collaboration with the Oral History Center that reaches back decades. In 1973, interviewer Suzanne Riess sat down for interviews with Julian Bagley, who met H.G. Wells and Marian Anderson during his forty years working at the War Memorial Opera House from its opening in 1932! In 1999, Oral History Center interviewer Caroline Crawford conducted an oral history with tenor, voice teacher, and impresario James Schwabacher, whose relationship with San Francisco Opera went back to the 1940s. The San Francisco Opera has benefited from very stable leadership over the past century, with only two general directors during the first sixty years of its existence. This oral history project gained momentum in the 1980s with a three-volume oral history with Kurt Herbert Adler, who was general director of the Opera from 1953 until 1981, and those who knew and worked with him.
In the 2000s, Crawford conducted a number of interviews documenting the conception, creation, planning, management, rehearsal, and performance of an opera commissioned by the Company, John Adams’ Dr. Atomic. For the oral history project Doctor Atomic: The Making of an American Opera, Crawford interviewed composer John Adams, general director of the San Francisco Opera Pamela Rosenberg, music director Sir Donald Runnicles, who conducted the world premiere, music administrator Clifford “Kip” Cranna, and chorus director Ian Robertson. In 2011, Crawford created and oral history with star mezzo-soprano Frederica “Flicka” von Stade, exploring in depth a career in opera performance.
In 2018, we undertook dramaturg emeritus Kip Cranna’s oral history, this time to capture his long career with the opera as a music scholar/ administrator and dramaturg, including his familiarity with the tenures of general directors Kurt Herbert Adler, Terence McEwen, Lotfi Mansouri, Pamela Rosenberg, and David Gockley.
The oral history with general director David Gockley (2006-16) showcased his transformative promotion of “American music theater” that he had pioneered at the Houston Grand Opera. In his time at San Francisco, Gockley focused on dissolving the boundary between opera as high culture and a more democratic and inclusive notion of music theater. He was also an important impresario of new, original compositions by American composers, often in American historical settings.
The oral history with general director Pamela Rosenberg (2001-2006), Gockley’s predecessor, revealed a different approach to opera administration. Although raised and educated in Venezuela and California, Rosenberg spent her entire career in opera administration in Europe, and brought a European sensibility and enthusiasm for adventurous productions to San Francisco. As she began her term in 2001, Rosenberg faced the impact of 9/11 and the dot.com recession. Despite these challenges, she pressed forward with high-risk, high-reward premieres and productions.
The Oral History Center also explored the intersection of San Francisco Opera with the broader community in an interview with Opera Board member Sylvia Lindsey. She was asked to join the Opera Board in 1987, and since then has held a number of positions on committees, in particular to do with education and outreach. She has been a vital force in bringing young people to the opera, but she also fostered inclusion and belonging among the staff and visiting musicians and performers, long before these terms came to stand for common institutional practices. The interview touches on her multiple roles with several arts organizations, highlighting a key facet of her importance as a connector, bringing different people together towards a common purpose.
The pursuit of an art form that is hundreds of years old in the world center of up-to-the-minute technological trends and innovation may seem to be paradoxical, and even a bit quixotic. But the San Francisco Opera is an American story of modernity, resilience, and adaptation. It is about the transplantation of cultural forms from Europe, nurtured early on by many Italian immigrants to the city. It is also about would-be performers growing up in smalltown USA, seeing Beverly Sills on late-night talk shows, and wondering if they too might one day undertake something so grand and beautiful as a calling. But it is also about the ways in which art forms and their institutions can signal and in some ways exemplify elitism, and the efforts of the Opera to move beyond this unintentional cultural positioning through outreach, education, and initiatives of inclusion and diversity. Ultimately, these stories are about broadening the idea of what opera can be, for the performers, for the audiences, and for young people who talk to a singer who visits their schools, attend a performance, see themselves represented on stage, and perhaps dream one day to perform.
This most recent set of interviews is an in-depth exploration of what it means to do art. Creativity is of course the lifeblood of composition, performance, production, and, dare I say, administration. But this project is very much about the drama of the work of performance in all its dimensions. The audience experience of opera performance is certainly visceral. Those soundwaves hit you in your chest. You are, after all, sitting inside the giant horn that is the War Memorial Opera House. The melodies and harmonies open your heart, and the dramatic performance threatens to break it. But what emerges after talking for hours with people who make each of those performances work flawlessly every night is that this art is constructed and expressed on a knife’s edge. The stage manager’s calls sound like an air-traffic controller calmly landing dozens of jets at once. A prima donna falls sick the day of, and a cover, or understudy, steps in to sing a four-hour opera. Many, many things can go wrong at any moment, but the audience experience is only a musical and dramatic catharsis. Radiate out from the excitement behind the scenes of every performance, and you can see the larger drama in which the Opera finds itself: the ups and downs of the market and the tragedies of war and disease that impact the Company, its audience, and the wider community. In short, these interviews are very much about what art means, now and for the ages. For the past one hundred years the San Francisco Opera has been making meaning and beauty for its evolving communities. May it continue to do so long into the future.
El manuscrito BH MSS 345, custodiado en la Biblioteca Histórica ‟Marqués de Valdecilla” de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid, fue catalogado bajo los títulos ‟Libro del fuero que dio el Rey don Alfonso a la uilla de Sant fagunt” y ‟Fuero de Sahagún”, por comenzar su texto de este modo: ‟Este es el libro del fuero que dio el Rey don Alfonso a la villa de Sant Fagunt” (f. 4r, v. imagen 2). Como Fuero de Sahagún se encuentra hasta hoy (18 de marzo de 2023) en el catálogo de la Biblioteca de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid y hasta hace varios días así en PhiloBiblon, bajo BETA texid 2443 con el registro BETA cnum 9301.
Ahora bien, la catalogación de este códice como Fuero de Sahagún es errónea, pues el texto que contiene es el del Fuero Real, como anuncian inequívocamente los índices de sus cuatro libros (ff. 1v-3v) y como revela la lectura del texto. El códice procede del Museo-Laboratorio jurídico ‟Ureña” de la Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad Central (lleva su sello en diversos folios) y por ello sorprende que hasta hoy no haya sido identificado como testimonio del Fuero Real, lo que se comprueba consultando la nómina de manuscritos que ofrecen Martínez Diez en su edición (1988: 22-72) y Fernando Gómez Redondo y José Manuel Lucía Megías en el Diccionario filológico de literatura medieval española (2002: 11-15). Consecuentemente tampoco ha figurado hasta ahora este testimonio entre los que da PhiloBiblon del Fuero Real (BETA texid 1006), error que ya se ha corregido, enlazando el registro con el testimonio en BETA cnum 9301.
Dos razones explican la catalogación defectuosa: de un lado, el título de Fuero Real es moderno –de finales del siglo XV-, y los códices antiguos no lo llevaban; en los pocos códices en los que aparece un título este es el de Libro del fuero, Libro del fuero de las leyes, Libro de las leyes, Libro de Flores o Flores (Martínez Diez 1988: 78-79 y BETA texid 1006). De otro, numerosos códices del Fuero Real se destinaron a localidades concretas (Martínez Diez 1988: 80-91), mediante la fórmula inicial de ‟Libro del fuero que dio el Rey don Alfonso a Burgos, Valladolid, Santo Domingo, Carrión… ”, lo que provoca confusión a la hora de identificar el texto, que se puede interpretar como fuero de esa villa (otro ejemplo del mismo tipo de error es que el códice de Filadelfia del Fuero Real (BETA cnum 3676) aparece como Fuero de Burgos en el CORDE; cf. Rodríguez Molina y Octavio de Toledo y Huerta 2017: 29).
Por desgracia al códice BH MSS 345 le faltan los últimos folios y, por tanto, la data, por lo que nunca sabremos si en la fórmula habitual ‟Este libro fue fecho e acabado en Valladolit por mandado del rey don Alfonso … días andados del mes de… era de 1293” figuraba la fecha de 18 de julio, la de 25 de agosto u otra de ese año 1255. Si nos atenemos al otro ejemplar que se ha conservado del Fuero Real destinado a Sahagún (esc. Z-II-8), que Martínez Diez (1988: 44) fecha de mediados del siglo XIV, y asumiendo que este fuera copia de BH MSS 345 –lo que está por probar–, esa fecha habría sido el 30 de agosto (o el 25, si hubo error de lectura, cf. Martínez Diez 1988: 83). En cualquier caso, merece la pena mencionar que el verdadero Fuero de Sahagún concedido por Alfonso X (BETA texid 2443 en PhiloBiblon) el 25 de abril de 1255, que se conserva en un privilegio rodado original (AHN, Clero Regular-Secular: car. 917, n. 13 BETA cnum 3569), en su dispositivo hace mención de que el rey otorga a la villa el Fuero Real como supletorio: ‟todas las otras cosas que aquí nõ son escriptas, que se judguen todos los de Sant Fagund, cristianos e judíos e moros pora siempre por el otro fuero que les damos en un libro escripto e seellado de nuestro seello de plomo” (texto apudBNE MSS/18128, f. 80v. Cf. Barrero García 1972: 404 y Martínez Diez 1988: 92 y 108).
¿Podría ser BH MSS 345 ese libro del Fuero Real escrito y sellado en 1255? Sin pretender dar una respuesta definitiva a pregunta tan importante en esta nota, cabe aquí al menos apuntar que rasgos textuales, codicológicos, paleográficos y diplomáticos de este códice revelan su antigüedad y hacen verosímil que pueda tratarse de un testimonio salido de la cancillería real en el verano de aquel año.
Desde el punto de vista textual, de confirmarse que BH MSS 345 es el arquetipo de Z-II-8, la calidad del texto de este último (‟ofrece un texto excelente del Fuero Real”, según Martínez Diez (1988: 45), y fue el testimonio elegido por la RAH para su edición de 1836) apuntaría a una fecha temprana de redacción. Entre los aspectos codicológicos y paleográficos que apoyarían la antigüedad del testimonio, podrían señalarse el intercolumnio partido para destacar las capitales, estas mismas capitales destacadas, las ocurrencias de d semiuncial interior ante vocal de trazo curvo o de r de martillo en los grupos br, pr (cf. Rodríguez Díaz, próxima publicación).
Pero hay otro elemento codicológico que nos interesa subrayar por su posible asociación más precisa con 1255. Sahagún era por aquel tiempo una villa de la merindad mayor de Castilla (Martínez Diez 1988: 110), como otras a las que posiblemente se les concedió de modo general el Fuero Real en la primavera de 1255 (Iglesia Ferreirós 1971: 950 y Craddock 1981: 384-385). Esto explicaría la intensísima actividad de la cancillería en el verano que siguió, durante el que se multiplicarían en ella los ejemplares del Fuero Real. Como ya se ha indicado, gran parte de esos libros iban destinados nominalmente a las villas (Martínez Diez 1988: 80), y para facilitar la producción en masa de estos se recurrió al método del formulario: se dejaba en blanco el espacio del nombre de la villa, que se rellenaría después. Esto explicaría que en ese punto del texto varios de los códices que se han conservado presenten el nombre sobre un raspado (Burgos en Z-III-13, siguiendo a Craddock 1981: 385) o anacolutos (Z-III-17, ibidem), así como quizá la gran variabilidad de las fórmulas genéricas (Martínez Diez 1988: 81). Pues bien, en el caso de BH MSS 345, su diseño se corresponde a todas luces con el de un formulario: se dejó ese hueco rellenado después con una letra de módulo superior a la del resto del texto, de diferente factura y con tinta de tono más oscuro. En cuanto a la rúbrica, ha de pensarse en una intervención posterior a la inserción del nombre de la villa destinataria, pues en ella no se aprecia el mismo fenómeno.
Confirma el carácter de formulario el hecho de que en la ley de las iglesias juraderas (2.12.3, f. 33r), se dejaron 7 líneas en blanco (12-18a) para que se rellenaran después con precisión de la iglesia en cuestión en función de la villa a la que se destinaba (Martínez Diez 1988: 86-87). Parece ser la misma mano del f. 4r la que rellena esas líneas y lo hace con la mención de la iglesia de Santiago, una de las principales de Sahagún en aquel momento (cf. imagen 3).
Por último, cabe señalar que el pergamino de todo el códice está taladrado en su vértice inferior izquierdo para pasar los hilos de seda de los que colgaría el sello de plomo que lo validaría como emitido en la cancillería real (cf. imágenes 3 y 4). Este parece ser uno de los métodos habituales de aposición de sellos en los cuadernos y libros alfonsíes (Ruiz Asencio 1988: 153).
En definitiva, estimo que este testimonio del Fuero Real que viene ahora a sumarse a la lista de los que ya se conocían podría haber sido producido en 1255 a partir del original de la cancillería real. Corresponde ahora examinarlo en detalle desde un punto de vista estructural, paleográfico, codicológico y lingüístico para poder confirmar esta primera impresión. El trabajo en curso de Inés Fernández-Ordóñez y Elena Rodríguez Díaz (2021) sobre el manuscrito BNE MSS/7798 (BETA manid 3086), también recientemente identificado como un nuevo manuscrito antiguo del Fuero Real, podrá tener en cuenta BH MSS 345, evaluarlo a la luz del resto de la tradición manuscrita y valorar si se produjo, junto a otros de los testimonios conservados, como original múltiple. Entre estos podrían igualmente encontrarse los membra disiecta de un manuscrito custodiado en el Archivo de la Real Cancillería de Valladolid (BETA manid 5754) al que en este mismo blog dedicó Jerry Craddock un post en 2016 (The original manuscript of the Fuero real (Valladolid: Archivo de la Real Chancillería?).
Otra buena noticia es que la Biblioteca Histórica ‟Marqués de Valdecilla” está redactando actualmente un adendum a su catálogo y que rectificará el registro de este códice en breve, lo que ya ha sucedido en PhiloBiblon.
P.D. Precisamente a base de esta noticia de la profesora Castillo Lluch hemos podido rectificar los registros de PhiloBiblon, quitando el enlace de BETA cnum 9301 con el registro del Fuero de Sahagún (BETA texid 2443) para enlazar este testimonio correctamente con el registro del Fuero real (BETA texid 1006). [Charles Faulhaber]
Barrero García, Ana María (1972), ‟Los fueros de Sahagún”, AHDE 42, 385-597.
Craddock, Jerry (1981), ‟La cronología de las obras legislativas de Alfonso X el Sabio”, AHDE 51, 365-418.
Fernández-Ordóñez, Inés y Rodríguez Díaz, Elena (2021), ‟Un manuscrito del siglo XIII del Fuero real”, comunicación presentada en “Alfonso X y el poder de la literatura (1221-2021)”. Congreso internacional, Iemyrhd, Universidad de Salamanca, 2021 (22-24 de noviembre).
Gómez Redondo, Fernando y Lucía Megías, José Manuel (2002), ‟Fuero Real”, en Alvar, Carlos y Lucía Megías, José Manuel, Diccionario filológico de literatura medieval española: textos y transmisión, Madrid, Castalia, 11-15.
Iglesia Ferreirós, Aquilino (1971), ‟Las Cortes de Zamora de 1274 y los casos de corte”, AHDE 41, 945-72.
Martínez Diez, Gonzalo (1988), Leyes de Alfonso X. II. Fuero Real (edición y análisis crítico), Ávila, Fundación Sánchez Albornoz.
Rodríguez Díaz, Elena (próxima publicación), ‟Elementos para fechar los códices leoneses y castellanos según los manuscritos datados (ss. XII y XIII)”, en Ángeles Romero Cambrón (ed.), La ley de los godos. Estudios selectos, Peter Lang.
Here is a selection of books of the works of women photographers recently donated by Richard Sun. Additional books from the donation are now on display in the Art History/Classics library. Click the links to see their records in UC Library Search.