The Languages of Berkeley: An Online Exhibition


With over 2,000 vernacular languages, sub-Saharan Africa includes approximately one-third of the world’s languages.[1] Many of these will likely disappear in the next hundred years, displaced by dominant regional languages like Amharic. 

Amharic, alternately known as Abyssinian, Amarigna, Amarinya, Amhara, or, simply, Ethiopian, is a Semitic language spoken by over 25 million people. It is part of the Semitic branch of the Afroasiatic language group, which spans, as the name suggests, two continents, primarily West Asia as well as North Africa and the Horn of Africa. In the 13th century, it evolved as a spoken language and replaced Ge’ez as the common means of communication in the imperial court where it was referred to as the language of the king.[2] Today, Amharic is spoken as the first language (L1) by the Amhara of the northwest Highlands of Ethiopia. As the official language of Ethiopia, it has become the lingua franca of the country.[3]

Beyond Amharic’s inherent importance in the realm of politics, education, and business as a result of its privileged status as the official language of Ethiopia, it is also a major literary language in the country. Early (pre-20th century) Ethiopian literature often took on religious themes and was published in the ancient Semitic language of Ge‘ez. However, by the turn of the 20th century, literary publications in Amharic became more common, signaling the language’s ascent. The featured text here, Ethiopian Literature (in Amharic): Chrestomathy, a collection of seventeen samples of Ethiopian literature by various authors, captures the expansion of Amharic influence in literary publications. The collection covers one-hundred years of Ethiopian literary prose beginning with “Story Born at Heart” by Afewerk Ghebre Jesus, originally published in 1908, up to the early 2000s with a piece by one of the great modern Ethiopian writers, Adam Reta. The collection, generously adorned with illustrations throughout, was designed for students of Amharic philology.  

At UC Berkeley, based on research interest and student demand, especially from heritage students, with Title VI funding through the Center for African Studies, Amharic language study (at the elementary and intermediate levels) has been offered since the fall of 2019. Students enrolled in Amharic are among the few in the whole of the United States formally studying the language and are at the vanguard in recognizing Africa’s increasing importance demographically, socially, and culturally.[4]

Contribution by Adam Clemons
Librarian for African and African American Studies, Doe Library

Sources consulted:

  1. Moseley, Christopher, and Alexandre Nicolas. Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. Paris: UNESCO, 2010.
  2. Meyer, Ronny. “Amharic as Lingua Franca in Ethiopia.” Lissan: Journal of African Languages and Linguistics. 20 1/2 (2006).
  3. Ethnologue: Languages of the World (accessed 5/16/20)
  4. Saavedra, Martha and Leonardo Arriola. “UC Berkeley Needs to Support African Language Programs” Daily Californian (February 22, 2019) (accessed 5/16/20)

Ethiopian Literature (in Amharic): Chrestomathy
Author: Galina (Galina Aleksandrovna) Balashova, compiler.
Imprint: Lac-Beaport, Quebec : MEABOOKS Inc., 2016. (Baltimore, Md. : Project MUSE, 2015.)
Edition: 1st edition
Language: Amharic
Language Family: Afro-Asiatic, South Semitic
Source: Project Muse
URL: (UCB access only)

Print editions in Library:

The Languages of Berkeley [fan]
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The Languages of Berkeley is a dynamic online sequential exhibition celebrating the diversity of languages that have advanced research, teaching and learning at the University of California, Berkeley. It is made possible with support from the UC Berkeley Library and is co-sponsored by the Berkeley Language Center (BLC).

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Did Masks Work? — The 1918 Flu Pandemic and the Meaning of Layered Interventions

A large number of recent news items have reflected on our current crisis by looking to the past for comfort, commiseration, and even some answers. My own writing on this is no exception. However, we need to be very careful about how we use history to inform our current context.

“Were masks effective in the 1918 flu?”

I was recently asked this question for an article that just appeared in the Smithsonian Magazine. It’s a fascinating exploration of the politics of masks in California during the 1918 flu, and the fact that Mayor Davie of Oakland was jailed for not wearing a mask in Sacramento.  However, my statement at the end of the article, applied historically, is not correct by itself. I’m quoted as saying the gauze masks of 1918, “may not have been much use to the user but did offer protection to those around them.” I had in mind the ultimate public health lessons learned from the 1918 flu way down the line, in a study concluded a little more than ten years ago.

But back in 1918, public health leaders who studied the problem thought that the mask laws and mask use by the public were minimally effective.

Graph showing comparable infection rates in Boston and Sacramento during the 1918 flu epidemic
Kellogg, Wilfred H. Influenza, A Study of Measures Adopted for the Control of the Epidemic. California State Board of Health. (Sacramento: California State Printing Office, 1919) 22.

This is from a study published in 1919 by the California State Department of Health. The above graph showed very little difference in death rates between Stockton, which mandated the wearing of masks in public, and Boston, which did not. So, early on, authorities were skeptical of the effectiveness of masks, but they also felt that masks were not used properly.

Part of the disappointment was that medical authorities had advised using medical gauze, which had a tighter weave than what most people understood as “gauze.” Then as now, not everyone had access to the personal protective equipment solutions that were recommended. People were using cheese cloth for masks, with predictable outcomes. The problem was the user. A more pessimistic appraisal of masks came in a study published in 1921 by physician William T. Vaughan:

“One difficulty in the use of the face mask is the failure of cooperation on the part of the public. When, in pneumonia and influence wards, it has been nearly impossible to force the orderlies or even some of the physicians and nurses to wear their masks as prescribed, it is difficult to see how a general measure of this nature could be enforced in the community at large.”

William T. Vaughan, Influenza: An Epidemiologic Study, (Baltimore, MD: American Journal of Hygiene Monographic Series, No.1, 1921) 241.

Mask skepticism was officially sanctioned by the Surgeon General of the US Navy in a 1919 report:

“No evidence was presented which would justify compelling persons at large to wear masks during an epidemic. The mask is designed only to afford protection against a direct spray from the mouth of the carrier of pathogenic microorganisms … Masks of improper design, made of wide-mesh gauze, which rest against the mouth and nose, become wet with saliva, soiled with the fingers, and are changed infrequently, may lead to infection rather than prevent it, especially when worn by persons who have not even a rudimentary knowledge of the modes of transmission of the causative agents of communicable diseases.”

“Epidemiological and Statistical Data, US Navy, 1918,” Reprinted from the Annual Report of the Surgeon General, US Navy, (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1919) 434.

Although the Surgeon General of the US Navy acknowledged that wearing masks by hospital staff was good practice, “the morbidity rate, nevertheless, was very high among those attending the sick,” and may only have prevented infection from a direct, close hit from a cough or sneeze of a patient. The protocols followed in the contagious annex of the US Naval Hospital in Annapolis, MD, were sufficient to prevent cross-contamination of “cerebro-spinal fever” (aka meningitis), diphtheria, measles, mumps, scarlet fever, and German measles. Not so with influenza. In fact, the infection rate of staff was as high in the high-protocol wards as in the improvised hospitals. In one improvised hospital at the Navy Training Station in Great Lakes, IL., the infection rate was higher among those corpsmen and volunteers who wore masks than those who did not!

But what did all of this mean? Again, a discussion of a specific piece of technology by itself is not enough. This was not simply a question of “mask or no mask,” but of design, construction, supply, and use. The wearer needed to use a well-designed mask properly, and change masks frequently. Therefore, most of the expert complaints about masks around the Spanish Flu pandemic in the US seemed to be about the users and reliable access to steady supplies of properly constructed masks, not the concept of wearing a mask.

Indeed, that’s what the research team led by Howard Markel found when the Pentagon asked them to study the Spanish Flu pandemic. In 2007, they published their report on non-pharmaceutical interventions during epidemics and found that there was a “layered” effect of protection by using multiple techniques together: school closure, bans on public gathering, isolation and quarantine of the infected, limited closure of businesses, transportation restrictions, public risk communications, hygiene education, and wearing of masks.

So the key historical question here is not whether or not masks were useless. The broader, more troubling historical pattern that Erika Mailman revealed in her article is clear: the problem of public trust in public health. Some Americans, then as now, do not like being told what to do.

Picture of Gadsden Flag, symbol of rebellion in the American Revolutionary War


They especially do not like being instructed by “experts.” Americans arguably had more respect for expert authority during the flu pandemic than they do now, but even then, some would wear masks in public to comply with the law, then remove them when they went indoors, in close quarters with others and with poor air circulation, when they needed protection the most. Mayor Davie’s casual rebellion aside, citizens might grudgingly comply with the letter of the law, but not its scientific spirit. I’m reminded of a recent TikTok video of a woman in Kentucky who entered a store wearing a mask with a long slit around the mouth because it “makes it a lot easier to breathe.” Another problem, then as now, was that the right equipment in a time of crisis was unavailable. So people made masks with what they had available. But a cheesecloth mask was probably worse than no cloth, especially if they touched it frequently and changed it rarely.

A public health technology such as a mask is not just a simple, inanimate object. It’s the care with which it is designed and constructed; it is the infrastructure that can assure a steady, sanitary supply; it’s the use of one technology and practice in conjunction with others, and it is especially the informed users who take responsibility for their own health and those of their fellow Americans. Going back to the graph near the beginning of this blog post, we see that the curve of the death rate was bent by this layering of multiple public health interventions. Masks were not used widely and well enough to make much of a difference, but public health authorities tended to believe in their effectiveness for front line workers exposed to the worst of the flu pandemic. If we invested more in public health research, primary health care, and public health education, we could improve even more the quality and quantity of these layered non-pharmaceutical interventions, which worked together in 1918-19 and which are working now. We can do better with building our communication and trust so that all of these measures can work together. But for them to work together, we have to work together.

New in OverDrive eBooks and Audiobooks

OverDrive is a UC Berkeley Library service for borrowing ebooks and audiobooks. You can access books online, download them to a device, or read them on an ereader such as Kindle. OverDrive is available to current UC Berkeley students, faculty, and staff. How it works: Simply log in with your CalNet ID, and you can start borrowing!

You can also download the Libby by OverDrive app to access OverDrive from your mobile device. For more information, visit the OverDrive help guide.

Check out some of the new arrivals here:

CRL-Global Press Archive Alliance Makes First In-Copyright Collection Available

CRL Announcement (Source: Judy Alspach, email dated 20 May 2020)

CRL and East View Information Services have launched the first in-copyright collection of titles digitized under the Global Press Archive (GPA) CRL Charter Alliance. Complementing the collection of Middle East and North African Newspapers released in January 2020, the new in-copyright collection of Middle East Newspapers will be available to all CRL members and those NERL institutions supporting the Alliance.

The in-copyright collection of Middle East Newspapers will ultimately include five important titles from the region:

  • al-Jumhūrīyah (Cairo, Egypt) (الجمهورية), a state-owned paper covering the years 1962–1990;
  • Filasṭīn (Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Israel) (فلسطين), an Arabic-language Palestinian newspaper (1956–1967);
  • al-Dustūr (Amman, Jordan) (الدستور), a successor to Filasṭīn and al-Manar following the Six Day War (1967–2000);
  • al-Riyadh (الرياض), a pro-government independent paper published in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (1969–1996);
  • al-Akhbar (Beirut, Lebanon) (الاخبار), a contemporary “progressive” newspaper still in publication in Lebanon (2006–2019).

Titles for this collection were assessed and validated by MEMP members who volunteered to act as a selection group. CRL and the GPA Advisory Committee express their thanks to MEMP for its expert evaluation. In-copyright titles will live alongside the open access MENA titles at the link above. In-copyright titles will display a “lock” symbol to users outside IP authentication – CRL members & patrons will need to access via IP authentication (i.e. proxy) to see these titles. Non-CRL members may inquire about access directly with East View.

An announcement about this collection launch is available on CRL’s website at

Newly-processed additions to the Sierra Club Records at The Bancroft Library are the latest highlight of an NHPRC grant-funded project to make available 13 archival collections relating to environmental movements in the Western U.S.

Happy Birthday to the Sierra Club – turning 128 years old this month

And many more! Now one of the oldest and largest conservation organizations in the world, the Sierra Club was founded on May 28, 1892 in San Francisco by John Muir to promote conservation of the natural environment through public education, legislation and citizen action. Since then, the club has achieved a number of notable victories, including establishing and protecting national forests, parks and monuments; stopping dam construction in the Grand Canyon and Dinosaur National Park; fighting to keep the Antiquities Act intact; and campaigning for the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and the Wilderness Act. 

Fortunately, the significance of this non-profit organization’s unparalleled history of conservation was recognized early on, even before the modern environmental movement truly took off. In 1958 The Bancroft Library became the official repository for the Sierra Club. The first series of records from the organization came through Bancroft’s doors in the 1970s. Over the decades the collection has grown with periodic installments as more recent records are added to the archives. The Sierra Club collection is a significant part of what has evolved into a major collecting theme within Bancroft’s curatorial umbrella of Western Americana: environmental movements of the 20th century.

Project wrap-up: NHPRC grant makes available newly-opened environmental collections and additions to ongoing collections

The Bancroft Library is pleased to report the completion of a two-year National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) grant project resulting in the processing of 13 collections totaling 384.25 linear feet of records. These newly-accessible resources include the latest additions to four collections of Sierra Club records, along with nine other archival collections relating to environmental movements in the Western U.S

The collections processed for the project — selected by Theresa Salazar, Bancroft’s Curator of Western Americana — were chosen because of high demand and their likely benefit to multiple areas of scholarship. Topics in these collections include a wide range of ecological issues related to protection and conservation of the environment via legislation and greater transparency and accountability in the wake of environmental damage. The research value of these collections is potentially wide and diverse, especially for scholars in fields such as history, environmental and forest science, natural and renewable resources, environmental and social justice, indigenous rights, human rights, animal rights and endangered species.

Archival processing of environmental collections

Processing archival collections entails intellectual and physical arrangement and description of the papers or records in a finding aid and catalog records published in library catalogs. When processing, archivists look for evidence of archival value in the materials to justify their continued preservation and storage. This is generally defined as the ongoing usefulness and significance of the materials in regards to the administrative, legal, fiscal, evidential or historical information they contain.

The processing of the Sierra Club records has proven to be especially complex. Because the organization’s records comprise a large and complex body of material, the Library determined early on that the material would be divided into more easily processed sub-collections, each of which would be further organized according to the conventional archival hierarchy of series and sub-series. These sub-collections include the general Sierra Club records, the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter and the Sierra Club California Legislative Office records, among many others. 

Types of records found in the Sierra Club and other environmental collections at Bancroft may include correspondence and notes, grassroots organizing, outreach and educational campaigns, membership and promotional materials, program and subject files, reports and studies, lobbying letters, testimony, legislation and legal briefs, newsletters, clippings, maps, photographs and posters. Numerous Sierra Club oral histories, audio-visual materials and related pictorial collections can also be found at Bancroft.

Bancroft a leading repository for U.S. environmental documentation

Environmental collections are among the most frequently used materials at Bancroft. As is reflected in the material selected for the NHPRC grant, The Bancroft Library holds the records of many important environmental organizations and the papers of a range of influential environmental activists. Collections of other environmental organizations currently available for research at The Bancroft Library include the records of the Jenner Coastside Conservation Coalition, Save the Bay, Save-the-Redwoods League and Urban Habitat. Also available are the papers of environmental educators, leaders and activists such as David Brower, Newton B. Drury, Mark Evanoff, Aldo Leopold, Robert Marshall, Sylvia McLaughlin and Margaret Wentworth Owings. The Bancroft Library also holds pictorial collections pertaining to Ansel Adams and the Rainforest Action Network, and many collections of photographs showing degradation of the environment caused by deforestation and logging, wildfires, toxic substances and pollutants, floods, drought, and war.

Collection guides and further reading

Descriptions of The Bancroft Library’s archival collections can be accessed by searching Oskicat for catalog records and at the Online Archive of California for more in-depth finding aids. Selected digitized material from these collections is available via Calisphere and the UC Berkeley Digital Collection. In-person access to Bancroft’s collection material can be requested by the library’s online request service Aeon and by visiting the library’s Heller Reading Room during open hours. 

Within many of the environmental movements there are overlapping figures and groups, such as Berkeley’s own David Brower who was the first Executive Director of the Sierra Club and co-founder of Friends of the Earth and Earth Island Institute. It is therefore advisable that researchers look for information pertaining to “related collections” and “materials cataloged separately” when consulting collection guides. Such notes are usually presented in the catalog record and among the introductory information of the finding aid for any given collection.

Finding aids for the environmental collections recently made accessible by the NHPRC grant project are linked here:

Previous UC Berkeley Library Update posts from the past two years delve deeper into the histories, activities and records of some of the organizations whose collections were made accessible via the NHPRC grant project. In addition to the collection descriptions found in each collection’s finding aid, these Library Update articles offer helpful overviews and are illustrated with images of noteworthy collection material. 

To learn more about Arizona Toxics Information and their fight to promote transparency and the right-to-know about pollutants and toxics along the Arizona-Mexico border, go here

For an article on Earth Island Institute’s role as a Berkeley-based incubator network for conservation groups, including the Marine Mammal Institute, follow this link

To find out more about the Friends of the River Foundation and their river protection campaigns, including their lengthy battle to halt construction of the New Melones Dam along the Stanislaus River, read this article

A post about the Rainforest Action Network and their international campaigns to protect forests and promote environmental justice can be accessed here

Information about the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund (renamed Earthjustice in 1997) and why “the earth needs a good lawyer” can be found in this post.

25 days left to check out RetroNews!

Pierrot le Fou

Il s’appelle Pierre Loutrel mais on le connaît sous le nom de « Pierrot-le-fou ». Ce criminel violent, passé de la « Gestapo française » à la Résistance, restera dans les mémoires comme le chef d’un redoutable gang français de l’après-Seconde Guerre, les Tractions Avant.

Écho de Presse le 19/05/2020 par Michele Pedinielli


Since April 15, the UC Berkeley academic community has had access to a 60-day trial of RetroNews. While much of this historical French language news collection is freely available through Gallica, the advanced functionality and added content is only available to subscribers. An initiative of BnF-Partenariats, which is a subsidiary of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF), RetroNews aims to increase the digitization of its paper press collections which are increasingly at risk of serious damage over time. To explore all of its features, it is necessary to create an account (s’inscrire) after authenticating with your CalNet ID.

RetroNews, a unique digital resource for research and education

RetroNews, which is the French national library’s platform dedicated to historical printed press, offers a vast online archive of French and francophone periodicals. The collection features over 600 newspapers, journals, magazines and reviews, published between 1631 and 1950: the most important titles of the daily press (Le Petit Parisien, Le Journal, Le Matin) but also periodicals of the political spectrum, regional publications and satirical magazines.

Please create a free account, experiment with the resource and send your feedback and comments before June 15, 2020 to Claude Potts [cpotts AT berkeley DOT edu].


Podcast Listening for Social Distancing: Wind of Change

wind of changeGerman heavy metal meets Cold War intrigue. If you are looking for a fun listen during shelter-in-place, I highly recommend the podcast Wind of Change!

Following a rumor that the German band the Scorpions’ 1990 hit song “Wind of Change” was actually written by the CIA as Cold War propaganda, investigative reporter Patrick Radden Keefe turned this long-form piece into an eight-part podcast series documenting the song’s influence on politics and popular culture, as well as its potential connection to American clandestine operations. Throughout, Keefe toys with the tension as to whether or not this kind of CIA involvement in songwriting is likely. After listening, my takeaway is that it’s just wild enough to be true.

While many Americans have not even heard of the Scorpions, this German band that sings in English has diehard fans all over Europe and Asia. Formed in 1965 in Hanover, Germany, three of the five band members have been playing together since 1978. They continue to tour internationally.

And what makes the song “Wind of Change” so fascinating is its resonance with the zeitgeist of 1990. The song was supposedly written after the band played in Moscow in 1989 and was released shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. For many, the song represents the “change” happening across Europe that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. But as Keefe points out, “Wind of Change” isn’t just the soundtrack to the end of the Cold War, but also a song with modern resonance. When he saw the Scorpions live in Kiev, Ukraine, alongside huge crowds, Keefe was reminded that the country was actually still at war with Russia, trying to maintain its post-Cold War independence. For Ukranians at least, “Wind of Change” is not just nostalgia, but a sort of call to arms. 

Keefe’s previous work inlcudes his 2019 book Say Nothing: The True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, which the Oral History Center chose as its inaugural book club pick. In Say Nothing, Keefe explores the challenges of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, alongside the murder of Jean McConville and the Boston College Belfast Project oral histories. In Wind of Change, Keefe encounters similar challenges working with former spies as he did with former revolutionaries in Ireland: lies and obfuscation. 

The delight of listening to this story in a podcast format is the ability to hear the song itself, the enthusiasm from live Scorpions audiences, archival and new interviews, and provide some (but not enough for their taste) anonymity for former clandestine officers. But Wind of Change offers more than just great audio, it also takes the listener on a journey into how to investigate a thirty-year-old story, following oddball leads – even to a G.I. Joe convention – and invites skepticism about what information to actually believe. Indeed, the podcast also questions the nature of storytelling around this rumor and its role in continuing the myth making around the CIA. But Keefe also wonders: how do you uncover something that (if true) was among the top CIA secrets during the Cold War? As an oral historian, I would add that these events have also been diluted by memory and time, and those who can speak to the true origins of “Wind of Change” may no longer be able to do so.

Part cultural history and part investigation into Cold War operation, Wind of Change also documents the CIA’s other attempts at cultural influence. From Louis Armstrong to Nina Simone to Doctor Zhivago, Keefe reiterates the CIA’s long history of using popular culture to convey the principles of Western democracy and undermine communism. Further, Keefe points to the very nature of rock and roll as ripe for use as propaganda: the genre was effectively banned in the USSR, so the act of listening to the music itself was a proxy for political rebellion.

The podcast Wind of Change is not just a fun listen about a campy band and Cold War CIA operations, but also a compelling story and a great distraction. Find out more about Wind of Change, or listen to all eight episodes right now on Spotify.

125th anniversary of death of José Martí-the Cuban Intellectual, Author and Revolutionary!

JOSÉ MARTÍ – Serie Maestros de América Latina (Fair Academic Use Only, Source: UNIPE, Argentina)

Each nation-state has its own heroes whose actions often contribute to the narrative of mythopoetics of what it means to be a nation. Sometimes, songs are sung in their honor and monuments jut up like totems, arches, and pyramids of the antiquities. While the foundational myths and narratives often remain magical, the real actions of these enlightened individuals lead to the achievement of something larger.  José Martí is one such shining example.

The Cuban poet, a revolutionary philosopher, and Latin American intellectual of his times José Martí died one hundred and twenty-five years ago during the Battle of Dos Ríos on May 19, 1895. He led fight against the Spanish. From the Library of Congress hosted narrative, one notes that he lived in New York from 1881 and 1895 and a curious statement summarizes the imperialist tendencies that this nation has existed as follows, “He wrote everything from a magazine for children (Edad de Oro) to poetry (Versos sencillos 1891), to essays on the nature of the United States which he admired for its energy and industry as well as its notable statesmen, particularly the framers of the Constitution. However, he denounced its imperialist attitude toward its southern neighbors.”

Below are some of the electronic books that one can read after authenticating using proxy or VPN.

For works by José Martí at UC Berkeley Library see here.