OHC Director’s Column: December 2018

The Year in Review

by Martin Meeker

It is no exaggeration to write that 2018 is one for the record books as far as the Oral History Center is concerned. I can write with great pride that this year the Center conducted more hours of interviews than at any other time in our 64 year history. And, while not as easy to quantify, I have listened to and read through enough of our interviews (along with conducting a few myself) to report that they are as illuminating, interesting, and important as any we’ve yet done. As I approached writing this final newsletter column of 2018, it wasn’t the grasping for a story that made me miss my deadline, rather I was stuck on just which stories to tell — and when to find time to do it!

We are thrilled with the opportunities that come with the challenge of working so hard. If you read this column regularly, you’ll know that the Oral History Center is a “soft money” operation of the university, meaning that we need to raise funds to conduct our oral histories and make them available to you. So, all of this work means that foundations, organizations, and individuals like you have invested in this work and given us the honor of conducting these remarkable interviews. We are thrilled that, thanks to you, we are so busy — and, at year’s end, we invite you to help us continue this good work in 2019 by supporting us now with a donation.

Surely none of this could happen without one essential ingredient: a remarkable, smart, and hard-working group of colleagues. I could easily write a column on each of my colleagues’ contributions over the past year, which have been nothing short of heroic, so I’ll struggle here with this limited space: Amanda Tewes and Roger Eardley-Pryor each joined us in the spring as historian/interviewers and, in just a matter of months, both have proved themselves essential by conducting excellent interviews and contributing in valuable ways to the life of the office. Todd Holmes, who has been with us since 2016, is a serious scholar and a project development mastermind, serving as the driving force behind several exciting new initiatives. Shanna Farrell, historian and longtime head of our educational initiatives, conducted a remarkable number of individual interviews this year and also took over editing responsibilities for this now-monthly newsletter. Paul Burnett, with us now for five years, eagerly takes on some of the most intellectually challenging and complex oral histories and always excels. And, last but not least, David Dunham, our tech guru, quite literally worked two jobs in 2018: as technical lead and production manager he ensured that everything happened as it must — oh, and he also managed the project that brought you the amazing new search engine launched last month. I must also not forget to pay tribute to our group of student employees — 13 this semester — who do an expanding amount of work and perform an increasingly complex set of duties. Thank you!

So what has this inveterate and skilled, yet innovative and scrappy band of oral historians accomplished over the past year? Here are some of our highlights:

  • We continued our partnership with the Getty Trust, conducting a number of interviews with Getty curators and trustees and with influential artists, including a group Latino artists. We’ve already begun a project on African-American artists, which will be a major feature of our 2019 agenda;
  • We conducted several interviews for our Chicano Studies oral history project which will culminate in a full-length documentary film produced over the coming years;
  • We maintained our commitment to documenting the history of the University of California with a small but fascinating project on the campus political organization SLATE and individual interviews with several faculty leaders, including Berkeley Law Dean Jesse Choper, UC President Mark Yudof, Berkeley provost Paul Gray, and Nobel laureate and UCSF chancellor J. Michael Bishop;
  • We resurrected our long-running series on the history of wine in California with two new projects, one capturing the story of Harlan Estate and the other marking the 75th anniversary of Napa Valley Vintners;
  • We completed large groups of interviews documenting life in and around the East Bay Regional Park District and the San Francisco Presidio;
  • We continued our tradition of interviewing those who have made important contributions and lived memorable lives, including famed herbalist and clothing designer Jeanne Rose, philanthropist Howard Friesen, ACLU attorney Marshall Krause, Judge Patricia Herron, urbanist Anne Halsted, writer and lawyer Willie C. Gordon, professor Michael Teitz, philanthropist and businessman Herb Sandler, patron of the San Francisco arts Paul Bissinger, economist Lester Telser, and many many more;
  • And, we have kept up the educational and outreach activities that are essential if we want the skill of quality oral history interviewing and the knowledge of our projects to spread, enhancing knowledge and the quality of public dialog.

I’ve got another oral history to conduct in the morning, so I’ll resist the temptation to go on — there really a great deal more to tell you about, including the fascinating projects already scheduled for 2019. Instead, I’ll humbly ask that you continue to read this newsletter and keep in touch with us: let us know if any of our interviews proved interesting or useful; if there are projects or specific interviews that you think that we should pursue (especially if you have ideas for how to fund them!); or if you have a question about oral history or any of the many topics which we study and attempt to help illuminate through our interviews. So, please keep in touch. Thank you for a wonderful 2018 and I wish everyone the best in the new year.


Martin Meeker

Charles B. Faulhaber Director, The Oral History Center