Shirley Chisholm, Women Political Leaders, and the Oral History Center collection

By Mollie Appel-Turner

On Jan 25, 1972, Congresswomen Shirley Chisholm, representative for New York State’s Twelfth District and the first African American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, announced her candidacy for president. With this announcement, Chisholm became both the first African American to run for a major party’s presidential nomination and also the first woman ever to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. The UC Berkeley Oral History Center has several interviews that address Chisholm’s trailblazing candidacy. In addition, the Center has numerous interviews with other ground-breaking female politicians.

Shirley Chisholm speaking at microphone.
Shirley Chisholm thanking delegates, Democratic National Convention, Miami Beach, Fla., 3rd session (Photo: Library of Congress)

“Anything that black women do like that, they’re pioneering; they’re the first, or one of the first. Because it takes a lot of guts and militancy and sacrifice to do those things when it isn’t popular.”
— Frances Mary Albrier

Frances Mary Albrier was a woman of numerous accomplishments. A graduate of UC Berkeley, she was an indefatigable opponent of racism, a civil rights activist from the 1920s onward, the first woman elected to Alameda County’s Democratic Central Committee, as well as the first black woman hired by Kaiser Shipyards during World War II. She founded the East Bay Women’s Welfare Club, and her efforts led to the hiring of black women teachers in the Berkeley public schools. Albrier discussed Chisholm’s then-recent candidacy when she was interviewed in 1977 and 1978 as part of a series on women political leaders.

Frances Albrier on sidewalk with picket sign
Frances Albrier leading picket at corner of Sacramento and Ashby, 1939. (Photo: Berkeley Plaques)

Mrs. Chisholm pioneered when she ran for Congress in New York as a black woman. Anything that black women do like that, they’re pioneering; they’re the first, or one of the first. Because it takes a lot of guts and militancy and sacrifice to do those things when it isn’t popular, and it wasn’t popular for a black woman in the East or anywhere. Now, when Mrs. Chisholm ran for president, she did it again. She’s pioneered the way for [others]. Eventually, we’ll have a woman president of the United States. Those doors have been opened. People had looked at her and they’ve talked about a woman running for president. They heard what she had to say. It will be much easier for the next woman who has the ambition to run for president to do so.

Janet West was also interviewed for the women political leaders series, focusing on her work as a Santa Barbara Board of Education member. In the multi-interview volume Women in Politics Volume II, West spoke about how her experiences as a parent influenced her desire to run for office, and both motivated and informed her decisions as a board member. In her 1972 oral history, West discussed the significance of Chisholm’s then-contemporary candidacy:

I think if you’re talking about a large political office, people have the idea that you know, a woman couldn’t stand up under the pressures and maybe couldn’t take all that guff or whatever it is. I think we really have to overcome that type of thing and I’m not sure how many votes Shirley Chisholm will get just because she’s a woman, certainly not because she’s black but because she’s a woman and I don’t think people really feel that a woman can do all that hard work. It’s a lot of hard work.

Professor Harry Edwards joined UC Berkeley’s department of sociology in 1971. He conducted scholarship in the area of sociology of race and sport and is also renowned for his involvement in the famous Black Power salute on the victory podium at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. In “Harry Edwards: An Oral History,” he discussed his early life and upbringing in addition to his role as a scholar-activist, his time at Berkeley, and his work as a consultant to national football and basketball teams. When he was interviewed as part of the UC Berkeley African American Faculty and Senior Staff oral history project in 2005, Edwards spoke of Chisholm with both the knowledge of a contemporary and the perspective of a sociologist. Edwards discussed Chisholm’s extraordinary independence:

Closeup view of Dr. Harry Edwards at University Hilton. Photo dated: June 12, 1984.
Harry Edwards, 1984 (Photo: Toru Kawana, Los Angeles Herald Examiner Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library via Calisphere)

Shirley Chisholm, first of all, she had one phenomenal liability, and what I call it is the Stevenson syndrome. She was extraordinarily bright. She was extremely intelligent. That’s a phenomenal liability in the convention of the American political scene. She also had an independence to her that put her outside of the authoritative black leadership influence and control circle. The authoritative black leadership influence and control circle tried to get her not to run. They did not feel that it was “time” for a black woman to step out and run for President. She ran without the endorsement of the NAACP, without the endorsement of the Congress of Racial Equality, without the endorsement of SCLC, without the endorsement of Operation PUSH and Jesse Jackson. She ran on her own.

Shirley Chisholm is one of many women politicians discussed in the Oral History Center’s collections. The Oral History Center contains a wide variety of interviews on women in local, state, and national politics. For more on ground-breaking female politicians, the Oral History Center’s Women Political Leaders collection contains interviews that cover almost the entirety of the 20th century, from the suffragists onward. Interviewees include March Fong Eu, the first Asian American woman in the United States to be elected to a state constitutional office; Helen Gahagan Douglas, the first Democratic woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives; and Hope Mendoza Schechter, a member of the Democratic State Central Committee and an activist for both the labor movement and the Mexican American community. The Oral History Center continues to preserve the histories of women leaders in the political sphere and is currently conducting new interviews with female political leaders in the Bay Area Women in Politics and California State Archives projects. For those who wish to learn more, a good place to start is the Oral History Center’s Women in Politics podcast, which has episodes on a variety of important female political leaders of the twentieth century — at the local, state, and national levels — including Francis Albrier.

Mollie Appel-Turner
Mollie Appel-Turner

Mollie Appel-Turner joined the Oral History Center as a student editor in fall 2021. She is currently a fourth-year history student with a concentration in medieval history.

About the Oral History Center

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library has interviews on just about every topic imaginable. You can find the interviews mentioned here and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. We preserve 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.


T is for Topsy-Turvy: Our interviewees describe when things went haywire

It’s been a topsy-turvy couple of years. But it’s not the only time in recent memory that the world’s turned upside down. As the Omicron variant has once again derailed our path to normalcy, I decided to search the Oral History Center’s collection to see what our interviewees have described as topsy-turvy. Referencing the trivial to some of the most challenging times in recent history, those who used the adjective included household names like Chief Justice Earl Warren and California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, as well as artists, urban planners, venture capitalists, and Rosie the Riveters. Topics raised include the rise of Hitler, atomic weapons, the Great Depression, educational equity, campaign finance, messy houses, and downtown San Francisco. Here are the results. 

See below for a detailed description of how to search our collection by a keyword like topsy-turvy.

Mannequin crumpled over broken furniture in a test house after an atomic explosion
Mannequin after the Operation Cue atomic blast, 1955 (Photo: National Archives)

The rise of Hitler

Betty Hardison: Rosie the Riveter World War II American Home Front Oral History Project

“The world was beginning to be topsy-turvy. That was around 1939, when Hitler was not being very friendly.” 

During World War II, Betty Hardison worked at the Mare Island Naval Shipyards for the department responsible for repairing ships damaged during Pearl Harbor. Here she reflects on why she gave up her dream of university and journalism and took her first job.

Betty Hardison
Betty Hardison

When it was time to go off to school, I sold my clarinet and I went to Armstrong Business College in Berkeley. . . . It no longer exists, but it was a very prominent business school at the  time. I took secretarial and all phases of business. But at that time, then, the world was beginning to be topsy-turvy. That was around 1939, when Hitler was not being very friendly. . . . Journalism was a strong goal. I had been editor of the yearbook and things like that, so I thought that I wanted to go to the university and take journalism. But then with the world being turned upside-down, I went for my first job.

Related discussion within the interview: educational expectations for women, life in Calistoga, California during the Great Depression

Downtown San Francisco

Robert Riley: 1988–2000 Curator of Media Arts, SFMOMA 75th Anniversary 

“He found San Francisco to be completely topsy-turvy, vertiginous, and absolutely mad.”

Three screens on a wall with blurry images of street scenes
Steve McQueen’s “Drumroll” on display (Photo: Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art)

Robert Riley, the curator of media arts for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, recalled the inspiration for artist Steve McQueen’s work, Drumroll. McQueen had visited San Francisco during the exhibit of his work, Bear, in the early 1990s. 

When he was in San Francisco, he experienced the hurly-burly, topsy-turvy development of the downtown—there was a lot of construction when he was here. There was traffic mayhem. . . . He found San Francisco to be completely topsy-turvy, vertiginous, and absolutely mad. He work-shopped an idea here of putting a camera lens into the drain hole of a striped orange construction barrel, which he borrowed. He’s a large man. He decided to start pushing the barrel down the street and just telling people to look out.

Related discussion within the interview: acquisition of Steve McQueen’s work, Bear; the development of Drumroll 

Atomic bomb testing

Jean Fuller: Organizing Women: Careers in Volunteer Politics, Law, and Policy Administration

“Was that the mannequin whose head was cut off? Do you remember?”

Jean Fuller, director of women’s activities of the Federal Civil Defense Administration, 1954–58, was present at an atomic bomb test explosion in May 1955, dubbed Operation Cue. Conducted by the Atomic Energy Commission outside of Las Vegas, the test was designed to determine how the blast would affect people (represented by mannequins), food, and various structures. Looking at before and after photos of a test home, Fuller discusses the results with her interviewer, Miriam Stein. 

Jean Fuller in coveralls leaning on a sign that says Civil Defense Administration
Jean Wood Fuller, 1958 (Photo: Federal Civil Defense Administration/Internet Archive)

Fuller: Now, here’s the before scene of that living room where we saw the man all topsy-turvy. As you see there were draperies and there were Venetian blinds. Now, had they had the draperies pulled completely across, the blinds probably would not have done quite as much damage but they were only as people normally leave them.

Stein: Was that the mannequin whose head was cut off? Do you remember?

Fuller: No, he was upside down here someplace.

Stein: That’s right. He was hanging over a chair.

Fuller: Yes, but he undoubtedly would have been dead.

Related discussion within the interview: detailed account of the atomic test

Campaign finance

Earl Warren Sr.: Conversations with Earl Warren on California Government

“Some poor son of a gun with no money but with a great issue will come along, and he’ll just turn them topsy-turvy.”

Earl Warren, who attended UC Berkeley as an undergraduate and also received his law degree from Berkeley Law, was governor of California and chief justice of the United States Supreme Court. Here he discusses campaign finance with his interviewer, Amelia Fry, and an editor from Doubleday and Company, Luther Nichols, who was assisting Warren with his autobiography.

Earl Warren painting
Official paining of Earl Warren as governor of California

Nichols: I think Alioto spent half a million dollars—

 Warren: More than that.

 Nichols: It came out to something like six dollars a voter — six dollars a vote—

 Warren: Well, I’ll tell you. Of course, it’ll go along that way and then some poor son of a gun with no money but with a great issue will come along, and he’ll just turn them topsy-turvy. Now, you take that fellow who was elected—was it governor or senator—in Florida this year [1971]. He was a little country lawyer, Chiles, his name is— He’s a little country lawyer, he had no money of any kind to spend, but he told them he was going to start in the north of Florida and was going to walk clear through the state making his campaign. And, by George, he did. He’d arrange every way that— To start in the morning where there was a television station, and they’d pick him up there, say something about him, and he’d always stop at a television station at night. [Laughter] He got publicity that way and never spent a nickel on it, and he went all through the state, and he beat the whole outfit. [Laughter]

 Fry: And he got all that free TV time!

 Warren: Oh yes, he got all that free TV time.

 Fry: He must have had a million dollars of TV time!

 Warren: [Laughter] And never paid a dime for it!

Related discussion within the interview: decision to run for governor, campaign finance

Education

Justice Cruz Reynoso: California Supreme Court Justice, Professor of Law, Vice-Chair United States Commission on Human Rights, and 2000 Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient

“Somehow those parents, when they have come to a meeting, have felt uncomfortable, as my parents did when they went to a PTA meeting.”

Cruz Reynoso, who received his law degree from Berkeley Law, was the first Hispanic California State Supreme Court justice. Here he reflects on race relations and parental involvement in schools.  

Cruz Reynoso
Cruz Reynoso (Photo: UC Davis School of Law)

I will tell you a story because it turns things topsy-turvy. I may have told you about this. I was invited to go speak on a Saturday to a parent-student group in a school in the Los Angeles area. When I got there, I noticed that practically everybody involved was Spanish-speaking, and a great majority of the kids there were there, but the leadership of the PTA and practically everybody in charge was Latino. So I asked, “Is this an entirely Latino school? Do you have some other folk?” And they said, “Oh yes, about 20 percent of our students are Anglo.” And I said, “Well, where are the Anglo parents?” And they said, “We don’t know. We keep inviting them; they just don’t come.” I was bemused because I have heard that story told a hundred times about Latino parents by Anglo parents, “You know we keep sending these notices. They don’t come. They must not be—” They don’t say this, but the implication is “they must not be interested in education or must not be interested in their kids.” Well, I just said, “Maybe you ought to do something more so they feel comfortable when they come to these meetings and so on.” Something is not quite right when 20 percent of the parents don’t come to a Saturday function that is supposed to be good for everybody. I don’t know what they have done right or wrong, I really don’t. I nonetheless have the absolute sense that they haven’t done enough. Somehow those parents, when they have come to a meeting, have felt uncomfortable, as my parents did when they went to a PTA meeting. And we as human beings are smart enough to be able to figure things out on how to make those folk feel more comfortable and so on.  

Related discussion within the interview: affirmative action generally, and in particular at UC Berkeley

Venture capital partnerships

Paul Bancroft III: Early Bay Area Venture Capitalists: Shaping the Economic and Commerce, Industry, and Labor Landscape

“Others are saying the world has kind of gone topsy-turvy today—I don’t mean today, but up until recently.”

Paul “Pete” Bancroft was an early participant in the venture capital industry and president, CEO, and director of Bessemer Securities Corporation. Mr. Bancroft also devoted considerable time to The Bancroft Library, which was founded by his great grandfather, Hubert Howe Bancroft. 

Paul Bancroft
Paul “Pete” Bancroft

It finally evolved, unfortunately, to the point where the venture capital partnerships were investing so much money that with the fees they were getting, the 1 percent to 2.5 percent of the assets, that they were making more money that way than they were on the profits that were being made when the investments were sold. It meant that they were really starting to lose sight of really making money on the companies they were investing in. Which is why Arthur Rock and others are saying the world has kind of gone topsy-turvy today— I don’t mean today [2010], but up until recently.

Related discussion within the interview: venture capital partnerships, CEO salaries, Bessemer Venture Partners

The de Young Museum. . . and the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Jim Chappell: Directing the Resurgence of SPUR & Urban Planning in San Francisco

“Who can hate a baby seal?”

Jim Chappell is a retired urban planner whose forty-year career focused on intertwining environmental conservation into urban design. As the director of the nonprofit SPUR (San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association), he helped shape San Francisco into a modern city. Here he discusses design and structural problems with two California landmarks.

Jim Chappell with San Francisco Ferry Building in the background
Jim Chappell

The de Young Museum harkens back to the Midwinter Exposition of 1894, and then opened as the de Young Museum in 1895. It grew topsy-turvy over the years and was badly damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. In fact, they built a steel exoskeleton around it to keep the walls from falling down. It had never been a great museum in terms of collection or building. And they are related. . . . 

The [Monterey Bay] Academy was three or four years behind the de Young, so they got to learn from the mistakes, or at least knew what they were going to be up against when they started. Like the de Young, it was a building that had grown like topsy and was a mess of a building even before the earthquake. And then in the earthquake, pipes broke, which isn’t very good if you’re an aquarium. . . .

A baby seal peaking up out of the water
A baby seal

So in March 2000—this was three-and-a-half years after the first de Young bond vote—there was an $87 million bond on the ballot for the Academy. They needed 66 2/3 percent “yes.” They got sixty-seven. Phew. Just sneaked by. It was a different call than “old art.” It was “kids.” Their poster for the “yes” on the measure was a baby seal. Who can hate a baby seal? 

Related discussion within the interview: California’s proposition system, the adaptability of Golden Gate Park, and the evolution of parks and recreation since the 1800s.

Some other references to topsy-turvy

The Great Depression

You see, you had a topsy-turvy country.” Karl Holton, first director of the California Youth Corrections Authority, in the oral history collection, Earl Warren and the Youth Authority.

Art 

“I am  astounded  by  the  energy  of  her  construction  machinery  in  the  landscape, the  ‘topsy-turvy,’  earthquaking  quality  she  accentuates  in  her  paintings  of  San  Francisco  streets,  and  the  destruction  of  the  cumbersome Embarcadero  Freeway.” Nell Sinton: An Adventurous Spirit: The Life of a California Artist

Organizational turmoil

“Then, after a little over three years there, when things went topsy-turvy at DuPont Merck, I called Bill and asked, ‘Got a job left there?’ So that’s when I came back to Chiron, in ’94. It was an interesting period.” David W. Jr. Martin: UCSF Professor, Genentech Vice President of Research, and Beyond

The music industry

“The whole job pays 1500 bucks, this is a seven-piece band, but it cost $500 to rent the piano. So the piano is making three times what any of the musicians are making. This is how things have gone. The world, everything’s topsy-turvy. The priorities are all askew. So this is the kind of stuff we’re facing.” Jazz musician John Gill in Turk Murphy, Earthquake McGoon’s, and the New Orleans Revival.

A house in disarray

“We arrived in the most topsy-turvy mess of things in that house.” Ursula Bingham: A Lady’s Life: New England, Berkeley, China

How to search for a keyword like topsy-turvy

You can find the interviews mentioned here and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. From our home page, I entered topsy turvy in the search box and clicked search. (I did not get a different result with/without a hyphen.) There were 18 total results, including when the interviewer used the term or it appeared in an introduction. 

Screen shot of search box

When you get to the results page, you might not initially see any oral histories. This is because the “full text” feature is off by default. On the results page, toggle on “Fulltext search.” A number of oral histories will populate on that page in a list. Please note that sometimes I get better results when I change the default “all the words” to “partial phrase.”

Screen shot of results page showing "full text off"

 

Screen shot of results page showing full text on

Screen shot showing partial phrase

From the results list, click on any oral history. The next page will provide information about the oral history, such as interviewer, publication date, project, and so on. That page also enables you to read or download a PDF of the oral history. Without downloading, I entered the word “topsy” into the oral history search feature and selected “highlight all.” Then I just clicked on the arrow to be taken directly to the word. Repeat clicking on the arrow to see all examples of the search term within the oral history. 

Screen shot of search within the Oral HIstory

About the Oral History Center

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library has interviews on just about every topic imaginable. We preserve 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, including our podcasts and articles, are available online at no cost to scholars and the public.


Sign up for the 2022 Oral History Center Educational Programs

The Oral History Center is pleased to announce that applications are open for the 2022 Introductory Workshop (Feb. 4) and Advanced Institute (August 8–12).

The OHC is offering interactive, online versions of our educational programs again this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

Introductory Workshop: Feb. 4, 8:30 a.m.2:30 p.m. via Zoom

Our introductory workshop, including the wait-list, is now full. Please see below for information about our Advanced Institute taking place in August.

The 2022 Introduction to Oral History Workshop will be held virtually via Zoom on Friday, February 4, from 8:30 a.m.– 2:30 p.m. Pacific Time, with breaks woven in. Applications are now being accepted on a rolling basis. Please apply early, as spots fill up quickly.

This workshop is designed for people who are interested in an introduction to the basic practice of oral history and learning best practices. The workshop serves as a companion to our more in­-depth Advanced Oral History Summer Institute held in August.

Screen shot of presentation being given by Amanda Tewes
Amanda Tewes presents on interviewing during a remote workshop.

This workshop focuses on the “nuts-­and-­bolts” of oral history, including methodology and ethics, practice, and recording. It will be taught by our seasoned oral historians and include hands­-on practice exercises. Everyone is welcome to attend the workshop. Prior attendees have included community-­based historians, teachers, genealogists, public historians, and students in college or graduate school.

Tuition is $150. Please note that the OHC is a soft money research office of the university, and as such receives precious little state funding. Therefore, it is necessary that this educational initiative be a self-funding program. We encourage you to check in with your home institutions about financial assistance; in the past we have found that many programs have budgets to help underwrite some of the costs associated with attendance. We will provide receipts and certificates of completion as required for reimbursement.

Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. We encourage you to apply early, as spots fill up quickly.

If you have specific questions, please contact Shanna Farrell at sfarrell@library.berkeley.edu.

Advanced Institute: August 8–12, via Zoom

We are now accepting applications for our 2022 Advanced Institute on a rolling basis.

The Oral History Center is offering an online version of our one-week advanced institute on the methodology, theory, and practice of oral history. This will take place from August 8–12, 2022. Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Advanced Institute will be held online.

The cost of the Advanced Institute has been adjusted to reflect the online nature of this year’s program. Tuition is $600. See below for more details.

The institute is designed for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, university faculty, independent scholars, and museum and community-based historians who are engaged in oral history work. The goal of the institute is to strengthen the ability of its participants to conduct research-focused interviews and to consider special characteristics of interviews as historical evidence in a rigorous academic environment.

We ask that applicants have a project in mind that they would like to workshop during the week. All participants are required to attend small daily breakout groups in which they will workshop projects.In the sessions, we will devote particular attention to how oral history interviews can broaden and deepen historical interpretation situated within contemporary discussions of history, subjectivity, memory, and memoir.

Overview of the Week

The institute is structured around the life cycle of an interview. Each day will focus on a component of the interview, including foundational aspects of oral history, project conceptualization, the interview itself, analytic and interpretive strategies, and research presentation and dissemination.

Instruction will take place online. Seminars will cover oral history theory, legal and ethical issues, project planning, oral history and the audience, anatomy of an interview, editing, fundraising, and analysis and presentation. During workshops, participants will work throughout the week in small groups, led by faculty, to develop and refine their projects.

Participants will be provided with a resource packet that includes a reader, contact information, and supplemental resources. These resources will be made available electronically prior to the Institute, along with the schedule.

Applications and Cost

The cost of the institute is $600. We are offering a limited number of participants a discounted tuition of $300 for students, independent scholars, or those experiencing financial hardship. If you would like to apply for discounted tuition, please indicate this on your application form and we will send you more information.

Please note that the OHC is a soft money research office of the university, and as such receives precious little state funding. Therefore, it is necessary that this educational initiative be a self-funding program. Unfortunately, we are unable to provide financial assistance to participants other than our limited number of scholarships. We encourage you to check in with your home institutions about financial assistance; in the past we have found that many programs have budgets to help underwrite some of the costs associated with attendance. We will provide receipts and certificates of completion as required for reimbursement.

Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. We encourage you to apply early, as spots fill up quickly.

Questions?

Please contact Shanna Farrell at sfarrell@library.berkeley.edu with any questions.

 


The Roots of the Oral History Center

by Charles Faulhaber, Interim Director of The Bancroft Library

As we bid farewell to 2021, I’ve been thinking about the power of first-person accounts and the meaning of oral history within The Bancroft Library’s collections. Bancroft’s Oral History Center was founded in 1953 by Robert Gordon Sproul, President of the University of California, as the Regional Oral History Office, “regional” because there was one at Berkeley for northern California and one at UCLA for southern California.

In fact, however, Bancroft’s oral history roots lie much deeper than that. As early as the 1860s, San Francisco bookdealer Hubert Howe Bancroft, the founder of The Bancroft Library, was traveling extensively up and down the Pacific Coast and back to the East Coast in order to record “dictations,” his interviews with the men, and some women, who had made the West their home. In Utah he interviewed Mormon leaders while his wife, Matilda Griffings Bancroft, interviewed their wives. On a trip to Pennsylvania he interviewed John Sutter, bitter over the failure of the federal government to compensate him for the loss of his extensive land grants in the gold-rich foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Later, as Bancroft’s plans for a monumental history of California and the American West—eventually 39 massive volumes—crystallized, he hired staff to record dictations with the Californios, the Spaniards and Mexicans who had colonized Alta California from 1769 onward, men like Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, the last Mexican commandant of the Presidio in San Francisco, as well as with native Americans, like Isidora Filomena, the wife of chief Solano of the Suisun tribe.

Bancroft believed that these contemporaneous oral accounts provided an essential complement to the written sources in his library, which he eventually sold to the University of California in 1905. This is the same philosophy that informs the activities of the Oral History Center today. The thousands of oral histories that have been recorded in the almost seventy years since the Center was founded inform and enrich the printed and manuscript documentation collected by Bancroft’s curators.

Thus the series of oral histories of Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II has proved to be a fundamental resource for Bancroft’s current exhibition, “UPROOTED: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans,” which also draws from Bancroft’s extensive collection of documents, photographs, and family and personal papers. This exhibition commemorates the 80th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which ordered the incarceration of all Japanese Americans on the West Coast, including American citizens, some 113,000 individuals.

I invite you to visit this powerful exhibit at The Bancroft Library Gallery when it re-opens briefly from January 10-21 and then again from February 17, 2022 through June 30, 2022, and hear first-hand the words of the uprooted, preserved for posterity through oral history.

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library has interviews on just about every topic imaginable. You can find the interviews mentioned here and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. The Oral History Center 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.


Looking Back: Oral History Center Staff Reflects on 2021

As we transition from 2021 to 2022, the Oral History Center staff reflects on a year that moved both fast and slow and was full of change, yet much of the same. I asked our team to share their highlights from the past year. Join us as we look back on the moments in which our team found hope, joy, and inspiration in over the past twelve months. — Martin Meeker, OHC Director

“This year, we received so much good news about new endeavors, and projects that had been on hold in 2020 came roaring back. I am ever grateful to all our project partners who saw the potential of these remote oral history projects, and for narrators who were willing to be flexible and try new technologies for recording interviews. One such project is the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project. Shanna Farrell and I have been working on this project to document the history of this Contra Costa County land trust organization in celebration of its fiftieth anniversary on December 7, 2021. We will be turning these important interviews into podcast episodes of The Berkeley Remix, so stay tuned for more to come on this project!”

Amanda Tewes, Interviewer/Historian

 

2021 has been a remarkable year for the Oral History Center, and I am as thankful as ever to be a part of such a uniquely talented organization. I listened on as interviewers conducted more oral histories than ever through a carefully planned combination of remote and in-person interviews. I marveled at my good fortune to work with a talented team of student workers who process, preserve, and edit our video oral histories in a variety of formats. We continued our rich collaboration with University of Southern California MMLIS interns to enhance access via improved metadata for oral histories from our archives. Student workers and interns provide significant contributions to the Oral History Center year in and year out, but their navigating academics, work, and daily life through the challenges of a pandemic was especially inspiring. Thanks are due to the contributions of recent graduates Yarelly Bonilla-Leon and Abigail Jaquez; continuing mentors Max Afifi, Tasnima Naoshin, and Lydia Qu; and newest team members Mina Choi and Vivien Huerta-Guimont. I am excited to see what the Oral History Center will accomplish in 2022!”

David Dunham, Operations Manager and Project Manager, Rosie the Riveter / WWII Home Front Oral History Project

 

This year I’d like to highlight the stellar work of the undergraduate student employees on the editorial team. They maintained their professionalism and high-quality work throughout the pandemic and I’m impressed with how much they’ve been able to accomplish. A big thank you to my team of student editors, spring graduates Jordan Harris and Ricky Noel; current employees Mollie Appel-Turner, Adam Hagen, Ashley Sangyou Kim, and Lauren Sheehan-Clark; and research assistants Deborah Qu and Serena Ingalls. The student editors serve critical functions in our oral history production, analyzing entire transcripts to write discursive tables of contents, entering interviewee comments, editing front matter, and writing abstracts. They do the work of professional editors and we would not be able to keep up our pace of interviews without them. The research assistants conduct research for our social media outreach and other projects. Excellent writers in their own right, the student employees also research and write articles highlighting individuals and projects in our vast archive. These contributions have enabled us to better share the wealth of our collection with scholars and the public. You can read about their experiences working remotely during shelter-in-place in this newsletter, and keep an eye out for their insightful articles in future editions.”

Jill Schlessinger, Communications/Managing Editor

 

In our second pandemic year, we continued some remote interviewing while resuming our traditional in-person recording for certain projects. Although there was a period of adjustment, and though there is still no substitute for sitting together in a room to share a story, the fact is that we now interview people across the country and around the world in a way that would not have been possible just a decade ago. I’m grateful for in-person interviewing, but I’m also thankful for the opportunities to do remote interviewing and to do more online, interactive teaching. Among my 2021 interviews, there are too many highlights to name, but what stays with me is the description of a formative moment, the life experiences that were rich and meaningful, the way a crescendo of a voice raised in excitement brings a point home, or the way a pause gives space and time to let the meaning of what has been said sink in.”

Paul Burnett, Interviewer/Historian

 

For me, “home” has been an important theme throughout 2021, particular as this year ends. Home can mean different things to different folks, but it often involves the people and places with the greatest mutual influences in our lives. My oral history interviews in 2021, which totaled nearly 100 recorded hours with a mix of academic, political, and environmental actors, included Zoom calls beamed into a narrator’s home as well as face-to-face recordings physically inside their homes. Whether conducted online or in person, our narrators invite us into their homes in various ways. Narrators often share stories of where they lived and with whom throughout their childhoods and in their personal lives. These memories of “home,” as it’s evolved over time, are replete with rich and complicated human and more-than-human relations that recall moments of happiness and heartbreak, dissonance and discovery, and emotions sometimes unresolved or rarely recalled but still surprisingly powerful. The stories a narrator chooses to tell, or not tell, can say a great deal about their sense of home, as well as who, what, or where gets included there for them at different times. In 2021, both my narrators and I also experienced how the ongoing COVID19 pandemic has reified and refracted the role that home plays in our lives. The blessing of vaccines helped many of us expand—at least for a moment or two—the realms we’ve called home since the pandemic began. Additionally, during these final months of 2021, my family and I experienced the blessing (and complications) of purchasing and moving into our own first home. As the year ends, I remain deeply grateful for the privilege and responsibility of joining narrators in their homes, of hearing about the evolving influences that home has played in their lives, and also reconciling and reconstituting the many meanings of home in my own life.”

Roger Eardley-Pryor, Interviewer/Historian

 

There’s a lot to celebrate as 2021 draws to a close. I’ve been able to work on new oral histories and continue existing projects with the help of remote recording technology. I’ll be forever grateful that the OHC has been able to adapt our model using Zoom so that some semblance of normalcy persists through the continual waves of uncertainty. I was able to interview people I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to for ongoing projects like the East Bay Regional Park District oral histories and start the pre-interview process for our newly funded project about Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives. As we enter 2022, we’ll likely have a mix of in-person and remote interviews, but I (and my narrators!) appreciate the flexibility and options that are now integrated into our interviewing process. Also with the help of Zoom, we were able to continue our Introductory Workshop and Advanced Summer Institute, so that we could train those who wish to enhance their oral history skills. Lastly, I published my second book,  A Good Drink: In Pursuit of Sustainable Spirits, and was able to do a number of virtual events, including a roundtable with The Bancroft Library. Lots to celebrate, indeed! Here’s to a healthy, productive, and successful 2022 with much more to toast!”

Shanna Farrell, Interviewer/Historian

 

After a tumultuous 2020, the past year ushered in much to celebrate and be grateful for at the OHC. Thanks to the resilience of many narrators, projects new and old were put into the books. The Yale Agrarian Studies Project, featuring the oral histories of famed social scientist James C. Scott and affiliates of his Agrarian Studies Program were officially released in September. The Chicana/o Studies Oral History Project, which was launched in 2017, also finally reached the finish line. Composed of in-depth interviews with nearly two dozen scholars who played a vital role in the field’s formation and development, the project will be released in early 2022. Our partnership with the California State Archives also grew to new heights this past year. Building on the oral history we conducted with Governor Jerry Brown, we initiated a new project on Governor Schwarzenegger’s signature climate change program: The Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32). We were also able to conduct a new round of interviews for the State Government Oral History Program—a program I’m happy to report has been given a multi-year renewal by the state legislature. Lastly, I completed a short documentary film on Japanese American Redress with Emi Kuboyama at Stanford University, who is also an alumni of the OHC Summer Institute. The film features oral histories we conducted with community leaders and former staff of the Office of Redress Administration. Thanks to a grant from the Takahashi Foundation, we will be reediting the film in the coming year for classroom and television use. Here’s to a productive 2021 and an even better 2022.”

Todd Holmes, Interviewer/Historian


A peaceful silence: Berkeley undergrads reflect on remote employment during the pandemic

For many of us at UC Berkeley, remote work has been a hallmark of the pandemic. As a community we’ve thought a lot about what it’s been like for students to learn remotely and for staff and faculty to work remotely. But with thousands of undergraduate student employees across campus (500 at the UC Library alone), what was it like for undergraduate student employees — those who could — to work remotely during shelter-in-place?

As a staff member, my quality of life improved significantly when I was able to work from home every day. I was fortunate in that my work at the Oral History Center could seamlessly be done entirely online. I gained more time for sleep, exercise, even a leisurely cup of coffee in the morning. Remote work made my job as a manager of up to seven student employees easier. Prior to shelter-in-place, my students’ schedules revolved around their classes and there was never an overlap of all my assistants. I would have to train them separately, answer questions that could benefit all one by one. With the flexibility they gained through at-home learning, asynchronous classes, and no commute time, my students could easily hop on an online meeting outside of their core work hours. And they were willing, even eager, to adjust their schedules so we could all meet together. I was able to schedule regular team meetings for trainings and the exchange of ideas, leading to higher work quality. I was able to extend trust and tools for the student workers to be successful remotely, and I was impressed with how much they were able to accomplish. From my perspective, we were also able to build more of a community and I looked forward to our team meetings as a highlight of my work day. I still wondered, though, what was it like for my student employees to work remotely? So I asked them. 

Two students in masks walk under Sather gate
UC Berkeley photo by Irene Yi.

Our team’s student editors serve critical functions in our oral history production, analyzing entire transcripts to write discursive tables of contents, entering interviewee comments, editing front matter, writing abstracts, and more. They do the work of professional editors and we would not be able to keep up our pace of interviews without them. Here, three of the Oral History Center’s editorial assistants describe their experience of remote work during the pandemic. 

Ashley Sangyou Kim

Ashley Sangyou Kim
Ashley Sangyou Kim

Ashley Sangyou Kim is currently a fourth-year student at UC Berkeley studying rhetoric. She is an editor for the World Section of Berkeley Political Review (BPR). 

[Written after return to campus]

I am extremely privileged to be able to say that the pandemic was more of a blessing than a curse for me. My family got closer, I learned how to take better care of myself both mentally and physically, and school was more exciting when I returned to campus. All of these changes stemmed from the fact that I had more time. I had more room throughout my day to think about what I was doing and, more importantly, what I wanted. The shock of the pandemic shook me out of auto-pilot mode and forced me to reflect in a peaceful silence. 

One of the things that guided me during my reflections was reading interviews from the Oral History Center. As an editorial assistant, I get to write abstracts and tables of contents for interviews. Working at home helped me to relax and read more deeply into each transcript. Many of these conversations cover one person’s life from early childhood to retirement, with explanations on what led to significant decisions. These were incredible stories: Willie Brown’s journey from janitor to mayor of San Francisco, Dorothea Lange finding her sensitivity as an artist, and Josephine Miles pursuing higher education despite her disabilities to become the first woman tenured in our English Department. I paid special attention to how the interviewees discovered their passions and special skills. How do people know what they can contribute to the world? Which voice in your head do you listen to? These questions filled my brain over quarantine, and the OHC’s interviews offered a multitude of ways in which other people answered them. 

Now almost three months out of quarantine, I still find myself referring back to the interviews I read over the pandemic. When I registered for classes, for example, I recalled Felix Khunar’s interview, and how he regretted not taking classes outside of music before his college education was cut short. He had to flee Nazi Germany. Little life lessons like this still pop up in my post-pandemic life, and I am grateful that my job allowed me to walk in so many people’s shoes so that I can see my life from multiple perspectives.

Jordan Harris

Jordan Harris worked at the Oral History Center as an editorial assistant from February 2020 to August 2021. She graduated from UC Berkeley in May with a bachelor’s degree in English.

[Written prior to return to campus]

I was hired as an editorial assistant shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the closure of The Bancroft Library, forcing employees to begin working remotely. I remember my last day working in the Oral History Center: it was my second shift, and everything was quieter than usual because I happened to be the only one in the part of the office where I was working. Sitting in one of the cubicles, I remember looking out the window on my right and seeing a group of protesters walking by with their homemade signs. I don’t remember what they were protesting (or advocating), but I do remember feeling a peculiar peace of sorts. It was a perfect moment of normalcy — at least by Berkeley standards — that now feels like a memory tainted by melancholy.

It really is unnerving to think about how that peace was shattered so quickly, my next shift spent in my Northside home of twenty-six students — a number that seemed alarming at the time. But over the next several months, it became clear that this was work we could successfully do remotely, even if it meant a lot of slowing down and emails and Zoom meetings. Amid the uncertainty of everything else happening at the time, working for the OHC was ultimately one of the few points of stability in my life throughout the rest of that semester and the following year, and it’s an experience I’ll always be grateful for.

Shannon White

Shannon White
Shannon White

Shannon White is currently a third-year student at UC Berkeley studying classical languages. 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.

[Written prior to return to campus] 

I applied for this job at the last minute—a combination of my planned archaeology field school in Greece being cancelled and my sudden need to find housing and something to occupy my summer. I’m one of the newest hires on my team; all of my training happened remotely over Zoom and I’ve never worked in our office space. For the most part, remote work has been great. I enjoy working from home—I’ve got my office space set up in a way that works for me and I live in a house with other people who are also working or taking classes and understand the difficulties of handling everything remotely. At the same time though, it’s been rough. Establishing a stable work-life balance is difficult when you work and live in the same place. Overall, however, I think the transition to fully remote work during COVID-19 has been relatively smooth. Though it’s been strange working at a job where I’ve never met any of my co-workers in person, I’m glad I applied when I did and I can honestly say the ability to control when and where I work has been great for me.

About the Oral History Center

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library has interviews on just about every topic imaginable. You can find the interviews mentioned here and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria.

The Oral History Center 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.


Objectivity and Subjectivity in Oral History: Lessons from Japanese American Incarceration Stories

Sari Morikawa is an intern at the Oral History Center (OHC) of the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. She is a Mount Holyoke College history major with a keen interest in American history.

Sari
Sari Morikawa, c. 2021

This fall, I had an opportunity to work on the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project (JAIN) with OHC interviewers Amanda Tewes, Shanna Farrell, and Roger Eardley-Pryor. For this project, I identified oral history interviews discussing Japanese American incarceration during World War II in the OHC’s collections. Later, I compiled and constructed an annotated bibliography for the team, as well as for future researchers. At the same time, I engaged with and acquired knowledge of basic oral history theories and methodologies. Through this project, I had a chance to reflect upon the idea of intersubjectivity and contemplate how this concept plays out in a real oral history project. This entire experience caused me to wonder how my own subjectivity—including my background as a Japanese woman and not an American citizen—might influence how I interpret and share these oral history narratives on Japanese American incarceration.

For the first phase of my internship, I engaged with prominent oral historians’ scholarly work and learned basic oral history methodologies and practices. In particular, the idea of intersubjectivity struck me. In oral history, intersubjectivity means that both the interviewer’s and narrator’s subjectivity, or identities and lived experiences, impact their interpretations of memories and shape the interview they co-create. In particular, Kathleen Blee’s article, “Lessons from Oral Histories of the Klan,” was very influential for me. In this article, Blee sheds light on the idea that historians need to grapple with how to tell people’s stories while considering their own social identities and perspectives, especially when they disagree. After briefly discussing the author’s main argument, Amanda asked me a question, “Do you think history can be objective?” This question struck me. At that point, I believed that objectivity in history was important to avoid romanticization of the past. For example, in order to justify the incarceration plan, the U.S. federal government conceptualized Manzanar as a “holiday on ice” and shared this interpretation with the general public. As a result, some of the oral history transcripts demonstrate (particularly white) narrators’ misunderstanding and misinterpretation of Japanese Americans incarceration. Thus, I believed that history should be neutral to prevent romanticization. Yet, my views on objectivity and intersubjectivity changed as I started writing the annotated bibliography and engaged more with oral history theory and methodology. 

By the beginning of October, we started working on an extensive annotated bibliography. I identified oral history transcripts which discuss Japanese American imprisonment during World War II. It turned out Japanese Americans’ incarceration experiences were too diverse to generalize. It was wonderful to see that narrators who discussed the incarceration ranged from formerly incarcerated deaf family members to the War Relocation Authority officials to a fisherman who delivered fish to incarceration centers. I recognized how diverse their voices are and realized that the stories that we tell are not objective at all. Thus, history cannot be objective. For example, some formerly incarcerated Japanese Americans expressed their bitter feelings that life in incarceration camps was shocking and traumatizing. Some of them, like Nancy Ikeda Baldwin, even said that these experiences decreased their performance in school after their incarceration. On the other hand, others said that the incarceration camps were enviable experiences. One generation later, Eiko Yasutake confessed, “I was kind of a little jealous when you went to the camps, because that, for kids, was that side of it, that they were all together and kind of had that playtime if you will.” In fact, so many photographs from this time highlight Japanese Americans’ agency. Jack Iwata’s work uncovers Japanese Americans hosting beauty pageants, emphasizing Japanese Americans’ power to make the most out of their circumstances. This wide array of recollections, even among Japanese Americans, confused me. However, it made me contemplate how I would utilize the idea of intersubjectivity to share this nuanced and complex history with people who don’t really know about these incarceration experiences.

Queen of Manzanar
Margie Midori Shimizu Hirashimal, “Queen of Manzanar.” The image of a beauty queen at Manzanar shows the resilience of the Japanese American community incarcerated there. Photograph by Jack Iwata, c. 1942-1945. Courtesy of Calisphere.

The question of how I would interpret these stories and share them with people who are unfamiliar with this topic led me to another question: how my identity as Japanese would impact interpretations of Japanese American incarceration. As a person who partially shares the same heritage and cultural background, I felt a sense of familiarity and interacted with interview transcripts with care. Encountering some of the Japanese words in oral history interview transcripts that don’t quite translate into English, such as ‘gaman‘ and ‘shikataganai,’ I felt a cultural connection to Japanese American prisoners. When someone discusses that formerly incarcerated Japanese Americans are hesitant to talk about their experiences, I recognize how Japanese culture made them react that way. My own subjectivity helped me grapple with these Japanese Americans’ incarceration stories. At the same time, I learned that I should also step back from my own subjectivity. Some of the Chinese and Filipino Americans’ transcripts on this topic allowed me to tackle this idea. Caroline and Frank Gwerder said, “[Filipinos] were fearful of what the Japanese might do.” These interviews reminded me of how Japanese imperialistic and super nationalistic policies and how they implanted fear on other Asian Americans and reshaped U.S. homeland politics. Since then, I felt more cautious about my national identity, in particular as a person coming from a country with this imperialistic past. That adage that “winners write history” nicely illustrates how imperialists write and rewrite history and leave behind the perspectives of marginalized communities. Recognizing this, I became to be more mindful about valuing the stories of incarcerated Japanese Americans.

Throughout this process, I realized that the inner dialogue between my identity, my interpretation of these oral history interviews, and how I would disseminate them to a larger audience is all subjective. Historians cannot avoid being subjective. In order to best reflect these interviews through my annotated bibliography, I would highlight their plight caused by the government’s racially discriminatory plan and Japan’s imperialistic military policy. Yet, more importantly, I would also emphasize incarcerated peoples’ agency and adoption of “gaman.” Utilizing my shared culture and history, as well as acknowledging the imperialistic past that my country made, I will utilize the oral history as bottom-up narratives to overturn the romanticized past.

Find out more about the oral histories mentioned here  from the search feature on our home page. You can search by name, key word, and several other criteria.


OHC’s November 2021 Director’s Guest Column: “Power, Empathy, and Respect in Oral History” by Paul Burnett

“So oral history is interviewing.” I get this a lot from people who are trying to understand what I do for a living. Yes, the interview is the primary way in which we gather our historical data, our stories. When people think of interviews in general, however, they might think of the police interrogation, the oral examination in schools, the journalist’s scoop, even an anthropologist’s study of a community, amongst other examples. Near the end of his life, philosopher Michel Foucault was hoping to do a large research project on the interview and the examination as sites of power relations. He could not have been more astute. In each of the examples above, control rests almost completely with the interviewer. The interviewers extract information from the narrator for their own purposes, often without consideration of the interests of the narrator, and sometimes directly against their interests. Sometimes narrators are allowed to see the resulting work; often they are not consulted.

By contrast, oral history as a disciplinary academic practice and as a social movement begins and ends with the problem of power. It’s not that we can get rid of power; power is interwoven through our relationships. Oral history methods acknowledge power relations as a problem to be managed, helping to ensure that the narrators tell the stories they want to tell. We begin with a process of informed consent, so that narrators know what to expect from beginning to end, and that they have the power to withdraw from the work at any moment, even after the project is finished. We then engage in a period of planning and research. Although a spontaneous, cold interview might seem more authentic, what happens in those cases is that the narrator is often at sea in their memories, their real-time decision-making about how to present themselves, and their anxiety about which stories to tell, in how much detail, and with what words. And then we are right back to the problem of the interviewer controlling the scene. By collaboratively planning in advance, the narrator and interviewer build a bond of trust and a plan around the nature of the storytelling.

And when the interview happens, we can both relax, and that’s where it becomes spontaneous. I call it “planned spontaneity,” with a heavy debt to Miles Davis’ approach to “controlled freedom” in jazz performance. Telling a story is like singing; it is singing. It can be an emotional performance of your deepest truths. I’d be tempted to say that the interviewer is the impresario in this metaphor, arranging things so that the narrator’s story shines. But my ideal role would be to serve as both the room and the audience, to let the narrator hear their own voice reflected from the back of the hall, and to see and sense the audience’s engagement with the performance. Ask any singer, and that’s what they need for a good performance; they need feedback from the audience and to hear their own voices.

That’s why, during the interview, I “read back” what I’m hearing periodically to give real-time feedback. But we also transcribe the interview so that the narrator can review what they have said and decide if that is the final form of the story, making changes as needed. Then we ask them to sign off on the finished product, with some guarantee of access to the narrator and their communities. All of these practices together form a set of protections that maximize the narrator’s power in forming, telling, and preserving stories for the future.

The problem of power might be mitigated by this set of practices, but power is always unfinished business. There is the history of the interview itself, whose reputation for extraction, exploitation, and manipulation is not lost on many communities. There is the university, a site of state, political, and economic power, and the authority to include or exclude that hangs over the interview. Anthropologist Michel Rolph-Trouillot wrote about the ways in which the decision about what gets included in archives is the first and perhaps most important violence done to history. Narrators and interviewers come to the interview within multiple, overlapping sets of power relations, exclusions, and hierarchies that threaten to distort and even block trustful communication.

For the interviewer’s part, there are two basic orientations that help with – but do not solve – these problems. The first is empathy. I have interviewed a lot of powerful people, people who might seem from a distance invulnerable, privileged, at ease. I hate to sound obvious, but everyone has experienced exclusion, denigration, and trauma of some kind in their lives, often of many kinds. Sometimes exclusion is a source of pride; but it is most often a source of pain. I have a lot of power and privilege, but I can tap into experiences of the exercise of arbitrary authority, exclusions, bullying, violence and trauma in order to attempt to connect to those who have experienced far greater violence, who have lived lifetimes inside social structures of exclusion and trauma. But if we amplify voices of the excluded, we have to understand that connecting and collecting can too easily end up as claiming and taking.

Empathy is only one part of it. That assumption of some kind of access to another’s experience is another problem of power and privilege. Interviewers also have to begin with the assumption that vast oceans of human experience elude them. Research can help, but a fundamental orientation of humility and respect is required to establish a bond of trust with a narrator. Is there some core of human experience that we all share? Of course. But history shunts us all into patterns of human experience that are both radically different and arranged in a long list of intersectional hierarchies of arbitrary value – race, class, gender identity and orientation, citizenship, disability, body politics, and surely more structures which we as a society have yet to recognize, never mind address. All of that comes into play in the interview encounter, and it may determine whether the interview happens at all. A humility before this pageant of exclusion is the necessary companion to empathy.

What I’m presenting here isn’t new. The oral history community has been wrestling with these questions for a long time, especially with its frequently expressed commitment to using oral history to explore those hierarchies of value, to shine a light on and validate the experiences of the excluded and the othered. Although I’m an oral historian, I’m also a historian of science. One of the things I’m interested in is how disciplines define themselves. One of the patterns about knowers in a discipline is that they are sometimes poor interpreters of their own origins and practices. Researchers often have the hardest time seeing the very spot from which they observe. It may be precisely because of their commitment to reflexivity that oral historians may not be able to see, or perhaps hear, these challenges. We check our audio equipment, but sometimes we don’t check how we are listening, or whether we’re able to hear something at all. Our most important listening equipment is between our ears, or maybe inside our chests, and limited by our lived experience and frames of reference. What we need to continually re-examine and affirm is our commitment to empathy, humility, and trust in our work.

 


Samuel Barondes: Integrating Molecular Neuroscience with Psychiatry

New oral history release: Samuel Barondes

Samuel Barondes in 1992 as Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at UCSF and Director of the Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute.

Samuel Barondes is a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) who, over the course of his exceptional career, helped bridge those two fields as a researcher, author, and builder of interdisciplinary programs. Sam and I video-recorded over eighteen-hours of his life narrative at his home in Sausalito in 2019, which resulted in a rich 390-page transcript including an appendix with photographs of his family, dear friends, and fellow researchers. Parts of Sam’s oral history explore meta-themes in his life, from his memories about researching the molecular biology of memory-formation in our brains, to the human connections and collaborations Sam nurtured while investigating the ways neural synapses make new connections. Throughout, Sam’s oral history reflects his abiding fascination with what makes people tick—at the molecular level in cells and synapses, and metaphorically in people’s hearts and souls.

Samuel Barondes in his laboratory in the Department of Psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City in 1969.

In many ways, Sam Barondes’s life reflects a kind of American utopia. Sam was born during the Great Depression in New York City. As the only child to Jewish immigrants who received little formal schooling, Sam was the first in his family to attend college. In the 1950s, he earned an Ivy League education and became a medical doctor before launching his career as a research scientist at some of the world’s most acclaimed institutions. Sam trained in clinical medicine and psychiatry at several Harvard teaching hospitals before becoming a postdoctoral trainee in the early 1960s at the National Institutes of Health. There, Sam was introduced to the new science of molecular biology by University of California alumnus Gordon Tomkins, and Sam participated in Marshall Nirenberg’s Nobel Prize-winning studies that deciphered the genetic code. In his subsequent career, Sam used this biomolecular perspective to make novel discoveries of his own, to enrich our understanding of how human brains work, and to build new institutions to uplift the work of others.

A whimsical portrait of Samuel Barondes commissioned in 1997 by UCSF and painted by his friend Millicent Tomkins, widow of his mentor, Gordon Tomkins.

Along his life journey, Sam found love, experienced tragedy, and found love again, all while fostering deep, life-long friendships with other exceptional researchers, including Sydney Brenner, Francis Crick, Eric Kandel, and other luminaries whom Sam discusses in his oral history. In 1970, Sam moved west with his own family to live along the California coast, first in La Jolla where he raised two daughters, and now in Sausalito, where his stunning home overlooks the San Francisco Bay from an ocean-front property once owned by William Randolph Hearst. Sam spent most of his career at the University of California, first at its San Diego campus (UCSD 1970-86) as a founding Professor of Psychiatry and in the interdepartmental Neuroscience Program. He then moved to its San Francisco campus (UCSF 1986-) where he was Chair of Psychiatry and Director of the Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute before founding the Center for Neurobiology and Psychiatry as the Jeanne and Sanford Robertson Endowed Chair. Sam also held many editorial and advisory positions including co-founding and serving for ten years as President of the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience. His honors include election to the National Academy of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

David Byrne singing “Here,” the opening song of his Broadway performance “American Utopia.” Photo by Mike Brooks.

During the shelter-in-place orders of 2020, Sam Barondes came to my mind while watching David Byrne’s Broadway performance of American Utopia, as filmed by Spike Lee and streamed into my home. The opening song of American Utopia begins with Bryne holding a plastic model of a brain and singing the song “Here.” While pointing to different sections of the brain, Bryne sings, “Here is a region of abundant detail. Here is a region that is seldom used. … As it passes through your neurons, Like a whisper in the dark, Raise your eyes to one who loves you. It is safe right where you are.” The song continues before concluding with a question: “Here is an area of great confusion. Here is a section that’s extremely precise. And here is an area that needs attention. Here’s the connection with the opposite side … Here is something we call elucidation. Is it the truth? Or merely a description?” At the end of “Here,” Bryne holds the brain aloft like Hamlet contemplating poor Yorick’s skull. Here, in his oral history, Sam Barondes shares his truth—from his own experiences elucidating the molecular-workings of brains, to his work building institutions where his colleagues continue advancing biomolecular psychiatry.


Samuel Barondes (age 2) standing with his father Solomon Barondes and his mother Yetta Barondes in Brooklyn, New York in 1935.

Furthermore, the metaphor of connections and how they evolve was central to both Sam Barondes’s oral history and to David Bryne’s American Utopia performance. Fruitful and long-lasting human connections animate Sam’s story, especially throughout his remarkable scientific career. Similarly, Bryne’s opening monologue in American Utopia begins: “I read that babies brains have hundreds of millions more neural connections than we do as adults and that, as we grow up, we lose these connections.” Bryne continued, “Well, what happens is, we keep the connections that are useful to us. And yes, there’s a process of pruning and elimination, and we get rid of a lot of the others, until the ones that are left define who we are as a person, who we are as people, they define how we perceive the world, and the world appears to make some kind of sense to us.” Here, in his published transcript, Sam shares how connections—both human and neural—helped him make sense of his world.

Samuel Barondes in his laboratory at UCSD in 1975. The stacks of Petri dishes grew slime mold colonies for research on cellular adhesion.

Throughout Sam’s interdisciplinary career in science, he authored over 200 original research articles in leading journals including Science, Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), Cell, Journal of Biological Chemistry, Journal of Neuroscience, Journal of Neurochemistry, and Journal of Cell Biology. Among his many publications that Sam and I discussed were his two back-to-back 1962 publications in Science with Marshall Nirenberg, which were associated with Nirenberg’s Nobel Prize-winning research with poly-U to decipher the genetic code. Sam and I also reviewed his many years of research on cell adhesion and sugar-binding proteins, including his discovery of galectins, a class of proteins that bind to specific complex beta-galactosides. Throughout his interviews, Sam spoke about what motivated much of his career, some of which he shared in his June 1990 article in the Journal of Neuroscience, “The Biological Approach to Psychiatry: History and Prospects.” In the clip below, Sam recalls his early notion in 1962 that, “Maybe psychiatry is molecular biology?”

 

Sam and I also discussed his numerous books written for popular audiences. We spoke about his enjoyable and deeply informative book Molecules and Mental Illness, published by Scientific American Library in 1993 (revised in 1999). We discussed his books Mood Genes: Hunting for Origins of Mania and Depression (1998); Better Than Prozac: Creating the Next Generation of Psychiatric Drugs (2003); and Making Sense of People: Decoding the Mysteries of Personality (2011). In 2014, Sam published a book of light verse that I now read to my young daughter titled Before I Sleep: Poems for Children Who Think. His poem “Brain Dials” appears in the appendix to his oral history. Sam also wrote a substantial poem called “Recapitulation (In Verse)” that he published at the end of Molecules and Mental Illness, and which brilliantly summarizes the entire book. In the clip below, Sam reads aloud a portion of his inventive poem during his final oral history interview.

Samuel Barondes at his home in Sausalito, California, in April 2019, during the course of his oral history.

Here, again, Sam’s oral history reminds me of David Bryne’s American Utopia. Bryne’s final monologue returns to the performance’s theme of connections, both neural and personal. Bryne declares, “Despite all that’s happened, and despite all that’s still happening, I think there’s still possibility.” He concludes, “We’re a work in progress. We’re not fixed. Our brains can change. Maybe those millions of connections in our brains that got pruned and eliminated when we were babies somehow get kind of reestablished. Only now, instead of being in our heads, they’re between us and other people.” Throughout his oral history, Sam Barondes expressed a similar optimism. “I lived in this time of limitless opportunity,” Sam explained. “It’s all connected,” he told me. Later, Sam said, “You become part of a little in-group where you have connections. You learn from everybody.”

Now, here, you can learn from Sam Barondes.

— Roger Eardley-Pryor, PhD

Click the link below to read Sam’s oral history:

Samuel Barondes, “Samuel Barondes: Integrating Molecular Neuroscience with Psychiatry” conducted by Roger Eardley-Pryor in 2019, Oral History Center, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2021.

View additional video excerpts below:

Samuel Barondes: “A half century of integrating molecular neuroscience and psychiatry”

 

Samuel Barondes: “Recognizing new prospects for psychiatric genetics in 1984”

 

Samuel Barondes: “Curing severe depression with thyroid hormone in 1957”


Bury the Phonograph: Oral Histories Preserve Records of Life in Hawaii During World War II

By Shannon White

“That afternoon, when we came home, the troops were here, and this was martial law. Martial law was imposed on us, the soldiers just controlled everything.” 

The Rosie the Riveter World War II American Home Front Oral History Project is the result of a collaboration between the UC Berkeley Oral History Center and the National Park Service: a series of interviews chronicling the World War II American home front experience. The library’s digital collections hold over 200 interviews pertaining to the project, and the recorded stories cover a wide range of themes, including migration, women’s employment, race relations and civil rights, religion, and wartime life. 

Since the focus of this project is those individuals who were not on active military duty during the war, many of the interviewees are women and people from minority backgrounds for whom the war opened up career opportunities, like Elizabeth Lew and Betty Reid Soskin. Many other interviewees grew up during the 1930s and 1940s and recall the war years through the lens of childhood. What drew me to this project though, and what I would like to highlight in particular, is the subset of interviews from the Rosie the Riveter project that center around people who grew up in Hawaii and either witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor or lived through the aftermath, during which the state was placed under martial law. 

These interviews are breathtakingly vivid in their accounts of the islands before the war, and the descriptions of life in Hawaii during the war and in the decades following are both insightful and poignantly emotional. 

The majority of the interviewees discussed here are Nisei, the second-generation children of people who immigrated to Oahu, Kauai, or Maui to find work and start a family. Several, including Yoshie Seida Yamamoto and Champ Ono, grew up on plantations and recall the diverse environment of neighborhoods populated by Portuguese, Filipino, haole (white), Chinese, Korean, and Japanese families. “To this day, I proudly tell people I’m a plantation girl,” says Gladys Okada, who spent her childhood on the McBryde Sugar Company plantation in Eleele on the island of Kauai. 

“Exciting,” Jimmy Lee says of his childhood. “Very happy,” recalls Okada, referring to her home on the McBryde plantation. The narrators of these oral histories bring to life vibrant accounts of their homes in Hawaii prior to the imposition of martial law on the islands. 

At the same time, though, tensions between these different groups often ran high. Interracial relationships were frowned upon, if not strictly forbidden; narrators like Yoshie Seida Yamamoto and Fujiko Nonaka recall racial slurs hurled at them by American soldiers in the wake of Pearl Harbor; and several interviews note the segregation of Okinawan immigrants from other mainland Japanese families. Tomi Taba, for example, expresses in her interview frustration at being relegated to the position of second-class citizen on account of her Okinawan heritage, something that her family had always taken pride in. In his interview, Jimmy Lee describes the tumultuous and often violent environment that arose from locals, military, and undercover police living in close proximity in Oahu’s Chinatown. Here Lee discusses being questioned by police about undercover gambling rings as a child:

He says, “Don’t point.” I said, “Yes, up there, up there, up there, up there, all the gambling.” They had one of the biggest raids in Chinatown, for all the gambling joints because of—hopefully, all those guys are dead now, they can’t hear me. 

Montage of headshots of ten people
Top row left to right: Akiko Kurokawa, Jimmy Lee, Shizue Takaki, Fujiko Nonaka, Sadi Doi. Bottom row left to right: Taba Tomi, Yoshie Seida Yamamoto, Ono Champ, Robert Lee, Gladys Okawa.

Many children worked part-time on the plantations, harvesting crops like sugarcane and pineapple. In her joint interview with Akiko Kurokawa, Fujiko Nonaka describes how she and the other children on the McBryde plantation would pick kiawe beans and sell them for five cents a bag to earn lunch money. Tomi Taba worked on the pineapple field owned by her adoptive father, weeding and washing clothes for the Filipino workers her parents hired to tend to the land. Robert Lee recalls older workers making “pineapple swipes” while working in the California Packing Corporation’s pineapple fields:

But as soon as they got off the truck, each one would rush over to the pineapple field and pick the largest, ripest, prettiest pineapple they could find, break it off, cut the top off, and reach inside with their sharp knives, and make a soup out of the inside. Then they would put that same thing back on its own same plant; then they would go off and do the harvesting. At the end of the day, that pineapple had sat in the hot sun all day long, you see. So at six p.m., they come, and each of those men would take his pineapple, jump back on the truck, and drink his alcohol all the way back to the camp. Because it had been fermenting all day long. 

At the same time, most children attended school. A few, like Gladys Okada and Robert Lee, remained long enough to graduate high school and attend college. In Japanese families, it was common practice for children to attend an hour or two of Japanese school after the standard school day was over. Here Gladys Okada details her daily routine with a friend:

We would have a little snack, like soda crackers and dried shrimp; walk from Eleele to Port Allen; and we’d go to Japanese school, come home, walk all the [way] back, talk story, laughing. We had so much fun. 

In terms of recreational activities, interviewees describe a seemingly endless array of games and pastimes. Gladys Okada remembers swimming in the McBryde Sugar Company reservoir and catching medaka (Japanese rice fish) in mayonnaise jars to take home. Champ Ono fondly reminisces about pole fishing, a frequent weekend activity for kids in Puʻunene: 

When we were in high school, somebody asked us, “Weren’t you afraid of going in and out?” I said, “Afraid of what?” They said, “Oh, sharks.” We never even thought about those things.

Sadie Doi discusses in her interview the importance of the family’s Philco radio for bringing her community together—neighbors used to gather at her house at night to listen to boxing matches and radio programs like The Green Hornet and The Lone Ranger. Others describe their love for the movies, recounting memories of cheap tickets and the variety of films. “I used to go to Japanese movies every Saturday night. I used to like Japanese movies,” Tomi Taba says of movie theaters before the war.

Christian churches or Buddhist temples were also often an important part of family life, and several narrators, including Shizue Takaki and Yoshie Seida Yamamoto, discuss their experiences with religion throughout their lives. Here, Yamamoto talks about converting to Christianity: “Yeah, I was born a Buddhist, so I was a Buddhist until—gee, until war broke out.”

Almost every interviewee remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Tomi Taba, living on Kauai with her in-laws at the time, discusses how she was pregnant with her second son when word first got around:

So I went to see the doctor that day. As we were coming back, I stopped at the service station, which my uncle owned. Then when we stopped over there, my brother-in-law, who was below my husband, came over to the car and said, “You know something? Something awful happened on Oahu.”

Jimmy Lee was around eleven years old at the start of the war, and witnessed the entirety of the attack while doing chores on the family farm.

Well, my chores on December 7 was to feed the pigs. Right over here, maybe about 200 yards from here, that’s where the pigpen was. Feeding the pigs that morning, and wow, all of a sudden, here comes the plane coming overhead really low. 

Aerial view of USS Oklahoma being righted.
The USS Oklahoma being salvaged after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Photo credit: US Navy.

Robert Lee, then twenty years old, was also living on Oahu at the time and was woken up by the explosions from the harbor. Lee recalls the morning of December 7, 1941:

The Oklahoma, for example, had already turned over. Because before I’d even taken my grandfather and grandmother up to the cave, I had watched the Oklahoma turn right over. That was the first part of it; when I was still looking out my bedroom window, that still was happening. Then even when I was still up there looking, at that same early time, the Arizona exploded in this huge ball of fire. 

Lee and his family members were later involved in the rescue efforts, helping the many boats of soldiers being carried to shore. Lee on assisting oil-covered soldiers:

So immediately, we knew what to do. We hooked up several hoses to the water supply there, and we started washing these fellows down. My mother came down with several cakes of what they called Fels-Naptha Soap. The naphtha soap cuts grease. 

After the United States declared war against Japan on December 8, 1941, life on the islands quickly changed. Waterfront access was swiftly restricted, blackout drills went into immediate effect, and Japanese schools and Buddhist temples were shut down as priests and teachers were transported to internment camps on the mainland. Jimmy Lee describes life on Oahu under martial law, saying, “That afternoon, when we came home, the troops were here, and this was martial law. Martial law was imposed on us, the soldiers just controlled everything.” 

Several interviewees discuss their families’ fear surrounding Japanese items they owned and how many of their parents quickly took action to hide or destroy their possessions. “By evening time, my mother took most of our Japanese things, and she burned it,” Gladys Okada says of December 7, 1941. Yoshie Seida Yamamoto remembers her parents entrusting a family heirloom, a sword, to a neighbor, only to have him refuse to return it after the war. Sadie Doi recalls digging underneath the house to bury her family’s Japanese books and records. “In fact, I think we even buried the phonograph,” she notes.

The Japanese films that Tomi Taba and several others look back on fondly stopped being shown at Hawaiian theaters, swiftly replaced by movies on the war and American patriotism. “We used to say, now, why did they make all the Japanese pilots look so ugly?” says Gladys Okada in reference to American war films.

In his interview, Champ Ono conveys the sense of panic and disorganization that pervaded the first few days of the war. A member of his school’s ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps), Ono was quickly drafted, along with many of his classmates, into the Hawaii Territorial Guard. Laughing, Ono recalls the lack of training he received in the Territorial Guard: “Well, they didn’t even tell us how to load the gun.” On his first night as part of the Territorial Guard, he was assigned to patrol the waterfront for invasion:

The first night, I was there on the waterfront. They were supposed to pick us up the next morning. They never came, till almost evening time. 

Ono was later dismissed from the Hawaii Territorial Guard on account of his Japanese heritage and went on to join the Varsity Victory Volunteers along with many other Japanese American students at the University of Hawaii.

Military presence on the Hawaiian islands was heightened. Individual families were ordered to build bomb shelters, the windows of houses and buildings were blacked out to prevent light from being visible, and air raid drills were frequently practiced in schools. Beaches were patrolled and monitored by troops in case of invasion, and access to the waterfront was restricted for civilians. Sadie Doi discusses military security measures along the beach on Waimea, stating that to access the water, she had to “crawl through the barbed wire fence, because they had strung barbed wire all over the place.”

Jimmy Lee’s childhood encounter with an armed soldier is a chilling reminder of the reality of martial law in Hawaii:

One morning before curfew time, I brought the cow out from the bushes, so I could take it to the pen so I could milk her. I was met by a soldier. A soldier with a long rifle and a long bayonet sticking at my throat. “What are you doing violating the curfew?” 

And yet, despite the omnipresent worry that war was just around the corner, many interviewees look back on this period fondly. Yoshie Seida Yamamoto remembers a local dance held for the members of her community and how, despite the inability for people to obtain good dancing shoes during the war, everyone still showed up and had fun together: 

It was a dance. It was during the day. It was on Sunday and it was from twelve to three, I think. The public is invited. So I saw the soldiers coming, all the camp people—everybody was there dancing, having a great time.

Gladys Okada’s memory of being scolded by a teacher for misbehaving during a drill — Just because you bought three twenty-five stamps doesn’t give you the right to not behave during an air raid” — highlights the reality that the people in these oral histories faced during the 1940s. This story is humorous but nevertheless still tinged by the very real threat of war on the Hawaiian islands. It really drives home the fact that many of the narrators of these oral histories were only children or young adults at the time of this globally tumultuous period and spent many of their formative years growing up in the shadow of a world war. 

I barely learned about World War II in school, and what I did learn was focused mainly on the European theater of the war. I’m not like my little sister, a history nut who could probably name every major player involved in the war and what their personal motivations were. I credit my knowledge of the war to one thing: my father loves war documentaries. Even more than that, he loves telling me what he learned from war documentaries. At this point, I’ve seen enough war documentaries to last a lifetime, and, while invaluable as a resource for education and preserving the past, I’ve come to realize that for me these documentaries sometimes seem impersonal. The rich cadence of a narrator’s voice plays over grainy, zoomed-out footage of planes and ships and explosions and smoke, while masterful editing weaves in music — the soundtrack of war. It’s easy to lose the human element of the story within the spectacle. 

I visited Pearl Harbor as a child, and what I remember most is the glaringly white color of the USS Arizona Memorial against the bright blue sky and the massive crush of people that seemed endless to a three-year-old. That visit unfortunately didn’t have as great an effect on me as it could have. The glaring white hurt my eyes, the bright blue of the sky meant sweltering heat, and the massive crowd of people so much bigger than me just made me nervous. Yet for some reason, the memory of that day has long remained in my mind.  

Working my way through this oral history project has in its own way helped my mind sharpen that indistinct memory of the white and the blue and the rainbow of Hawaiian-shirted tourists into something that fits solidly within my understanding of history. These interviews are the opposite of an impersonal documentary. They plainly capture the experiences and emotions of people who lived through a time in history so much earlier than my own. More than that, these interviews are comprehensive; they document entire lives, thus granting people like you and me intimate insight into how people lived through, and continued to live beyond, such devastating events. 

Shannon White
Shannon White

Find these interviews and all our oral histories from the search feature on the Oral History Center home page. You can search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. You can also find projects, including the Rosie the Riveter World War II American Home Front Oral History Project through the menu on our home page from Oral Histories, then choose Projects.

Shannon White is currently a third-year student at UC Berkeley studying classical languages. 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 a student editor for the Oral History Center. 

Related Resources at The Bancroft Library

In addition to these oral histories, The Bancroft Library has a wide range of source materials on Pearl Harbor including: Army reports, photos, fiction, personal accounts, films, and more. From the UC Library Search, click on Advanced Search, select “UC Berkeley special collections and archives” and enter your search terms.