When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.
— John Muir (1838-1914) from My First Summer in the Sierra
On October 2, 1968, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed by Congress, creating a system of rivers throughout the country to be preserved for generations to come. For the environmental movement gaining momentum in the 1960s this was an important turning point for water protection – although the waterways deemed valuable enough to conserve did not include the Stanislaus River in Northern California, already slated for a large, new dam to be built by the Army Corp of Engineers. The impending filling of the reservoir would cause a 13 mile unimpeded stretch of the river to rise, bringing about the destruction and loss of numerous cultural resources and a highly accessible white water rafting area. Supporters of the dam argued that the New Melones Dam project would create construction jobs, increase the state’s water supply, help with flood control and generate hydroelectric power.
In 1973, a small group of individuals including Gerald “Jerry” H. Meral, Rob Caughlan, David Oke and David Kay decided to form a grassroots conservation organization called Friends of the River to gather signatures to put the Proposition 17 initiative on the ballot thereby adding the Stanislaus River to the list of protected rivers. Though the initiative was placed on the 1974 ballot in California and received significant support from river rafters, environmentalists and others who valued the river as it was, the initiative ended up failing in the election. This defeat didn’t suppress the spirit of the Friends of the River and the group was incorporated in 1975 as the Friends of the River Foundation, a non-profit membership based organization dedicated to river protection under the leadership of Mark Dubois and Jennifer Jennings.
By 1978, the New Melones Dam construction was completed and the spillway and powerhouse were in place in 1979. In May 1979, when the lake was about to be filled with water, Mark Dubois sent a four paragraph typed, signed letter to Colonel Donald M. O’Shei, the Army Corps of Engineers’ Sacramento District Engineer, warning of his impending action to attempt to halt the filling of the New Melones reservoir by hiding in the canyon and chaining himself to a rock in the river. This act of defiance by Dubois brought considerable attention to the already well publicized project and the filling of the lake was halted temporarily.
Though the New Melones reservoir was eventually filled in 1982, one of the campaign’s most influential achievements was to crack open the debate about the cost effectiveness and benefits to society of large dam projects around the globe. No other dams of this magnitude have been constructed in the United States since the completion of the New Melones Dam and the struggle to save the Stanislaus River from the construction of the New Melones Dam remains one of the greatest examples of citizen involvement in American history to stop a dam from being built. The Friends of the River Foundation continues to push for water protection legislation in California through grassroots organizing, public outreach and education.
The Friends of the River Foundation records are now open to researchers at The Bancroft Library. The processing of the Friends of the River Foundation records is part of a two-year grant project funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to make available a range of archival collections relating to environmental movements in the West. A leading resource in the documentation of U.S. environmental movements, The Bancroft Library is home to the records of many significant environmental organizations and the papers of a range of environmental activists.
One of our favorite parts of the Oral History Center’s annual Advanced Summer Institute is the opportunity to hear from others who are using oral history in their work. One of our favorite guest speakers, Dr. Robert Keith Collins, will be back again to discuss how he uses oral history, and person-centered ethnography, in his work on American Indian cultural changes and African and Native American interactions in North, Central, and South America.
Q: How did you come to oral history?
Oral history has been something that I have grown up with, as the telling of family stories was a way that my family ensured I knew who my relatives were, what they were, where they were from, and what they went through. In my professional career, my exposure to oral history came through studying anthropology, Native Americans studies, and Ethnic Studies, particularly African American cultures and histories. Within these fields of study, oral history told the stories uncorroborated by the historical record. Although, eventually some were. This taught me that oral histories and written histories are two sides of the same coin. Both records are accounts of the past; however, oral history offers insight into the agency individuals exert in their lives and the observations that they make of the world around them.
Q: How do you use oral history in your work?
In my research, I take a person-centered ethnographic approach, which looks at individuals within cultures and how they remember their past through what they say, do, and embody. Respondents are interviewed at least fifteen times to show their evolving understanding of lived experiences. The oral histories that are obtained reveal how individuals understand their experiences, may say one thing and do another in certain situations for an expected outcome, and remembered pasts that have been actively – not passively – navigated and negotiated though choices. From these, my analyses attempt to be holistic by examining the relevance of what individuals say, do, and embody on how they impact the people around them and how the people around them shape their choices and experiences.
Q: Your work deals a lot with race and identity, particularly in the Choctaw Nation. How do you feel that oral history is uniquely positioned to explore questions of identity?
My work deals with race and identity among Choctaw descendants both within and outside of communities with significant populations. The reason my work has evolved this way is that I have found commonalities in Native American mixed-blood populations, both black and white, who experience daily challenges to the ancestries that they assert, while trying to maintain their sense of self as a person of Native American ancestry and/or cultural practices. Oral history, as a resource, allows me to explore the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Slave narratives for the lived experiences of enslaved individuals of blended African and Choctaw ancestry and those of unmixed ancestry that were Choctaw in cultural practices and language. Through these oral histories, I am also able to examine how they coped with slavery, especially those that were bought and sold by both Choctaw and white American slave holders and needed to adapt to the lifeways of each. It is important to remember that the WPA interviews represent a body of oral histories that center on a question rarely asked of formerly enslaved individuals: What was it like to be a slave? The person-centered ethnographic approach allows me to interview and listen to their descendants and analyze how individuals continue to cope with the inconsistencies between identification as Choctaw descendants while being racially recognized as black or white. I have found that oral history help us examine the answers to the question “Who am I?” that respondents give far better than any other medium, as there is very little that one can learn about individual lived experiences from collective or group experiences, except for common experiences, which shed more light on the social rather than experiential phenomena.
Q: You’ve discussed a person-centered ethnography as an approach to oral history. Could you describe this and share an example of how you use this in your work?
Yes. As mentioned, a person-centered ethnographic approach enables the understanding of individuals as active and not passive observers and participants in their own lived experiences. In my work with individuals of African and Native American ancestry, I will interview respondents 15-20 times to understand why they said what they said, did what they did, and represent to themselves something they did or do not represent to others within and outside of their families. Unlike the oral historian, who interviews respondents once in a setting, 15-20 interviews allow me to understand how a respondent’s understandings of my questions have changed and evolved over the course of the interview process. This time commitment also enables the respondent to reflect on the questions asked, the memories the questions evoked, and the answer(s) and stories told during interviews. These practices often lend to subsequent interviews becoming more in-depth and detailed about the respondents’ motivations and self-identification within contexts. For example, when exploring the oral histories left by Indian Freedmen, or former slaves of Choctaw slaveholders, and African-Native American children with enslaved Choctaw mothers and fathers, I noticed common themes between what they said about their family origins and the lifeways that they practiced; however, inconsistencies in identification practices that related to nineteenth century slave recognition practices were also noticed. An individual in one context would self-identify according to genealogical ancestry when describing their experiences as a slave to the WPA interviewers, and as a slave when describing interactions with former slave owners to the interviewer. This situational variance led me to believe, and support my hypothesis, that even for former slaves, the answer to the question “Who am I?” was context depended and there was much left to learn about the complex identities as children, despite illegitimacy, of enslaved and/or slave holding Choctaw individuals. This variation also enabled me to illuminate the why behind why they represented to themselves something other than chattel that they had represented to others, especially slave holders.
Q: When you teach oral history methods at San Francisco State, what are some of the key things you want your students to take away from your classes?
When I teach oral history at San Francisco State, I want my gators, especially the American Indian studies majors and minors, to learn the importance of being a good listener and take away the notion that there is much history in the oral narratives that people leave behind and are told to individuals, communities, and/or subsequent generations. It is a practice that predates written histories, still in use by over 90% of the world’s population, and offer us insight into human experiences, particularly with racism and identity. Within these remembered and spoken histories is evidence of what human experiences, especially with race and identity, are like from first-person perspectives. They require our attention and respect as much as the peer-reviewed written histories to which they were exposed.
Robert Keith Collins, PhD, a four-field trained anthropologist, is Associate Professor of American Indian Studies at San Francisco State University. He holds a BA in Anthropology and a BA in Native American Studies from the University of California at Berkeley. Dr. Collins also holds an MA and PhD in Anthropology from UCLA. Using a person-centered ethnographic approach, his research explores American Indian cultural changes and African and Native American interactions in North, Central, and South America. His recent academic efforts include being a co-curator on the Smithsonian’s traveling banner exhibit “IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas,” an edited volume with Cognella Press (2017) on “African and Native American Contact in the U.S.: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives”, an edited volume for the American Indian Culture and Research Journal at UCLA (2013) on “Reducing Barriers to Native American Student Success”, a forthcoming edited volume under contract with Routledge on “Studying African-Native Americans: Problems, Perspectives, and Prospects,” a forthcoming edited volume under contract with Cognella Press (2019) on “Native American Populations and Colonial Diseases.”
Ancient Egyptian is a language that was spoken in and around the Nile River valley from the 4th millennium BCE through the 11th century CE. The earliest form of this language was written in the Hieroglyphic script. Soon after the development of Hieroglyphs, the availability of papyrus as a light, portable writing material and the complexity of drawing complete Hieroglyphic signs led to the development of Hieratic. This cursive form of the ancient Egyptian script is what an individual named Heni used to write a letter to his deceased father, Meru, sometime between 2160 and 2025 BCE. Heni’s composition is one of a handful of texts known as “Letters to the Dead,” which have been found throughout Egypt written on materials as diverse as pottery, figurines, linen, and stone stelae. Although this genre of text is attested for a period of nearly two thousand years, only a handful of examples survive, all of which share the common goal of communicating a wish or desire from the living to the dead.
The letter of Heni, written in vertical columns, as was typical for Hieratic of this time period, opens with a greeting to Meru before imploring him to intercede on his son’s behalf and offer aid. Heni believes he is being falsely accused of harming someone, insisting the wrong was instigated by other parties. Unfortunately, the details of the event are lacking. These letters are frustratingly vague, as it was assumed that the intended audience — usually a close relative or acquaintance — knew the specifics of the situation. The letter was folded and addressed like letters sent among the living. That is to say, the address was written on the outside (the two short lines written horizontally towards the bottom of the verso of the papyrus): the nobleman (iry-pat), count (haty-a), overseer of priests, Meru. In order to ensure the message was delivered, Heni deposited the small papyrus in his father’s tomb. Whether or not his father (or the living judges) recognized his plea of innocence, we will never know.
Several millennia later, Heni’s papyrus was found during the archaeological excavations of George A. Reisner. Working under the patronage of Phoebe A. Hearst, Reisner excavated the site of Naga ed-Deir between 1901 and 1904. The letter was found in the tomb of Meru (N.3737), which was decorated with images of him enjoying everyday life. The papyrus was shipped by Reisner to Germany for conservation, where it remained until after World War II. When financial difficulties compelled Phoebe Hearst to withdraw funding for the Berkeley Egyptian Excavations in 1905, George A. Reisner was appointed to the faculty at Harvard University and to the curatorial board at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston. A young, enterprising curator at the MFA, William Kelly Simpson, knew of papyri excavated by Reisner and later sought them out in Germany. With Simpson’s help, the papyrus — along with several others — traveled from West Berlin to the MFA. After securing them in Boston, Simpson published the first translation of this text. Despite earlier inquiries from faculty at UC Berkeley, it was not until the 2000s that Professor Donald Mastronarde of the Berkeley Department of Classics ascertained the whereabouts of these papyri and engineered their return to Berkeley. The Letter to the Dead, along with numerous other ancient Egyptian papyri, are now housed in the Center for the Tebtunis Papyri at The Bancroft Library, as part of the Egyptian collections acquired by Phoebe A. Hearst between 1899 and 1905.
Courses in Ancient Egyptian are taught at UC Berkeley in the Department of Near Eastern Studies as part of a program in Egyptology. Students can take classes in several phases of the language, including Old, Middle, and Late Egyptian, and Demotic.
Emily Cole, Postdoctoral Scholar
The Center for the Tebtunis Papyri, The Bancroft Library
Simpson, William Kelly. “The Letter to the Dead from the Tomb of Meru (N 3737) at Nag’ Ed-Deir.” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 52, 1966, pp. 39–52. JSTOR.
Title: Letter to the Dead
Registration Number: Papyrus Hearst 1282
Imprint: 9th or 10th Egyptian Dynasty. First Intermediate Period (Between 2160 and 2025 BCE)
Language: Ancient Egyptian
Language Family: Afro-Asiatic, Semitic
Source: The Center for the Tebtunis Papyri, The Bancroft Library (UC Berkeley)
The Languages of Berkeley is a dynamic online sequential exhibition celebrating the diversity of languages that have advanced research, teaching and learning at the University of California, Berkeley. It is made possible with support from the UC Berkeley Library and is co-sponsored by the Berkeley Language Center (BLC).
A posting by Christine Hult-Lewis, Ph.D., Reva and David Logan Curatorial Assistant
Tucked in the shelves of the Bancroft Library’s Reva and David Logan Collection of Photographic Books are some exceptional photography books by women photographers. Books illustrated with photographs were and are incredibly important in the history of photography: they are the best means to disseminate an artist’s work, are more readily available than photographic prints, and can wield an outsize influence in the public arena. Here is a selection of some of the most significant books by women in the collection.
One of the best known and most influential photographers of the nineteenth century is Julia Margaret Cameron, whose insightful and penetrating soft-focus portraits redefined the genre. Cameron was most interested in getting at the “truth” and “beauty” of her subjects; her best portraits strip away all context in favor of a focus on the face itself, as in the above image of her niece Julia Jackson (Virginia Woolf’s mother). Some forty-seven years after Cameron’s death, Victorian Photographs of Famous Men and Fair Women was published by Woolf, who also contributed an introduction.
Most women didn’t produce their own books until the early decades of the twentieth century, but some shared their work in the pages of Camera Work. This seminal photography periodical, edited by Alfred Stieglitz from 1903-1917, regularly featured women in its pages, such as Gertrude Käsebier, whose work appeared in the inaugural issue, and Annie Brigman. Both used the familiar techniques of Pictorialism—soft focus, romantic subject matter—in their beautifully printed photogravures. Each addressed different aspects of the female experience: Käsebier emphasized the maternal bond and motherhood, while Brigman focused on the symbolically-charged interplay between women’s bodies and the natural world.
The Pictorialist aesthetic championed by Käsebier, Brigman, and others would continue into the 1920s and 30s with photographers like Doris Ulmann. Ullman was interested in rural America and folk cultures, part of a general reassessment of what constituted authentic “American-ness” during the 1930s. The result was the 1933 collaboration Roll, Jordan, Roll, with Ullman providing the delicately-printed photogravures and author Julia Peterkin providing text. The book describes the lives of the Gullah people, many of whom were former slaves living in the coastal areas of South Carolina and Georgia. Ulmann’s images provide a sensitive and nuanced portrayal of lives lived in quiet dignity.
DOCUMENTARY PHOTOBOOKS OF THE 1930s
Some of the most influential photographic books of the Depression era were by women. Margaret Bourke-White’s You Have Seen Their Faces concentrated on what she and Caldwell perceived as the ongoing problems of the South: its extreme poverty, its pernicious and ongoing racism, and its damaged people. The book was popular, though it had, and has, its detractors, who objected to its condescending tone. By contrast, Dorothea Lange was one of the most respected practitioners of documentary in the 1930s, and made sure to give her subjects their own voice(s). Lange worked under the aegis of the US government-sponsored Farm Security Administration, taking photographs intended to help support the various projects of agricultural reform. This book was a true merger of empathetic, artistic images and dispassionate, statistical text. Another government-sponsored project, Berenice Abbott’s Changing New York, shifted the attention from rural people in distress to the changes and dislocations of that quintessential American city, New York. Abbott was particularly attuned to the beauties of the ever-changing city, and the transformations wrought by that peculiarly modern structure, the skyscraper.
Margaret Bourke-White wasn’t really a documentarian; her true metier was photojournalism. She worked for the earliest pictures magazines in the United States, Fortune and Life. Bourke-White was the first photographer to go to Soviet Russia; sent there by Fortune in 1930, her experiences there became the book Eyes on Russia. Concurrently with her work on picture magazines, she wrote or co-wrote twelve books, five of them during the war years. She spent much of the war in the European theater of operations, where she became accredited as an official Army Air Force photographer. She worked incessantly, took all kinds of risks, made thousands of pictures, and managed to churn out books at an astonishing rate. North of the Danube recounts the months when Germany invaded Austria and Czechoslovakia, while Dear Fatherland, Rest Quietly attempts to grapple with the horrors of the Holocaust. The Logan Collection has fine examples of every one of her books.
By the 1970s, the lack of women in the photographic canon did not go unnoticed by women artists, feminists, and their allies, and they sought to redress this exclusion and promote a more inclusive point of view. This took place in not only in museum exhibitions but also in photobooks, including anthologies like these that sought to uncover the work of women photographers whose names had dropped off the radar of popular culture and photographic history.
New monographs by young photographers like Judy Dater explicitly explored gender, examining different conceptions of femininity, sexuality, and agency in portraiture. Dater’s work can be seen as a kind of modern extension of Julia Margaret Cameron, in her explorations of the human psyche through expression, gesture, and light itself. Diane Arbus—this book of her photographs would not be released until after her death in 1971–would redefine the documentary project with her highly-charged photographs in the 1960s. Like Bourke-White, she took risks and went where others dared not go; she could almost be described as a photojournalist of the psychological.
The Logan Collection is a wonderful resource to study the photobooks by women, as well as many other themes in the history of photography. I hope this brief overview of this collection sparks further study. For more information, see the online overview of the Logan Collection. Books are available for onsite use in Bancroft’s reading room, and can be requested from OskiCat via our online paging system.
The Oral History Center is proud to announce the launch of the oral history of UC Berkeley engineering scientist and Professor Emeritus George Leitmann. This is a large oral history, twenty-three hours of recording. From February 12, 2018 until February 12, 2019, Dr. Leitmann and I spent eleven sessions at his home talking about everything from his childhood in Vienna to Adolf Hitler and Sigmund Freud— both of whom he saw up close—to reconnaissance during World War II, rocket science, UC Berkeley administration, the riots at Berkeley in 1969, mathematics, the evolution of science and engineering instruction, the importance of family, and the kindness of dogs, among many other subjects.
Clearly, the sheer density of his life, including over a half-century of service as a professor and an administrator at UC Berkeley, demands this size of oral history. Another reason to go into such depth is that we look to individual narrators as witnesses to complex historical events. We want them to speak about what they have seen, experienced, suffered, and accomplished. We want them to tell us something about the seemingly inexplicable, the invisible, or even the conventional and overdetermined.
What do you learn when things fall apart? One of the themes that emerged clearly before we started filming at the beginning of 2018 was risk. George Leitmann’s life until the age of twelve or so had been pretty idyllic.
Then everything got turned upside down, and a young boy had to become a man very quickly. The coming catastrophe seemed highly improbable in the prosperous and stable Vienna of the 1930s. His elders told him so. They joked about it. Then he saw the man that everyone was talking about ride triumphantly into town, and he saw the other boys marching with crisp uniforms that had been brought in on trucks or out of hiding. His home was stolen and his family were split apart.
With the adaptability of youth, Dr. Leitmann escaped with some of his family to New York, where he developed a new version of stability and relative happiness. But he turned again to a world of danger by joining the US Army combat engineers in World War II. Combat engineers rebuild bridges and roads destroyed by a retreating army, and Leitmann performed reconnaissance for the engineers. In other words, he was in front of the group that was in front of an advancing army, often behind enemy lines, witnessing again and again the fates of the less fortunate. Risk.
The history of science focuses on the relationship between the social and the technical. We study the institutions, the people, and the politics that make knowledge. It has seldom been so clear to me the relationship between a scientist’s lived experience and their research. After the war and a master’s degree in physics, Dr. Leitmann was recruited to work on the theoretical foundations of rocket research for the US Navy. He turned this experience and knowledge into seminal contributions to something called control theory, basically the mathematical rules that govern a system in a defined state of optimality or stability. This sounds very abstract, but Leitmann’s research ends up being used in rockets, economics, fisheries management, seismic stabilization, management of wind shear in aircraft, artificial intelligence, and many other areas. Many of our society’s systems are organized around probability, what is most likely to happen or not happen. There is a danger in this design that Dr. Leitmann has lived before. One key element of his life’s work is to account and control for highly improbable and catastrophic threats to a system, any system. But this seemingly theoretical research trajectory was informed by visceral experiences of danger and catastrophe. This was one of the most striking themes of these interviews: plan for the improbable and the terrible. Don’t look away.
Finally, and because of all of the above, we want narrators of these long life histories to be wise. When I asked Dr. Leitmann to be wise, he would usually shrug and say he was no expert, even when he was. So that was itself a piece of wisdom: be humble. We are not so much individuals as people who stand and fall by our communities. When we were planning our interview sessions together, I was constantly trying to get a handle on the vast range of his research interests, or to understand how to approach the monumental and global tragedies to which he was an important witness, and Dr. Leitmann would always come back to people. Did he mention this person? Did he give enough credit or time to that person? Other people matter. Family matters. Family is bigger than family. Other people first. This is his way of living, and his secular way of repairing the world, about whose broken state he always worries. And this is one reason Dr. Leitmann and I both suspect he has been so celebrated and decorated by his peers, his colleagues, his country and many others. He stands as an example of how to move through difficult times and face problems without being consumed by them, to reach a state of gratitude and qualified happiness for the complicated gift of being part of something grander than oneself.
The Oral History Center wishes to thank Richard Robbins for a generous contribution that made this project possible.
Paul Burnett, Berkeley, CA, 2019
At first I thought I was fighting to save the rubber trees;
then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest.
Now I realize I am fighting for humanity.
– Chico Mendes (1944-1988)
The Bancroft Library is pleased to announce that a series of additions to the ongoing Rainforest Action Network records is now open and accessible to researchers. The processing of the Rainforest Action Network records is part of a two-year grant project funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to make available a range of archival collections relating to environmental movements in the West. A leading resource in the documentation of U.S. environmental movements, The Bancroft Library is home to the records of many significant environmental organizations and the papers of a range of environmental activists.
Rainforest Action Network was founded in 1985 by Randy “Hurricane” Hayes and Mike Roselle as a San Francisco based non-profit grassroots environmental group with a mission to protect and preserve the world’s forests and defend the human rights of indigenous people and others affected by unjust land grabs and the depletion of natural resources. Rainforest Action Network’s direct action, education and marketing campaigns apply pressure to governments and corporations to halt illegal logging, manufacturing, selling and use of old growth trees and tropical forests.
The global breadth of Rainforest Action Network’s activities range from Old Growth campaigns in Northern California, the Pacific Northwest and Canada to Tropical Timber campaigns to protect forests and indigenous rights in Central and South America, Africa, Tasmania and Southeast Asia. They also include the Global Finance campaign which organized and supported civil disobedience during the World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle, Washington in 1999.
The Bancroft Library has been collecting Rainforest Action Network records since 2006 and the newly opened additions document the group’s campaigns primarily in the 1990s-2000s. Future additions to the records are expected.
Here at Berkeley it feels a lot like we skipped spring this year entirely, moving quickly from a cold and wet winter to gloriously warm and sunny days. Unlike much of the campus, the Oral History Center doesn’t exactly shut down during the summer, but we do switch gears a bit.
In recent years we’ve come to rely increasingly on the workplace contributions of our amazing student employees. In fact, over the past year, we’ve benefited from the hard work of eighteen Berkeley students. They’ve worked on a variety of projects and tasks, from creating metadata for oral history video now streaming online to drafting tables of contents for our transcripts, plus a whole lot more. With this particular change of seasons, we sadly say goodbye to a number of excellent students — while also congratulating them on graduating! — including Maggie Deng, Cindy Jin, Carla Palassian, and Marisa Uribe.
Summer also typically means travel for those working at the university. Travel, as it turns out, has become a regular feature of life year-round at the Oral History Center in recent years. Our Getty Trust oral history project has had several interviewers traveling to New York and Los Angeles to do their work, the Chicano/a Studies project has sent us to various in the West and Southwest, and our oral history with former California Governor Jerry Brown means regular overnight trips to his ranch outside of Williams, California, for some pretty intense interview sessions. Oral history at Berkeley is no longer just a local or, even regional, affair. We follow our research to where the good, important, and impactful stories are located, no matter what the season.
Thinking about the change of seasons also reminds me of that moving passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes, brought into popular culture in the 1960s by the Byrds in their song “Turn Turn Turn”: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” I think of this now, a day after the passing Herb Sandler, a narrator I worked with very closely over the past three years on his lengthy life history interview, and a broader project that resulted in another 18 interviews. Herb was a giant in whatever work he pursued. He was always deeply involved, passionately motivated, prophet-like in his indignations, compassionate beyond reason, and never ever considered retirement as an option. I join the chorus of those who express sadness at seeing him leave us, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with him to document his life’s work.
Compared to many institutions, the university remains closely tied to the seasons. And while the staff of the Oral History Center doesn’t follow the academic calendar as would an academic department, we are deeply affected by the seasons and by the cycles of life — by the arrival and departure of our student employees, by the beginning of an oral history and by the passing of a respected narrator. As I type this, looking over me from 20 stories up are Carson and Cade, two peregrine falcon chicks whose lives, up until this week, were lived on a precipice of Sather Tower. Now, they are in flight, beginning to explore the world around them.
-Martin Meeker, Charles B. Faulhaber Director, Oral History Center, UC Berkeley
“Female Consciousness and Environmental Care”
(Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program, Spring 2019)
By Ella Griffith
Ella Griffith is a rising senior at UC Berkeley majoring in Environmental Science, Policy, & Management (ESPM) within the College of Natural Resources. In the Spring 2019 semester, Ella worked with historian Roger Eardley-Pryor of the Oral History Center and earned academic credits as part of UC Berkeley’s Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (URAP). URAP provides opportunities for undergraduates to work closely with Berkeley scholars on the cutting edge research projects for which Berkeley is world-renowned. Ella’s research projects included analysis of the Oral History Center’s exceptional archive of interviews with Sierra Club members, which resulted in this month’s “From the Archives” article.
The work of the Sierra Club has, over time, evolved beyond outdoor exploration and advocacy for natural spaces to make marginalized identities central in its efforts. For my Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program (URAP) project in Spring 2019, I began looking for historical narratives about environmental justice in the Oral History Center’s interviews with Sierra Club members. As one of the oldest and largest conservation organizations in the United States, the Club has been scrutinized historically for its elite membership and prior lack of intersectional awareness around environmental issues. I determined, however, that the Club’s evolution toward holistic inclusivity—environmental and social—can be credited largely to the fierce, wonderful women who played, and continue to play, a role in shaping the Club’s future. As such, the nuanced roles and perspectives of women in the Sierra Club emerged as the captivating focus in my URAP research.
As a young woman and fellow environmental activist, I cherished reading other women’s personal and environmental perspectives, especially on the challenges they faced and the empowerment they experienced through their work within the Sierra Club. The themes and issues that the women spoke on remain relevant to today’s gendered issues. Their narratives built upon one another, and in the end, I could not escape feeling that what remains, in the present, is me. Women today expand on the layers of work that earlier women set down before us. Women activists—environmental and otherwise—stand now where we are because earlier women were not satisfied with where they were. But the process of change remains slow. Through these oral history interviews, we can learn more about the work that has been done, to help us understand what is left to do. As a result, the Sierra Club’s developing scope of work on equity, and the narrative of its adaptation, is important in understanding inclusivity in the greater environmental field.
In the Sierra Club’s oral history collection, I found generations of women’s stories. These archived interviews with women reflect a development of female consciousness threaded through the common denominator of love and care for the environment. As I read more interviews, vibrant patterns emerged. Women in the Sierra Club spoke similarly on the themes of fierce activism rooted in family values, of nature as an equalizer, and about the role of women in leadership positions within the Club. Other recurring motifs were less empowering, such as inequality in resources, the cult of domesticity demarcating women’s roles in the Club, and perhaps a more abstract trend of women’s apparent value as interviewees because of their proximity to prominent men in the Club. But on the whole, women explain in these oral histories how fundamental they have been to the Sierra Club’s successes, from its earliest days through the present. Below, I briefly explain some of these themes and offer quotes from various interviews that directly relate to it.
Nature as an Equalizer: At its most optimistic roots, the Sierra Club’s founders appreciated the outdoors and the mutual enjoyment of exploring natural landscapes. Several older female interviewees described early twentieth-century “High Trips” in the Sierra Nevada backcountry as joyous outings where neither man nor woman was restricted to any particular role. Rather, all “outings” attendees contributed as part of an innocuous group that moved through the wild landscape. Women spoke of their physical endurance and the power their own bodies gave them—they led backcountry trips and wore pants before women were “supposed” to be leaders or wear pants! From the Sierra Club’s earliest years, hiking and an intimate connection to the outdoors has remained a means for empowering women.
- Born in 1897, Cicely M. Christy attended her first of many backcountry “High Trip” in the summer of 1938, at age 41. She recalled, “The winter of 1937–38 was one of the very heaviest snowfalls the Sierra has had. They had to change the itinerary of the high trip several times because we couldn’t get over passes. A great deal of our first week’s camping was done at 9000 feet, which is despised at any other time! But it was also one of the first times, the only time perhaps, that I really took a pair of boots to bed with me the first night out, to prevent them from being frozen solid in the morning.”
- Recalling tales from her “High Trips” in the 1920s, Nina Eloesser explained, “There was quite a sizable ‘mountain,’ they called it. We wouldn’t think much of it, but it was about six or seven thousand feet up, and it was called Craig Dhu, which meant the ‘black mountain.’ I used to walk by myself, because mother couldn’t. I walked all over that country.” pg 2
- On climbing Mt. Rainier in the late 1920s, Nora Evans noted, “There were seven men, and I was the only woman. I made it to the top successfully.” pg 6
- When asked in the 1970s about women attending early “High Trips,” Ruth E. Praeger replied, “Oh yes. There were always more women than men … but camp was very different then from what it is now. The sexes didn’t mix as they do now.” pg 8
Pioneering Activism: Many Sierra Club women pioneered the Club’s expanding involvement in various issues, from toxins in the environment, to the intersection of women’s health with environmental issues, to a greater engagement with environmental justice. The social contexts of gender roles often showed when some women spoke on their activist work. Many women expressed concern specifically for their children and generally on public health issues, which reflects a conventional focus of women’s activism. Still, these women nuanced their understanding of how complex environmental issues related to one another and stood at the forefront of pushing the Sierra Club’s involvement on these issues.
- Marjory Farquhar joined her first “High Trip” in 1929 and was elected to the Sierra Club Board of Directors in the 1950s. In 1977, when asked about racial discrimination in her northern Sierra Club chapter versus the southern chapter, she replied, “We were far more loose up here. I don’t really remember anything; I just remember myself once thinking, ‘Oh, there are no Japanese or Chinese here—I wonder if I know anyone who would like to join?’” pg 42
- Asked in 1979 for her thoughts on what the Club’s role should be “with regard to broader environmental issues of urban problems, the energy problem, overpopulation,” Cicely M. Christy answered, “All I can do is quote John Muir that if you take up one thing you find it hitched to the whole universe. I think that the Club can leave urban things to other groups, who are more likely to be interested in the urban things than they are in the outdoor natural things. I think that the Sierra Club’s main objective in life, and the thing that they can do best for this country, is the preserving of open spaces and the good air that will keep the open spaces. If you get air pollution you will find that your pine trees in the Sierra are suffering—well, there is not much good in preserving the pine trees in the Sierra if you can’t reduce pollution on the coast. You have to pay attention to everything.” pg 31
- According to Abigail Avery, the purpose of the Sierra Club’s Environmental Impact of Warfare Committee in the 1980s was “to point out wherever it’s appropriate, the connection between what is happening in this whole military buildup and the effect it’s having on the natural environment. Our traditional concern with the Club has been the natural environment. What effect is all this having on these other issues?” pg 23
- When asked in the early 2000s how the Club develops coalitions with diverse groups outside its traditional middle-class, college-educated membership, Doris Cellarius replied, “Sierra Club, I think, has always had really good sense about this. Any Club member I’ve worked with in the United States who’s working with people at toxic waste sites goes there to be helpful. We don’t go there to make them be members. We’ve never—this is just something Sierra Club does to be helpful. We want a clean environment, and we love to work with you. That’s continued to be the tradition of our environmental justice work.” pg 43
Women as Nurturers and the Cult of Domesticity: Women activists in the Sierra Club engaged on a variety of environmental issues, but sometimes historical gender conventions limited the scope of their work or shaped the motivation behind it, particularly with issues linked traditionally to women such as children’s health and “nurturing” others. This view of gender roles and subscription to them can be traced back to the “Cult of Domesticity” or the “Cult of True Womanhood”: a framework of gender stereotypes demarcating women as the gatekeepers of the home, the moral compass of society, and generally as nurturers of the public. In several Sierra Club interviews, women described their environmental activism with both overt and subtle explanations either of ways they felt restricted or ways they chose to engage in the Club based on these gendered stereotypes.
- Reflecting on her environmental experiences after her marriage, Marjory Farquhar said, “I will admit that my active rock climbing days disappeared, really perhaps for two reasons: one because I went into the baby-production business, and the other because of the war.” pg. 22
- When asked about the start of her activism in the 1940s, Polly Dyer replied, “I got involved in conservation by meeting [my husband] John Dyer on top of 3000-foot Deer Mountain [in Ketchikan, Alaska] … Conservation by marriage. I would have gotten into it eventually, I presume, but at least it was an introduction.” pg 2
- Abigail Avery became active in preserving national parks. In 1988, then in her 70s, she recalled how “[My husband Stuart] was the one who first got interested in the [Sierra Club’s] Atlantic Chapter, which was the only chapter in this Eastern area at that time. I remember going on trips with him, but I would go as a wife, you see … I hadn’t really looked at conservation. What I really was concentrating on during that time after Stuart got back [from WWII] was having the rest of my family. Really you cannot maintain everything. You’re not free to do it. So there’s a hiatus in there.” pg 4
- Doris Cellarius shared her view on how gender fits into the environmental movement and what women might bring to it different from men: “I think women just seem to care a lot more about—in the pollution area—about what happens to people, what happens to children. They think more of the long-term consequences of things, and I think they get more outraged that it’s all these men in the corporations that really just enjoy creating these chemicals and building these things that are problems. But I think they have more of an outrage that these things shouldn’t be done to the environment or to people.” pg 53
Leadership and Gender: Interviews with women focused on their work within the Sierra Club, and several interviews dedicated an entire section to the role of women in leadership positions within the Club. Women discussed the expansion of female leadership, limitations, and regressions. Many interviews explored how the narrator felt about their role and the future directions for women in the Club.
- In 1982, then 85 years old, Cicely M. Christy noted, “On the whole, positions of chairmen [of the Sierra Club Board of Directors] have gone to men until a few years ago, and then people like Helen Burke came in. … [Before the 1970s, women’s work in the Club] was just reflected in each chapter I think. I think people grew out of [that tendency to vote for men], rather deep laid, not exactly prejudiced, but just habits of thought.” pg 34
- In 1979, at age of 38, Helen Burke became an elected Executive Officer on the Sierra Club’s National Board of Directors, while also serving as Board liaison to the Club’s Women’s Outreach Task Force and the Urban Environment Task Force. When asked about women’s leadership within the Club, she replied, “The Club has, in the past, been a rather male dominated institution. I think that’s changing now. We presently have four women on a [National Board of Directors] of fifteen, which is roughly a little over one-fourth. I have some statistics which I can find for you in terms of active women on the Executive Committees, etc. Those percentages are going up. But at any rate, I think that the Women’s Outreach effort has an aspect of being a kind of support group for women within the Sierra Club.” pgs 3–4
- For ten years, Doris Cellarius chaired the Club’s Hazardous Waste Advisory Committee. In 2001, she recalled when younger that, “I didn’t feel any need to go out and arm myself as a militant feminist. … I was busy, and I have very little experience with women who had problems … But I really began to feel it when I worked with these women at toxic waste sites and saw that it was mostly women. I saw how the people from the agencies were mostly men, and they didn’t take the women too seriously. It never made me feel it was a gender thing, though; I thought it was more government oppressing the citizens and treating them like something in the way of getting their job done.” pg 63
- In 1979, amid national efforts to secure an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Helen Burke declared, “The more men see capable women, qualified women elected to the Board [of Directors], the more they will see that women are able to carry significant burdens, etc. That’s what women’s liberation is all about.” pg 15
More work remains, both for women in the Sierra Club and on this oral history research project. I plan to continue this research next semester to comb through more Sierra Club interviews and further compile an annotated outline of themes and examples. My goal is to organize this rich archive of Sierra Club women’s oral histories so future scholars and interested people can better understand the Club’s growth—in size and especially in scope—through the narratives of its female members.
— Ella Griffth, UC Berkeley, Class of 2020
“A Story of Science”
(Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program, Spring 2019)
By Caitlin Iswono
Caitlin Iswono is a rising junior at UC Berkeley majoring in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. In the Spring 2019 semester, Caitlin worked with historian Roger Eardley-Pryor of the Oral History Center and earned academic credits as part of UC Berkeley’s Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (URAP). URAP provides opportunities for undergraduates to work closely with Berkeley scholars on the cutting edge research projects for which Berkeley is world-renowned. Caitlin provided valuable research for Eardley-Pryor’s science-focused oral history interviews. Here, Caitlin reflects on her URAP experience in the Oral History Center.
As a chemical engineering student at the University of California, Berkeley, I usually write technical lab reports and experimental analyses of scientific data. But last winter, before the Spring 2019 semester, I decided to examine science from a different perspective. While glancing through different topics of interest for a prospective Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (URAP) project, I became fascinated by the science interviews conducted by the Oral History Center. Science is perceived to be objective and impartial, based only on “real facts.” But what are the personal reasons behind a scientist’s work? And what are the human elements that help produce scientific facts? After working on several oral history projects this semester, I learned that the process of science is actually a story, and every experiment has a riveting history and person behind it.
My URAP project this semester consisted of research preparations for oral history interviews conducted by Roger Eardley-Pryor, a historian of science, technology, and the environment in the Oral History Center. I conducted background research on the scientific work of two different kinds of chemists. Alexis T. Bell, a renowned professor and former chair of UC Berkeley’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, was one of two oral history interviewees whose research I examined and explained. Since joining Berkeley’s faculty in 1967, Alexis Bell has and continues to conduct complex and comprehensive research in hydrogenation, electrocatalysis, zeolite synthesis, and theoretical applications for chemical engineering. His reports and publications are meticulous and highly revered in academia. Bell’s scientific work is prominent in the scientific world. But what was his personal story?
This question is what I helped explore during the Spring 2019 semester. Professor Bell recorded his scientific methods and experimental results in his numerous publications, but the personal story behind his work would best reveal itself through his oral history interviews. My task was to conduct background research on Bell’s publications and ask fruitful questions on the driving forces behind his vast range of experiments. Together, historian Roger Eardley-Pryor and I researched topics including the inspirations, funding, technological advancements, and partnerships in each of Bell’s projects. By reading Bell’s scientific articles and designing questions that linked the scientific work with his motivations, I learned that science cannot be fully comprehended unless the driving force behind the published lab report is made clear. These “behind-the-scenes” and human connections within the scientific process contribute to the world of academia in ways just as significant as the scientific analyses.
My background research on another chemist named Michael Schilling unveiled additional fascinating stories. As a senior scientist at the Getty Conservation Institute, some of Schilling’s projects included preserving hand-drawn Disney animation cels as well as identifying biological materials used to make ancient Asian lacquers that, later, eighteenth-century French craftsmen incorporated into furniture for King Louis the XIV. Schilling’s riveting analytical chemistry seemed far afield from the work I imagined most materials scientists do. I grew increasingly interested to hear Schilling share his personal history and explain how he came to work on these projects.
My initial reading of Schilling’s published work left me curious to how and why he conducted such diverse projects in art conservation. I grasped the technical aspects of Schilling’s work, but I found myself asking “Why did he do this as a chemist? Why was this his topic of interest and who initiated it?” As I learned more about Schilling’s personal background and the steps he took to achieve his career accomplishments, I could better understand the timeline and motivations behind his work. Those motivations and the processes before lab work began are not found in published reports, but only through Schilling recounting his own history and life contexts. Here was another example of science and oral history joining together to reveal the human aspects in the scientific process.
Assisting UC Berkeley’s Oral History Center as an undergraduate research apprentice this semester was personally rewarding. Weekly meetings with Dr. Roger Eardley-Pryor helped me grasp more than just the “technical” parts of science. Analyzing lab reports is not enough to understand the bigger picture and the human processes of science. Instead, we sought answers to “Why? For what purpose? How? For whom? With whom?” Questions like these can help explain why and how new scientific knowledge is produced.
I also learned valuable skills and broader applications for the scientific knowledge taught in my chemical engineering courses. For example, while researching different analytical methods of mass spectroscopy for Alexis Bell’s oral history, I realized I had prior experience implementing these methods in my own laboratory courses. Although classes taught me the procedures and practical uses of this instrument, they lacked a broader perception on the people who use it and why they did so. While assisting these oral history projects and seeking insight into the entire scientific process, I discovered the driving forces behind an experiment, not merely the technicality and practice of it. Motivations, people, and personal connections provide backbone to the scientific process. As a result, I can now practice my lab class experiments and analyze why I’m conducting it, to look beyond the procedures, to find its purpose.
My URAP experience in the Oral History Center helped me become more open-minded and curious about different fields of science. My perceptions of the scientific process broadened beyond the laboratory. In short, I discovered that science has human history. On its surface, science provides facts based on experimental results and controlled environments. But behind that veil is a human who discovered that scientific knowledge. That person’s individual experience and perspective help explain more fully the meaning their science strives to comprehend. Without the history and influences of an experiment, questions remain unanswered. The combination of experimentation, observation, history, and human experience—all together—produce the world of science. And that is the story that we must read. That is the story I helped shape last semester at the Oral History Center.
— Caitlin Iswono, UC Berkeley, Class of 2021
New Oral History Release: Peter Hanff on Books, Bibliography, and The Bancroft Library
Rarely do we get to interview one of our own at The Bancroft Library. But if anyone fits within the “must interview” category, it is Peter Hanff. Hanff, who has been with the Bancroft Library for close to fifty years, is currently Deputy Director of The Bancroft Library. Hanff was born in Florida in 1944 and then moved with his family to Southern California in 1956. He attended the University of California Santa Barbara as an undergraduate and then the University of California Los Angeles where he earned his MLS. After an internship at the Library of Congress and a year and a half as assistant to the coordinator of information systems there, he was selected as a rare-book fellow at Indiana University’s Lilly Library. Hanff then accepted a position as reference librarian at The Bancroft Library in 1970. Hanff worked in various positions and on a variety of projects over the years, including as Interim Director and later Acting Director of The Bancroft Library. Hanff also is a noted scholar of the author Frank Baum and his series of Oz books. In this oral history, Peter Hanff discusses: his education background and early interest in young adult literature and book collecting; the transformation of library and archival work from the 1960s to the present; the administration, personnel, and collections of The Bancroft Library; and his contributions to the documentation of the works of Frank Baum and other authors.