Primary sources with pizzazz from the Oral History Center

If you’re an instructor looking for remote learning tools or a scholar or student looking for primary sources, you might just find it in our online archive.

Add some spice to your research papers, lectures, remote lessons

We’re sheltering in place, the libraries are closed, and we all need to adjust to this new “normal” of social distancing and remote learning and teaching. It may at times feel daunting to shift gears on such a tight timeline. A bit of good news in all this uncertainty: the UC Berkeley Oral History Center has an online archive of more than 4,000 interviews on a multitude of topics.

So if you’re…

  • A professor, teacher, or high school administrator looking for remote learning tools
  • A scholar, grad student, undergrad, or high school student looking for primary sources for your paper

…you might just find it in our online archive.

Primary sources with pizzazz — and ed tech

Transcripts on shelves
Transcripts of oral histories are stored in a room in The Bancroft Library and are available online. (Photo by Jami Smith for the UC Berkeley Library)

The Oral History Center (OHC) has oral history interviews on a countless number of topics, including science, engineering, medicine, business, politics, the environment, the economy, social movements, women’s rights, gay rights, art, music, literature, education, philanthropy, athletics, UC Berkeley history, and more.

The focus is on US history, California, and the West, plus some interviews with an international focus (such as global mining, communism). Information in interviews stretch back to the late 19th/early 20th century and also address some of our most recent social and political issues, including same-sex marriage and culturally competent medical care.

We’re committed to open access and all of our transcripts and interpretive materials are accessible online at no cost, whether you are a scholar, student, or member of the general public. We also have video and audio clips for many. Some transcripts are even synched to the full videotaped interview, specifically for the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front Collection (interviews with “View OHMS video” have this capability).

How to search the collection

There are several ways to search the vast collection.

Reid Soskin
Betty Reid Soskin is featured in our African American history collection guide.

If you know what you’re looking for, select Advanced Search and enter key words in the full text feature. Use quotation marks for an exact match. Check “Limit to records that include audio/video” if you want to be sure there’s video for the transcript. The full text search is particularly useful to find gems in our individual interviews on a myriad of topics. For example, seventy-seven oral histories mention the word “quarantine” and three “coronavirus.”

You can browse projects to see what’s in the entire collection by specific subjects.

You can scan our collection guides, for some guidance on locating interviews on topics that cross projects, such as African American history, veterans, and the Holocaust.

Podcasts

The OHC also has a podcast series, The Berkeley Remix, featuring audio recordings of our interviews on a wide range of topics, both historical and on current events, ideal for distance learning. Topics include:

AIDS and San Francisco: 6 episodes on the epidemic and community response
Engineering and Computer Science: on the microchip, open access, and Silicon Valley
Food: on the farm-to-table food movement
Parks and the Environment: 3 episodes on on preserving the land, women in non-traditional gender roles, and fighting the 1998 Oakland Hills Fire
Preserving the Coast: on saving Lighthouse Point in Santa Cruz
UC Berkeley student housing: on women’s equality, disabled student access, and desegregation
Women in Politics: 6 episodes on suffrage through the 1990s

Prestigious $500 prize for UC Berkeley undergrads

UC Berkeley undergrads who use OHC’s oral history interviews for a UC Berkeley class paper in any discipline are eligible for a $500 prize for outstanding primary source research. Students — you don’t need to write a separate paper; just submit one from a class where you have used the interviews. Instructors — if you’re teaching a UC Berkeley class where students need to write a research paper, please let them know about the Friesen Prize.

Montage of photos featuring people the OHC has interviewed
The Oral HIstory Center has interviews on just about every topic imaginable, including architecture, the Port Chicago mutiny, the Chicano Studies movement, women pioneers in education, the Free Speech Movement, the World War II home front, women in politics, California politics, and much more. Top row from L to R: George Matsumoto, Joe Small, Antonia Castaneda, Lucy Sprague Mitchell. Bottom row from L to R: Free speech march, Betty Reid Soskin, March Fong Eu, Jerry Brown.

Lucy Sprague Mitchell: Child Education Reformer and Berkeley’s First Dean of Women

By Deborah Qu

“It was naive, but it wasn’t as naive as it sounds.” — Lucy Sprague Mitchell on chasing her dream to expand career prospects for women

One hundred and fifty years ago in 1870, the UC Regents first declared that the university’s doors were open to women students, giving them the opportunity to pursue a higher education. Access to student facilities, housing, and resources were still far from equal for women. Thus began an era where thousands of young women pioneered for positive change, making their mark on the university, as well as transforming society at large. One of these women was Lucy Sprague Mitchell, the first dean of women from 1906–1912, and one of the first women instructors in UC Berkeley’s Department of English. Mitchell, an advocate for educational reform, had observed that “public opinion reacts very slowly. And there’s always been something that irritates me, and that is the voices against are so much louder than the voices for.” Yet her unrelenting optimism and her passion for education allowed her to introduce a more holistic framework for child learning and expand career prospects for women outside the limited field of teaching.

Lucy Sprague Mitchell in front of a chalk board
Lucy Sprague Mitchell at the Bank Street College of Education

Born in 1878, Lucy Sprague Mitchell grew up in a traditional household where any sort of play was seen as “a waste of time.” In a 1962 interview with the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library, Mitchell recalls a multitude of happy childhood memories, but they were also mixed with conflicting feelings of unworthiness and loneliness caused by her family’s strict Puritan modes of discipline. It is possible that these childhood learning experiences were great influencers in her later experimental work in education. In her autobiography, Two Lives: The Story of Wesley Clair Mitchell and Myself, she explained how she believed that the entire learning process is not complete without the “intake” of experience transforming into an “outgo,” or some living, creative action caused from the development. Perhaps these mixed childhood memories had also inspired her to take positive action through childhood education reform.

After graduating from Radcliffe College, Lucy Sprague Mitchell was appointed as Berkeley’s first dean of women at only age 23. In her oral history, Mitchell recalled a conversation she had with the university President Benjamin Ide Wheeler. His instructions were “to find out what needs to be done and to do it.” While terrified and confused, this is exactly what Mitchell did. As dean of women, Mitchell did not succumb to the “motherly” role to students that was expected of her in the early 1900s. Instead her youthful perspective allowed her to expand beyond the traditional housing and counseling needs to truly connect with students at Cal. She initiated community trips, poetry readings, and sex education discussions. She organized Parthenia, which she fondly called greek for “women of the Parthenon,” a performative showcase about various historical women and imagined female characters.

Women performing in costume 1923
A Thing of Dust, Parthenia, 1923. University Archives.

In her oral history, Mitchell reflected on why she wanted to leave her role as dean of women; Mitchell explained that her interests truly were rooted in education, not administration. During her years working with women students, she had become, she says, “extremely concerned about the lack of professional training for women excepting in the field of teaching. She explained how “not everybody is equipped to be a teacher, nor wants to be a teacher.” At the time, Mitchell found it jarring that over 90 percent of the women students she surveyed had planned to become a teacher after graduation. While Cal was progressive for its time, teaching was the most socially acceptable profession and “the only thing that the University offered to women.” In retrospect, Lucy Sprague Mitchell believed that her real reason for requesting a leave from Berkeley “was to try to explore different fields of work that women could enter and for which the University could train them.”

This disaffection inspired innovation. Lucy Sprague Mitchell brought the issue of limited education for women to six social organizations in New York, completing statistical fieldwork from women working in nursing, to labor legislation about city tenements, to public schools. Her exposure to public school education had such a profound effect on Mitchell that she became an educator resource for teachers throughout 1922–1955. She began developing experimental methods about childhood education and classroom procedure that promoted creative expression and holistically fulfilled a child’s emotional, physical, and mental needs. Her emphasis on “relationship teaching” and “active learning” over memorization helped shape the way for “social studies,” a course widely studied in American classrooms today. Her focus on the learning environment was unorthodox at the time, and it led her to new paradigms of using childhood maturity instead of age to measure emotional intellectual development. She founded Bank Street College of Education in New York as a graduate student teacher training institution in 1916 based on this same philosophy.

Deborah Qu
Deborah Qu is an undergraduate research assistant with the Oral History Center

From my perspective as an undergraduate student at Cal, Lucy Sprague Mitchell’s life story teaches me that to truly orchestrate change, we should not just be focusing on the various problems of the present, but rather dreaming about all the future potential. The oral history interview allowed Lucy Sprague Mitchell to recount the early dream she had formed working with Cal students in her late 20s: to provide opportunities for young women to pursue rich and nuanced fields of study. This dream certainly did not go to waste. As a young college woman with a wide selection of majors to choose from, I am grateful that she and many others helped pave the way. Reflecting on this vision for women, Lucy Sprague Mitchell said, “Now that sounds very naive. It was naive, but it wasn’t as naive as it sounds.”

Deborah Qu is a first year undergraduate student who intends to study psychology. As a part of the celebration of 150 years of women at Berkeley, Deborah is researching the Oral History Center’s vast archive to identify women in the collection with a relationship to UC Berkeley.


Nominate someone who’s made an impact at UC Berkeley and we’ll interview them for an Oral History

They’ve made a difference at UC Berkeley. Who are you thinking of right now?

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library has been around since 1953 and since then we’ve been documenting the history of UC Berkeley. Is there a Berkeley faculty, administrator, or staff person — past or present — who’s made an impact on campus? This is your opportunity to nominate someone who has made an outstanding contribution to campus life or to the teaching, research, or public service mission of the university — and we’ll interview the selected candidate for posterity. This oral history honor has been made possible by a generous endowment from the class of ’31. (Nomination form)

Campanile & Bay at sunset

 

Past narrators (interviewees) have included Edith Kramer, director emeritus of the Pacific Film Archive, and Susan Ervin-Tripp, Psychology professor, Ombuds, and advocate for women’s equity on campus. Last year’s awardee was Susan L. Graham, professor emerita, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (oral history in progress).

Nominations for the “Class of ’31 Oral History” are due by May 1 and the awardee will be announced in mid-May. If you have any questions, please contact Oral History Center Director Martin Meeker at mmeeker@library.berkeley.edu (Nomination form). Selection criteria for nominees include willingness of the nominee to participate, OHC interviewer expertise, uniqueness and rarity of the nominee’s story and level of contribution to campus life, and the generation of the nominee.

Documenting UC Berkeley’s contributions through oral history

The Oral History Center has conducted hundreds of in-depth interviews addressing key moments in UC Berkeley university history. Oral history projects about UC Berkeley consisting of multiple interviews include:

Professor Blackwell at chalk board

Athletics at UC Berkeley
The Free Speech Movement 
History Department, UC Berkeley
The Originals (African American Faculty and Senior Staff)
SLATE (student political organization, 1958–66)

Dozens of other interviews of Cal students, faculty, and staff can be found in the collection: Education and University of California – Individual Interviews. Even more interviews of Berkeley alumni and faculty can be found throughout our collection. Interviews include several of the first female students and administrators dating back to the late nineteenth century, as well students, faculty, and staff representing a multitude of disciplines and contributions to UC Berkeley and well beyond. To get a flavor of these UC Berkeley-related interviews, see the following articles on some newly released oral histories:

“They Got Woken Up”: SLATE and Women’s Activism at UC Berkeley, by interviewer Amanda Tewes

“George Leitmann: Engineering Science, Risk, and Relationships at UC Berkeley and Beyond” by interviewer Paul Burnett

And listen to the podcast season, Let There Be Light, about the powerful impact Berkeley’s identity as a public institution has had on student and academic life, and the intertwined history of campus and community.

In Sleeping with the Light On, we explore what home and community has meant to students at Cal, and how accessible spaces have supported social justice movements on and beyond campus.

Berkeley Lightning is about the contributions of UC Berkeley Engineering to the rise of the semiconductor industry in Silicon Valley.We focus on the development of the first widely used design program for prototyping microchips. Originally designed by and for students, the software spread like lightning in part because Berkeley, as a public institution, made it available free of charge. The world has not been the same since.

Berkeley After Dark is about the connection between the history of farm-to-table eating and the campus community.


Never Forget? UC Berkeley’s Oral History Center documents memories of the Holocaust for researchers and the public

“It’s too late now because there’s nobody I can ask.”
— Katalin Pecsi, child of Auschwitz survivor

The 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz is on January 27 of this year and 41% of Americans don’t know what Auschwitz is — including a whopping two-thirds of millennials. A recent survey found a stunning lack of basic knowledge in the United States about the Holocaust — defined by the US Holocaust museum as “the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews” that decimated the Jewish population in Europe. Almost one million Jews were killed in Auschwitz alone, the largest and most infamous of the death camps. With fewer and fewer Jews who experienced the Holocaust first-hand alive to tell their stories — the youngest survivors with memories of the camps are in their eighties and nineties today — the cry of Holocaust remembrance not to forget depends on a clear historical record.

Throughout the Oral History Center’s vast collection of interviews are more than 200 that reference the Holocaust. While there is no specific Oral History Center (OHC) project dedicated to documenting the Holocaust, interviews can be found within projects about food and wine, arts and letters, industry and labor, philanthropy, and more. Furthermore, our oral history collections about the history of UC Berkeley include memories of the Holocaust and its impact, including projects about the Free Speech Movement, the student political party SLATE, and faculty interviews. These oral histories document memories of the Holocaust from a multiplicity of perspectives, from the first-hand experiences of Jewish refugees who fled from Europe before it was too late, to Americans who first heard about the atrocities after the liberation of the camps. The Jewish narrators in particular talk about how the Holocaust was the driving factor in their careers, philanthropy, Israel advocacy, and political activism. These oral histories may be particularly interesting to scholars as they provide a different lens for looking at the Holocaust, capturing the histories of those who were being interviewed for other reasons, but nonetheless spoke about the impact of the Holocaust on their lives.

There are oral histories in the collection that preserve the experiences of Jewish refugees who managed to flee Europe before it was too late and build new lives for themselves in the United States. Alfred Fromm fled Germany for the US in 1936 and went on to build a successful wine distribution business; he became a philanthropist supporting numerous educational, cultural, and Jewish organizations, including UC Berkeley’s Magnes Museum. In 1939, violinist Sandor Salgo had a sponsor in the United States but was denied a visa from the US consul in Hungary, who said the Hungarian quota was filled until 1984; Salgo cried to a patroness that he would probably die in a concentration camp and she was able to intervene on his behalf; his brother died in Auschwitz. Berkeley Mechanical Engineering professor and dean George Leitmann escaped Nazi-occupied Austria in 1940 at the age of 15, a few years later to return to Europe during WWII as a US Army combat engineer. He was in the second wave of soldiers who liberated Landsberg Concentration Camp, and later served as a translator during the Nuremberg War Crime Trials. All these experiences influenced his scientific area of study in control theory — measuring risk, probability, and how to avoid catastrophe.

“We certainly got there in time to see the smoldering bodies they were trying to burn and the skeletons. That probably hit me more than it hit the rest of the guys, because here my father was still missing. I still had hopes to see him among the DPs [displaced persons].” — George Leitmann on the liberation of Landsberg concentration camp. His father did not survive.

Bodies at Landsberg Concentration Camp
Photo of Landsberg Concentration camp taken by Professor George Leitmann on day of the liberation. Photo courtesy of George Leitmann

The one collection of interviews that addresses the Holocaust in the most detail is that of the the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation Leadership. Here can be found the oral history of William Lowenberg, a Holocaust survivor, number 145382 of the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing complex. His interview details how as a teenager luck, good health, and his own survival strategies enabled him to survive his harrowing journey through extermination camps, the Warsaw Ghetto aftermath, and a death march, until he was liberated from Dachau concentration camp at the age of 18. After an attempt to go home (like so many, his house had been taken over), Lowenberg eventually settled in San Francisco, where the Jewish Family Services Agency helped him secure a job collecting rent for a realty company. He went on to become a major figure in industrial real estate in the city. Lowenberg gave back to the agency later, serving on the same committee that helped him, in the 1970s finding jobs for Jewish refugees from the Soviet Union. Of his life dedicated to philanthropic and political activism on behalf of the Jewish community and Israel, Lowenberg reflected, “I feel that Jewish survival depends on the Jews.”

“I was young, healthy, and I kept clean. I kept as clean as I could all of the time.” — William Lowenberg on his survival strategies

The OHC collection also includes interviews of those who were present for the liberation, like Berkeley History Professor Emeritus Richard Herr, who was serving in the Signal Intelligence Corps and visited Buchenwald shortly after the liberation. He describes the displaced persons wandering the streets, survivors in their striped pajamas, the pile of dead bodies. “I was told they’d died after the liberation. They’d just been in such poor shape. They were just skin and bones. It was terrible.”

The collection also includes interviews of those who didn’t directly experience the Holocaust, but heard about it through family, friends, teachers, even work acquaintances. Oral histories are unique in that they can include off-hand comments and asides that illuminate an era. Six million — two thirds of Europe’s Jews perished — but three million survived and many dispersed to other countries including the United States. Narrators would encounter these survivors, the tales of depravity would sear in their memories, and the narrators would sometimes make offhand remarks. Other narrators provide more details about the many facets of the Holocaust — resistance and the underground, escapes, refugees and displaced persons, concentration camps, the murder of entire families — such as the oral histories of Laurette Goldberg, who taught music at UC Berkeley; Berkeley MBA Ronald Kaufman; wine writer Mike Weiss; winery manager Morris Katz; economist Lester Telser; poet Carl Rakosi, and Berkeley student activist Danniel Goldstine.

Women and children on the way to gas chambers
Hungarian Jews on the way to the gas chambers, Auschwitz. Photo courtesy of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum photo archive. From Hungary, Katalin Pecsi’s mothers’ entire family were killed.

Among these are the oral histories of children of Holocaust survivors, including Berkeley History Professor Emerita Paula Fass, Paula Kornell, and Katalin Pecsi. All of them attributed their careers to their parents’ experiences. Growing up in Hungary, Katalin Pecsi knew her father had survived Auschwitz, her uncle Buchenwald, and her paternal grandmother Dachau; but had been told they were political prisoners because of their affiliation with the Communist Party. She later learned that she was Jewish, that her mother’s entire family had been killed in the Holocaust, and began to question what she had been told. “When I was a child I was told that they were political prisoners because they never told me that we were Jewish… but I’m not sure that’s true that they arrived as political prisoners. I don’t know, it’s too late now because there’s nobody I can ask.” Learning about her Jewish heritage combined with her longing to know about her own family propelled Pecsi into a career in Holocaust remembrance, becoming the director of education at the Budapest Holocaust Memorial Center.

“My parents were both survivors of the concentration camps. They had lost families. Not just their parents and siblings, but in fact, husbands, wives and children. They were married to other people, and my mother had a son who was taken from her when he was three. My father had four children who were all taken away and died in Auschwitz. One of the things that’s very, very clear is that I became a historian because of it. I became a historian because history was always around.” — Berkeley Professor Paula Fass

“What the concentration camp [Dachau] instilled in my father was just the beauty of life, and I think he helped to instill…was the beauty of a vineyard or of a vine growing, or beauty of your garden or the beauty of winemaking.” — Paula Kornell, winemaker

The OHC collection includes numerous oral histories that touch on narrators’ reactions to learning about the Holocaust. Interviewers for the Rosie the Riveter World War II Homefront Collection, for example, frequently asked narrators, who came from many walks of life, when did they first learn about the Holocaust and what was their reaction. Like Beatrice Rudney and Bud Figueroa, narrators interviewed for the Rosie the Riveter collection generally responded that they learned about the horrors of the genocide after the war, sometimes mentioning newsreels (films of piles of naked corpses, survivors of skin and bones). Other narrators, sitting for longer life-history interviews, addressed this issue when talking about their childhoods. Oral histories of Jewish narrators reveal more knowledge about what was happening during the war itself, particularly those whose families housed refugees, or who received letters from family with news of mass killings — 13 family members gone — or whose letters from family in Europe just stopped one day, such as former Dean of Berkeley Law School Jesse Choper, Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Howard Schachman, Laurette Goldberg, Lester Telser, as well as Quaker activist Gerda Isenberg. Schachman observed, “I was certainly aware of what was going on to the Jews in Europe…. I doubted those people who claimed they weren’t aware of the Holocaust — it wasn’t called the Holocaust then.”

“I understood it during the war. There were always leaks of information of what was happening. Some people would escape from the concentration camps and come back and tell it.” — Jesse Choper, Dean Emeritus of Berkeley Law

The oral histories provide researchers with information about the range of feelings people had when they learned about the atrocities in the camps. Many of these are short responses to a direct question, such as in the Rosie the Riveter collection. Daniel Levin recalled a “sickening feeling;” DeMaurice Moses described being “inured to savagery by that time;” and as David Dibble remembered it, “You have to sort of genuflect and say, true, it was the worst thing that ever happened. And it was.” Some narrators recalled how other people talked about the Holocaust, and these interactions were indelible moments for them. Berkeley alumna and student activist Susan Griffin recalled an incident about four years after the war where her fellow Girl Scout Brownie troop members were laughing, saying Heil Hitler, and making the Nazi salute. She recalled the driver pulled over, emotional, and scolded that they must never do so again; and her grandparents, whom she described as “passive anti-Semites,” explained to the six-year-old “what an evil man Hitler was.” Berkeley History Professor Emeritus Larry Levine recalled being “shocked” when he was an undergraduate five years after the war ended, and an English professor told the class, “Don’t let the Jews tell you they are the only ones who have suffered.”

Some of the oral histories provide a glimpse into how the Holocaust affected Jewish Americans in the Baby Boom generation, living in its shadow. Berkeley alumna and student activist Julianne Morris, Adrienne Asch, and Wayne Feinstein recall how the Holocaust was something they always knew about, part of the culture. As Feinstein put it, “The first twenty or thirty years after the Second World War I think the Jewish community was in shock. And I grew up in that environment.” He described the Holocaust as “the primary motivation” for his lifelong dedication to Jewish education, cultural programs, and support for Israel.

“You couldn’t be a Jew in post-Holocaust America without knowing about the Holocaust. I mean, you grew up, you knew about the Holocaust, you knew about Israel.” — Adrienne Asch, disability rights activist and professor of bioethics

Massive pile of clothes
Scene after the liberation of the Auschwitz camp: a warehouse of clothes that belonged to women who were murdered there. Photo courtesy of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum photo archive. Berkeley Professor Lloyd Ulman felt horror after seeing piles of teeth on a visit to Auschwitz.

Finally, at least a few oral histories describe how narrators reacted upon visiting death camps as tourists years, even decades, after the end of the war. Through visiting these camps in person, these narrators came face to face with the scope of the horrors. Berkeley Economics Professor Emeritus and past director of the Institute of Industrial Relations, Lloyd Ulman, along with Marty Morgenstern, past director of Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education, were taken to Auschwitz on a work trip to Poland. Ulman recalls how Morgenstern went outside and “put his head between his legs. He thought he was going to throw up or faint.” Ulman recalls “terrible things like seeing a whole collection of false teeth” [taken from the dead for their gold fillings] and feeling the “horror” that General Eisenhower had felt upon seeing the camps. Annette Dobbs also lived through the war but the enormity of the Holocaust really hit her when she visited Mauthausen Concentration Camp outside of Vienna in 1971. Expressing the sentiment of many of the narrators who spoke about the Holocaust, she said, “That day I made my own personal commitment to spend the rest of my life to see that nothing like that would ever happen to my people again.”

January 27, the date of the liberation of Auschwitz, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.


UC Berkeley Oral History Center: Jerry Brown Oral History

“Jerry Brown, I found, to be a man with a largely unwavering set of core values and principles who sometimes appears to choose contradictory ways in which to express those drives.”
— Director Martin Meeker, Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library, reflecting on his experience interviewing Jerry Brown

Bancroft Roundtable: Thursday, February 20 at noon in the Lewis-Latimer Room of The Faculty Club
Brown, Behind the Scenes: Contending with Governor Jerry Brown and His Oral History 
In this presentation, OHC historians Martin Meeker and Todd Holmes will provide the behind-the-scenes story of a remarkable interview with a singular Californian and offer an initial perspective on how this oral history might influence our understanding of California and its political culture.

Inside the Jerry Brown Oral History

Jerry Brown first gubernatorial portrait
First official gubernatorial portrait of Jerry Brown by portrait artist Don Bachardy, 1984

There are very few individuals who are what might be called a “shoe-in” for an Oral History Center life history interview. Governor Jerry Brown is one who easily qualifies. Brown’s career as an elected official began in Southern California in 1969 when he was elected to the Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees and then continued for nearly the next fifty years through a succession of high offices; in 2018 he concluded his record fourth term as governor.

In forty hours of interviews, there are at least three main areas of study of the life of Jerry Brown, and politics much more broadly, that might be impacted by the contents of this interview from today’s vantage point: the historical trajectory of key social and political issues; the influence of creative and unique ideas upon Brown and his agenda; and what might be called the philosophy of realpolitik — of how politics really works, at least according to Brown.

The Jerry Brown oral history was made possible by funding from the State Government Oral History Program, A Project of the California Secretary of State, State Archives.

Dive Deeper

Dive deeper into the political life of Jerry Brown through the Jerry Brown oral history.

“20 Shades of Jerry Brown” UC Berkeley Podcast
“We had 20 interview sessions, and I would say that in those 20 interview sessions, we had 20 different shades of Jerry Brown,” explains Oral History Center Director Martin Meeker in UC Berkeley’s 9-minute Fiat Vox podcast, “Berkeley oral history project reveals 20 shades of Jerry Brown.” Get a taste of the oral history — hear Brown talk about the medfly invasion, Linda Ronstadt, and politics past and present. Martin Meeker provides insights into this “extraordinarily detailed, thoughtful, self-critical, broad, and sweeping oral history.”

Jerry Brown Interview History
For the historians at UC Berkeley’s Oral History Center, the question was not, “Should this interview be done?” but rather, “How might it be done at all?” Get the inside story about the making of this riveting 40-hour oral history from interviewer and Oral History Center Director Martin Meeker.

Governor Gray Davis Foreword to the Jerry Brown Oral History
When Gray Davis tried to have a hole in the governor’s rug repaired, Jerry Brown responded, “That hole will save the state at least $500 million, because legislators cannot come down and pound on my desk demanding lots of money for their pet programs while looking at a hole in my rug!” Find out why Gray Davis, the 37th Governor of the State of California, who served as chief of staff to Jerry Brown during his first two terms as governor (1975-1981), thinks Jerry Brown is one of the most consequential governors in California history.

California State Government Oral History Program
The Jerry Brown oral history is a part of the State Government Oral History Program and is the cornerstone of the re-launch of the program under California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. All of the oral history materials (recordings and transcripts) will be deposited with the California State Archives and available to users through their website as well.

Jerry Brown Oral History Transcript

Todd Holmes, Jerry Brown, Martin Meeker
(L to R) Oral History Center Interviewer Todd Holmes, Governor Jerry Brown, and Oral History Center Director Martin Meeker in January 2020

Read the transcript of the 40-hour oral history. In this oral history, the following topics are discussed at length: family background and upbringing; education, religion, and friendships; the political career of Pat Brown; college, seminary, and law school; California statewide elected offices, including Governor of California; campaigns for elected office, including for US President; election reform; taxation, budgets, and deficits; law, the courts, and criminal justice reform; immigration; the environment and climate change; education reform, charter schools, and higher education; Oakland, CA; popular culture, journalism, and political campaigns; political philosophy, theories of governance, and applied politics.

KQED Forum Podcast Featuring OHC Director Martin Meeker
Politics was the family business. The Democratic party was tribal for Brown. Listen as Oral History Center Director Martin Meeker, and KQED interview partners Scott Shafer and Guy Marzorati, talk about the unique political perspective and interviewing style of Jerry Brown.

Montage Jerry Brown
KQED Podcast: Inside the Political Mind of Jerry Brown

KQED Podcast: The Political Mind of Jerry Brown
From KQED: The Political Mind of Jerry Brown brings listeners the wisdom of the former Governor, Mayor, and presidential candidate. The Oral History Center’s Martin Meeker and Todd Holmes, and KQED’s Scott Shafer, interviewed Brown for more than 40 hours, covering the former governor’s life and half-century in the political game – and Brown has some lessons he’d like to share. Premiering January 8 with hour-long episodes on KQED 88.5 FM every Wednesday at 8pm through January 29.

 


Let There Be Light podcast explores identity at UC Berkeley — through housing, microchips, and the Berkeley food scene

Announcing Season 4 of the Berkeley Remix podcast!

This season of the Berkeley Remix we’re bringing to life stories about our home — UC Berkeley — from our collection of thousands of oral histories. Please join us for our fourth season, Let There Be Light: 150 Years at UC Berkeley, inspired by the University’s motto, Fiat Lux. Our episodes this season explore issues of identity — where we’ve been, who we are now, the powerful impact Berkeley’s identity as a public institution has had on student and academic life, and the intertwined history of campus and community.

The three-episode season explores how housing has been on the front lines of the battle for student welfare throughout the University’s history; how UC Berkeley created a culture of innovation that made game-changing technologies possible; and how political activism on campus was a motivator for the farm-to-table food scene in the city of Berkeley. All episodes include audio from interviews from the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library.

Episode 1. Sleeping with the Light On: Housing and Community at Berkeley

Written and produced by historian Amanda Tewes, UC Berkeley Oral History Center

“From early housing cooperatives during the Great Depression, to fights for racial and gender parity on campus, housing has been on the front lines of the battle for student welfare throughout the University’s history.”

International House
I-House opened in 1930 and was built to foster intercultural connections.

We’ve come to think of communal living as a tradition for students, a rite of passage and a valuable lesson in community building. But for much of its history, UC Berkeley didn’t even have residence halls! In this episode, we explore what home and community has meant to students at Cal, and how accessible spaces have supported social justice movements on and beyond campus.

This episode includes audio from the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library, including Rev. Allen C. Blaisdell, Jackie Goldberg, Frank Inami, Marguerite Kulp Johnston, Edward V. Roberts, and Dorothy Walker. Voiceover of Ruth Norton Donnelly’s interview by Shanna Farrell. Audio from the “Which Campus?” video courtesy of The Bancroft Library. (Written version of Sleeping with the Light On.)

Episode 2. Berkeley Lightning: A Public University’s Role in the Rise of Silicon Valley

Written and produced by historian Paul Burnett, UC Berkeley Oral History Center

“We’re used to hearing about how game-changing technology makes whole new ways of living and working possible. But what makes the game-changing technologies possible? UC Berkeley — a public, state university — established institutions and teams that would make the culture of innovation possible.”

Integrated Circuit
Integrated circuits from Hewlett Packard 34C calculator, designed with assistance from UC Berkeley Professor William M. Kahan

“Berkeley Lightning” is about the contributions of UC Berkeley Engineering to the rise of the semiconductor industry in what became known as Silicon Valley in the 1960s and 70s. In contrast to the influential entrepreneurial spirit of a private university like Stanford, Berkeley’s status as a public institution had a different impact on Silicon Valley. We focus on the development of the first widely used design program for prototyping microchips. Originally designed by and for students, the software spread like lightning in part because Berkeley, as a public institution, made it available free of charge. The world has not been the same since.

This episode includes audio from the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library, including Paul R. Gray, Professor of Engineering Emeritus, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Dr. Laurence Nagel, CEO Omega Enterprises, PhD from UC Berkeley EECS, and former senior manager at Bell Laboratories (oral history forthcoming). (Written version of Berkeley Lightning.)

Episode 3. Berkeley After Dark

Written and produced by interviewer Shanna Farrell, UC Berkeley Oral History Center

“What Alice Waters and the Chez Panisse team did was probably the most radical gesture in restaurants and cooking in America in the last century. It’s important that it happened in Berkeley.” — Chef Christopher Lee

Chez Panisse
Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley

Berkeley After Dark is about the connection between the history of farm-to-table eating and the campus community. UC Berkeley alum Alice Waters helped pioneer the concept of eating local, seasonal, and organic food at her restaurant, Chez Panisse, located just a few blocks from campus on Shattuck Avenue. This grew out of her combined love of feeding people and political activism, and evolved into a culinary revolution. And it couldn’t have happened without UC Berkeley. The intertwined history between campus and the community gave Chez Panisse an audience, and a workforce, creating a symbiotic relationship.

This episode includes audio from the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library, including Christopher Lee, Narsai David, and Dylan O’Brien. Voiceover of Marion Cunningham’s interview by Amanda Tewes and Paul Bertolli’s interview by John Fragola. Supplemental interviews with Chris Ying. (Written version of Berkeley After Dark.)

 

Over the decades, the Oral History Center has conducted 4,000 interviews on almost every topic imaginable. As part of UC Berkeley’s commitment to open access, the transcripts are available to researchers and the public at no cost, and almost all of the transcripts are available online. Search our vast collection.


OHC Director’s Column, May 2019

Every April, as the school year is fast coming to a close, the Oral History Center hosts its very own commencement ceremony. For seven years running, we have produced this event to celebrate the oral history class of that year — meaning we thank and honor those people whose interviews were completed in the previous year. The Oral History Class of 2019 numbered some 111 individuals who participated in a number of oral history projects ranging from environmental regulation and wine growing to philanthropy and scientific discovery to opera and an army base.

This very special event gives us an opportunity to reflect on what we do — the meaning of oral history to us, to our narrators, and to the community at large. This year we were thinking about how oral histories “make history” in several ways: The interviews, once recorded and made available to the public, provide the raw material that is then used for the making of historical narratives by historians, journalists, students, you name it; the interviews offer historical narratives and analysis on their own, and thus they are one account of history, maybe the best first draft of history; and, perhaps most importantly, those we interview have already made history by living their lives — by building corporations, participating in social movements, creating works of art, running for political office, serving in the military, mentoring students . . . by making wine! History happens — and has happened — but through the work of the Oral History Center, and the generous and essential contributions of our narrators, history is made.

OHC Class of 2019 in front of Doe Library
Sixteen of our Oral History Center Class of 2019 joined us in person for our event. From left to right: Marian Starr, Gary Patton, Jeanne Rose, Stephan Gehrett, John Prausnitz, Anne Rockwell, Keith Mather, Howard Friesen, Howard DeNike, Paul Miller, Roger Hall, Jerry Ornelas, Rob Edwards, Judy Irving, Jesse Choper, Laurence Nagel (Photo by J. Pierre Carrillo for the UC Berkeley Library)

In advance of the event, I asked my colleagues for some examples of moments from their interviews when history was made — when something was told that seemed new to the historical record or in some way demanded a rethinking of it; when a narrator provided an account of a previously unrecognized contribution made — really any example of when history was made.

Amanda Tewes, in her first interview for the center, interviewed Jeanne Rose, who joined us the for event, which was held on this year on Thursday, April 25. Jeanne is a remarkable woman who, in her interview, provided deep insight into something that most people think they know well: the 1960s counterculture. In her telling, we learn of a loose-knit group who were the first 100 to populate the Haight-Ashbury, their deep connections to Big Sur, and how they began to change history with the “Summer of Love” in 1967. We further learn that 60s counterculture didn’t die at the infamous and bloody Altamont concert (which she attended) as the majority of her interview covers the 1970s and beyond when she became an influential herbalist and aromatherapist. With Jeanne Rose, the ideals and the spirit of the 60s live on. Jeanne Rose made history.

PHotos
Our wonderful student workers helped the event run smoothly! From left to right:
Maggie Deng, Carla Palassian, Gurshaant Bassi, Tasnima Naoshin, Aamna Haq, Laurel Fujii, Ben Satzman. Not pictured: Yarelly Bonilla-Leon, Cindy Jin, KD Mireles, Mason Osberg.(Photo by J.Pierre Carrillo for the UC Berkeley Library)

Todd Holmes, a historian with the Center since 2016, has created a remarkable project documenting the origins of the academic field of Chicano/a Studies, and for this he interviewed Ed Escobar, an Arizona State professor. In his oral history, Escobar tells how he pioneered some of the earliest Latino history courses — out of necessity because there were none. Teaching on the East Coast and then the midwest he learned that the Mexican American experience did not resonate like it did in California. But the Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican did. So he put together one of the first Latino history classes on those regions, expanding the definition of Latino and Latino studies in the process. Ed Escobar made history.

 

Hard bound books and event programs
The blue books are bound versions of our oral histories, which are housed in The Bancroft Library and also available online through our website. They are pictured with our event program, which includes the names of all 111 of our Class of 2019 narrators. (Photo by J.Pierre Carrillo for the UC Berkeley Library)

We have been fortunate to partner with the East Bay Regional Park District for a few years now and we’ve done a few dozen interviews already — covering many different topics from ranching to public education. Shanna Farrell, who is the project director and lead interviewer, shared with me a moment in her interview with Lawson Sakai. Sakai’s parents were from Japan, so in World War II, his family left the mandated West Coast exclusion area to avoid internment, ultimately settling in Colorado. They returned to California and to farming after the war, but with no money and an unwelcoming attitude of locals, this wasn’t easy. Enter Driscoll Farms, which is a larger grower of fruits today. Immediately after the war, they offered the returning Japanese-Americans a good deal, which included a 50/50 split on profits from the strawberry harvest. According to Sakai, this helped many families back on their feet after the war, allowing them to earn enough money to buy their own farms and thus independence. Shanna said, “I scoured my food history books and didn’t find any information about this. I felt like I had stumbled upon a hidden historical gem.” Lawson Sakai made history.

This past year we renewed our long-running partnership with the Sierra Club to document the organization’s history, and Roger Eardley-Pryor conducted two interviews this year, one with former president Michele Perrault. Roger recalled for me how this interview provides a unique and personal window into the international dimensions of environmentalism. Perrault told stories of traveling to the Soviet Union, China, and India in the early 1990s where she and her colleagues networked with proto-environmental groups, teaching them how to organize and what the key issues were. Their work resulted in, among other things, the creation of some of the first nature preserves in those countries and the establishment of the robust network that is in place today. Michele Perrault made history.

OHC event in Morrison Library
Elaine Tennant, Director of The Bancroft Library, welcomes our Class of 2019 and special guests to the commencement, which took place in the beautiful Morrison Library. (Photo by J.Pierre Carrillo for the UC Berkeley Library)

In the coming weeks and months, we will release the oral histories that are not already posted online. This past year we conducted at least 500 hours of new interviews and we are deeply grateful for the support of numerous individuals and institutions for making this work possible. Soon we will begin to post the names of these sponsors on our website so you can thank them too. In the meantime, enjoy the photos and our video from the commencement, highlighting interviews from the Oral History Center Class of 2019.

Our 10-minute video features highlights from the interviews of all of the narrators who were able to attend commencement, plus some bonus interviews. Our remarkable narrators share their insights about nature, science, art, the university, wine making, and more.

Martin Meeker, Charles B. Faulhaber Director, Oral History Center, UC Berkeley


Coastal Tales: The Long Struggle to Preserve California’s Coast – New Podcast Just Launched!

by Todd Holmes

“The true history of the Coastal Commission is what you don’t see, namely the developments along the coast the agency either denied or significantly scaled back.”

In 1972, the citizens of California voted overwhelmingly to create a new agency charged with regulating all development along the state’s coastline, an agency that became known as the California Coastal Commission. For nearly 50 years, the Commission has worked with coastal communities to shape development along California’s shore, efforts guided by the dual aims of environmental protection and public access. It is often said that the true history of the Coastal Commission is what you don’t see, namely the developments along the coast the agency either denied or significantly scaled back. This “unseen” history stands at the heart of the 15-episode podcast, Coastal Tales: The Long Struggle to Preserve California’s Coast, a production of the Oral History Center at UC Berkeley in partnership with the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University. We’ve just launched the pilot episode about saving Lighthouse Point in Santa Cruz, and the rest of the podcast is slated to be released in the fall of 2020.

Title slide
Saving Lighthouse Point: The Pilot Podcast for the Coastal Tales Series

The pilot episode, “Saving Lighthouse Point,” tells the story of the fight in Santa Cruz during the early 1970s against massive development that sought to turn one of the city’s last open parcels of coastal land into a bustling tourist and business hub. Bolstered by the creation of the Coastal Commission, the citizens of Santa Cruz organized and challenged the city council’s support of the project, ultimately saving Lighthouse Point. The successful campaign not only came to stand as a testament to the Coastal Commission and its influence in many coastal communities, but also would prove a watershed moment in the history of Santa Cruz.

Each episode of the podcast will feature a specific site on the state’s coastline and detail the story of a proposed development that, if not for the Coastal Commission, would have significantly altered those sites and communities forever. Led by Todd Holmes, a historian at the Oral History Center and affiliated scholar with Stanford’s Bill Lane Center, the podcast draws on oral history interviews currently underway with former staff and commissioners of the agency, as well as community activists closely involved with the Commission over the decades. The project also draws on Holmes’ research conducted with the California Coastal Commission Project, which the Bill Lane Center initiated in 2014. When complete, the 15 episodes of Coastal Tales will be housed on a dedicated website that will feature the full transcripts of the interviews along with additional information and resources on the history of the Commission. The public will also eventually be able to access the episodes at the sites themselves with the scan of a QR code.

If you’d like to learn more about this project, please contact Todd Holmes at todd.holmes@berkeley.edu or 510-666-3687. You can also support our future episodes by writing California Coastal Commission in the special instructions section of the donation form.

Listen to the pilot episode, read the oral histories, and and be sure to stay tuned for more information!


Book Review: From Coors to California: David Sickler and The New Working Class

Captured in part through the Oral History Center’s interview of Sickler, the labor activist’s winning personality and creative intelligence is evident throughout all the essays.

By Lisa Rubens, Oral History Center Historian and Academic Specialist, Emerita

At 19 David Sickler, with ambitions to run his own horse ranch, went to work for Coors Brewing Company. It was the best-paying job he could find in his hometown of Golden, Colorado. But the working conditions there were so deplorable, the control William and Joseph Coors had over the lives of their workers so complete—and as Dave would learn over the government of Colorado and some of the most powerful right-wing institutions in the nation—that David committed himself to the labor movement, first as a union shop steward and then as head of the Brewery Workers Local 336. He led a strike against Coors in l977 and organized a national boycott of the beer that lasted ten years. This catapulted him into the leadership of the AFL-CIO and some of the most critical labor struggles from the l970s through his retirement in 2015.

Boycott Coors Non Union

Newly published by UCLA’s Center for Labor Research and Education, From Coors to California: David Sickler and The New Working Class is a collection of six essays written by scholars and labor activists that focus on key industries and constituencies Sickler targeted and the strategies he employed during his nearly fifty year career as a labor organizer and leader. The book is based substantially on an oral history that I conducted for the Oral History Center in 2014: David Sickler: A Lifetime as Labor Organizer, AFL-CIO Leader and Champion of Immigrant Workers.

An essay on the Coors strike discusses how Sickler became close friends with the San Francisco gay-rights activist Howard Wallace, having determined that gay bars in the City—and Latinx communities in Los Angeles—had the highest consumption of Coors beer in the country. They were able to stop the sale of Coors in most bars and kept distributors from handling Coors—a strategy replicated throughout the country.  Another essay on immigrant worker organizing shows how Sickler brought those who most trade unions considered threats to their movement, and who had been excluded, into unions and ultimately into the political mainstream of California. This took a lot of commitment, courage, and finesse. A new generation of Latinx leaders emerged from campaigns against California’s rabid anti-immigrant and labor Propositions l87 and 226. When longtime labor activist and California state assemblyman Antonio Villaraigosa was elected mayor of Los Angeles in 2005—the first Latino mayor—he appointed Sickler as his senior labor advisor and commissioner for the powerful public works department. Other essays examine the role Sickler played coordinating political strategies of various unions and establishing labor think tanks and educational programs.

David Sickler
David Sickler

Sickler’s winning personality and creative intelligence is evident throughout all the essays. The book will serve as a case study for labor organizing: already at book parties held at several labor centers around the country, a separate session has been convened for union representatives. There is also a useful bibliography and photographs that chronicle the narratives. As William Coors often repeated, one of the biggest mistakes he made was hiring David Sickler. As the oral history and this new book demonstrate, David Sickler was the better for it and so has been the history of the labor movement and social justice.