OHC Director’s Column – February 2019

From the Oral History Center Director:

David Pearson, CEO of the winery Opus One, said it something like this: Burgundy and Bordeaux have a deserved reputation for making some pretty good wines, but what sets these two French wine regions apart from and above the rest are their storied histories of making quality wine for generation upon generation. The wine itself is not only improved because of years of trial and error but the meaning of the wine is deepened because of the value placed on it by the people who have made and drunk it over hundreds of years. Pearson’s explanation was one of the highlights, for me, of the voices heard at the recent annual meeting of Napa Valley Vintners (NVV). I was invited to attend because we at OHC have partnered with the Vintners to do an oral history project documenting the history of the organization on the occasion of their 75th anniversary this year.

The line-up of historic wines at the Vintner’s 75th anniversary meeting

Pearson’s point was not lost on the several hundred vintners and others associated with Napa wine at the January 17th meeting. With over 150 years of continuous winemaking in the valley, many vintners in Napa are fully embracing the multiple benefits that come from knowing one’s history: from appreciating the moments of triumph to acknowledging and correcting one’s errors, from learning something new (and retaining it) during every vintage to recognizing that history might add literal market value to the wine. These points were brought to life during the reception that followed in which most every vintner brought from their own cellars Napa wines new and old to be shared. Seeing the lineup of hundreds of bottles produced over nearly 75 years provided ample evidence of the continuity of this history. But having the opportunity to taste a 1958 Charles Krug cabernet or a 1964 Inglenook cabernet (the last year it was produced by the legendary John Daniel, Jr.), was a great thrill as the wines have aged gracefully, wearing their decades in the bottle like badges of honor. You could taste the history.

The Oral History Center played a key role in what I think was another highlight of the event. Our very own David Dunham produced a video to open the proceedings: Just after the lights went down in the auditorium, a deeply accented Italian-American voice bursts from the speakers and the audience quickly goes silent, and listens. The voice is of Louis M. Martini, the famed California-by-way-of-Genova winemaker who established his winery in 1922 (yes, in the middle of Prohibition). Martini also was a founder of NVV and in this clip, from an interview conducted by OHC in the late 1960s, he recalls the impetus to establish the organization: “To eat and drink!” In the video, Martini is followed by another NVV founder, Robert Mondavi, who recounts how their agenda expanded into sharing winemaking best practices, dealing with government regulation, and promoting Napa Valley around the globe. Sitting in the middle of that auditorium, I was captivated by the voices on the screen, and pleased that the assembled crowd appeared to be soaking it up too. And the message they heard was that great things are possible when sometimes very independent-minded people decide to throw in together, recognize common purpose, and forge ahead with a shared belief in the value of what they are doing.

NVV CEO Linda Reiff, project coordinator Heather Butler Singer, OHC Director Martin Meeker

These wine industry interviews recorded as many as 50 years ago are now being augmented by a new effort by the Oral History Center to document the history of the California wine industry. One part of this broader effort is a project of a dozen interviews looking at the history of NVV but I hope that we can build a bigger, broader project as well. As I conduct these interviews, it is not difficult to think about the role of the interviewer too. I am thankful that Ruth Teiser, the woman who conducted most of those early wine history interviews, saw the value of this topic and took the considerable time needed to ask the questions and capture the voices of these key figures. Most of her narrators are now gone but they still speak to our generation, and generations to come.

To help document this long, fascinating, and, yes, important history, we are actively seeking partners and sponsors, ideas and information. So, if this project sounds interesting to you and you want to help us make it happen, please contact me. Let’s sit down over a glass of wine and talk about the remarkable history of wine in California and the promise that lies ahead.

Martin Meeker, Charles B. Faulhaber Director


OHC Director’s Column – January 2019

From the Oral History Center Director:

Paul “Pete” Bancroft III

Paul “Pete” Bancroft, III, a 1951 graduate of Yale, a pioneer in venture capital, and the eldest great-grandson of Bancroft Library founder Hubert Howe Bancroft, died peacefully in his sleep on January 3, 2019, at the age of 88.

We at The Bancroft Library’s Oral History Center are extremely grateful for his support of over the years. The word “support,” however, is wholly inadequate to capture what he did for oral history at Berkeley. Pete Bancroft was, in fact, its greatest single benefactor in the 65-year history of our office.

Pete’s first major engagement with the Oral History Center (or, as we were known at the time, the Regional Oral History Office) began around 2007 with discussions about a possible oral history project documenting the history of venture capital in the Bay Area. Not only did Pete step forward to sponsor the project, he played a critical role in helping to articulate the major themes and issues to be covered in the interviews. He also created an advisory committee of scholars and leaders in the field that gave the project instant credibility and served on that committee; and he reached out personally to many of the key players whom we wished to interview, setting forth the goals of the project and convincing those who might have been reluctant to participate. Sally Hughes, who was the project director and interviewer for these oral histories, wrote to me upon learning of Pete’s death: “As the interviewer for the Center’s venture capital project, I could not have asked for a better sponsor in organizing, completely funding, and advising the project every step of the way. In his warm and supportive manner, he made it clear that we were a partnership in trying to create the best possible series of interviews on the foundational era of venture capital. It was a subject dear to his heart as one of its early participants.” When completed, the project resulted in 19 lengthy oral history interviews with the pioneers of venture capital, including Franklin “Pitch” Johnson, Art Rock, Reid Dennis, Tom Perkins, Don Lucas, Don Valentine, Bill Draper, Bill Bowes, and Pete himself. In addition, Pete facilitated the donation of another group of interviews already conducted by the National Venture Capital Association. Pete Bancroft played a crucial role in creating this “must read” resource for anyone interested in the history of venture capital.

The years around the financial crisis of 2008 were difficult ones for this office. In addition to waning donations and external support, several retirements left us greatly understaffed. For the few of us remaining, myself included, there was a nervously voiced worry that the fifty-plus year tradition of oral history at Berkeley might be reaching an end. In the wake of these worries, Pete was conspiring behind the scenes to make certain that oral history would continue at Berkeley. He was a good friend of long-time Bancroft Library director Charles Faulhaber. When Faulhaber retired in 2011, Pete paid tribute to his friend’s leadership of Bancroft by creating the Charles B. Faulhaber Endowment, whose income was to be dedicated to the oral history program. Pete had only one request: that the name of the office be changed. Happily, the staff of the center recognized that we had long ago outgrown the “regional” in our former name and readily embraced the new moniker of the “Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library.”

Other than the name change, Pete asked for nothing in return for creating the Faulhaber endowment, which was built with his donations and those of many of his friends and venture capital colleagues. This endowment has been critical to the recent success of this office. Because only one of eight full-time staff positions, and none of the related costs of conducting interviews (equipment, transcription, travel), is paid for by the university, all of our projects require external funding. However, project funds can only support project-related activities and there is a lot more that we do — and want to do — than just conducting interviews, transcribing them, and editing them. Pete Bancroft’s “Charles Faulhaber Endowment” allows the Oral History Center to do so much more: we can host formal and informal training for those who want to learn oral history methodology from our highly-skilled team of historians; we can now create interpretative materials based on the interviews that we conduct, including, now, three seasons of our in-depth podcast series, “The Berkeley Remix”; and, perhaps most importantly, the Faulhaber endowment allows us to conduct research and development in support of new projects. We are fortunate to have a smart, ambitious, and creative group of oral historians who come up with potentially important project ideas; this endowment gives us the ability to pursue those ideas by doing background research, conducting pilot interviews, and seeking funding to make these ideas a reality. Thus, Pete Bancroft continued his career in venture capital with the Oral History Center: by providing perpetual seed funding, he has established a lasting legacy of innovation, experimentation, and entrepreneurship among the publicly-engaged scholars at the center!

In his final months of life, Pete Bancroft continued to think about and look after his friends, including the Oral History Center. Charles Faulhaber, returning the honor given to him by Pete, created the “Pete Bancroft Endowment for the Oral History Center,” with an initial gift from Pitch Johnson and additional gifts from many of the same philanthropists who supported the earlier one as well as his ‘Hill Billies’ campmates at the Bohemian Club. And like the Faulhaber endowment, this one will support the ongoing work on the Oral History Center. In a touching note just after Pete’s passing, Faulhaber let me know that Pete was thinking of us until the end, making a major donation to the endowment in the final weeks of his life. With this news, we sadly bid farewell to an esteemed and gracious benefactor — our angel investor.

Martin Meeker, Charles B. Faulhaber Director of the Oral History Center


New Release Oral History: Phil Freese, Innovator and Leader in the Practice of Winegrowing

The Oral History Center is pleased to release a new life history interview with leading winegrower Phil Freese.

Philip Freese is a co-founder and co-owner of Vilafonté, a South African winery that produces varietal red wine. Freese was born in 1945 in Indiana. He was educated at Purdue University (BS) and University of California Davis (PhD) where he studied biochemistry. He left the field of biochemistry to pursue a career in the wine industry in 1978, first working as vineyard manager for a CalPlans vineyard in Napa County and then, beginning in 1982, as a winegrower for Robert Mondavi, eventually becoming Vice President of Winegrowing. In the 1990s he started both a wine consulting firm, Winegrow, and, with his wife winemaker Zelma Long, the winery Vilafonté in South Africa.

Phil Freese in South Africa

In this interview, Freese discusses the following topics: upbringing and education in science; early career as a biochemist; the evolution of the California wine industry from the 1970s through the 1990s, with a special focus on Napa Valley and viticulture; the multiple facets of viticultural practice and research, including the definition of “winegrowing”; the North Coast Viticultural Research Group; Robert Mondavi Winery in the 1980s and 1990s; vineyard consulting practices; the wine industry in South Africa from the 1990s through the 2010s; and Vilafonté Winery in South Africa.

This interview will be engaging to anyone interested in wine from the lens of science, farming, or just sheer pleasure. Freese was one of the American pioneers of the idea of winegrowing, or the notion that wine is made primarily in the vineyard, less so in the cellar — that to make good wine, what you need first and foremost is quality grapes. So, Freese discusses in great detail the history of learning better viticultural practices from irrigation to vine canopy management.

Martin Meeker, Oral History Center


New Release Oral History: Marshall Krause, ACLU of Northern California Attorney and Civil Liberties Advocate

The Oral History Center is pleased to release our life history interview with famed civil liberties lawyer, Marshall Krause.

Marshall Krause served as lead attorney for the ACLU of Northern California from 1960 through 1968 and subsequently served as an attorney in private practice where he continued to work civil liberties cases. Krause attended UCLA as an undergraduate and graduated from Boalt Hall, UC Berkeley School of Law after which he clerked for Judge William Denman and Justice Phil Gibson.

Marshall Krause with a Ron Boise "Kama Sutra" sculpture
Marshall Krause with a Ron Boise “Kama Sutra” sculpture

In this oral history, Mr. Krause discusses: his upbringing and education, including his time at Boalt Hall; clerkships with judges Denman and Gibson and how those experiences influenced his progressive political outlook; his tenure as ACLU staff attorney, including many of the cases he worked; his experiences arguing several cases before the United States Supreme Court; his perspective of the San Francisco counterculture of the 1960s; and his professional and legal career after leaving ACLU in 1968, which included arguing additional cases before the US Supreme Court.

This oral history is significant for any number of reasons, but it is especially worthwhile for anyone interested in the current state of battles around the freedom of speech — from obscenity through political speech — and how these were decided in the courts in decades past, establishing the precedents under which we live today.

Martin Meeker


New Oral History: MaryAnn Graf, “The Life of a Wine Industry Trailblazer”

We are pleased to release our oral history interview with MaryAnn Graf. MaryAnn Graf was the first woman to graduate the University of California Davis in Food Science with a specialization in Enology, which she did in 1965. She went on to work for commercial wine operations such as Gibson and United Vintners before being hired as winemaker for Simi Winery in 1973.

After leaving Simi, she established with Marty Bannister the company Vinquiry, which provided laboratory and wine consulting services to wineries throughout California. She retired from Vinquiry in 2003. In this oral history, Graf discusses her upbringing in California’s Central Valley, her undergraduate education at UC Davis, her early jobs formulating flavored wines, her move into varietal wines at Simi and work with leaders including André Tchelistcheff, and her establishing a consulting wine laboratory. She also discusses her unique position as a woman in the wine industry at a time in which most every job was dominated by men.

This interview with MaryAnn Graf represents just our most recent interview on the California wine industry, which has been a major focus of the Oral History Center for many decades. We are excited to report that more fascinating interviews in this area are currently in production and we are actively seeking partners who might help us by sponsoring more interviews. Please contact OHC director Martin Meeker for more information: mmeeker@library.berkeley.edu


Out from the Archives: Rosalind Wiener Wyman

Out from the Archives: Rosalind Wiener Wyman

“They couldn’t believe that I could win,” Rosalind Wiener Wyman remembered about her unexpected election to the Los Angeles City Council in 1953.  Over the course of several interviews in 1977 and 1978, Wiener Wyman shared her personal and political triumphs and losses, which culminated in her oral history, “It’s a Girl”: Three Terms on the Los Angeles City Council, 1953-1965; Three Decades in the Democratic Party, 1948-1978.  Wiener Wyman’s memories as a woman politician at midcentury are part of the Oral History Center’s California Women Political Leaders Oral History Project, which documented “California women who became active in politics during the years between the passage of the women’s suffrage amendment and the…feminist movement.”

Wiener Wyman came by her passion for politics honestly.  Speaking of her parents, she reflected, “I always felt their activities and interest in politics was steeped in me. In my baby book, at two, I’m looking up at a picture of FDR [Franklin Delano Roosevelt]. Most kids in their baby book are not looking at posters of FDR.”

Rosalind Wiener Wyman as the youngest member of the Los Angeles City Council

While a student at the University of Southern California, Wiener Wyman and the campus Democratic Club  worked on Harry Truman’s 1948 campaign. But her political work began in earnest when she met her “heroine,” Helen Gahagan Douglas, then a member of Congress representing California and running an ultimately unsuccessful campaign for Senate in 1950.  Wiener Wyman was disappointed in Gahagan Douglas’s showing on the campaign trail and confronted her about it. Gahagan Douglas replied, “ ‘If you know so much about a campaign, here, here’s a card. Come see this lady and get into my campaign.’ ” Wiener Wyman took up the challenge and threw herself into this work, hanging posters and driving Gahagan Douglas to her campaign stops.  Laughing, Wiener Wyman recalled, “I remember once changing my hose in the car with her in a parade. She took mine and I took hers. Crazy things a woman candidate worries about.”

Wiener Wyman began her own political career fresh out of college.  In 1953, she ran a grassroots campaign for Los Angeles City Council that relied solely upon door-to-door conversations with her constituents, without the benefit of media coverage or traditional advertising.  Her victory over established, male candidates was such a surprise that she recalls from the night of the election:

As the bulletins were handed to [Joe] Micchice, [a local radio announcer], he said, “I’m sure that the votes are on the wrong name.”  So, he, during the night, would give my vote to Nash. Finally he put his hand over the mike–we have this on a record which is so wonderful–and he said, “Is this bulletin right?”  Or, “Who the hell is Wiener?”

After a runoff election, Wiener Wyman came out on top.  Of this dark horse winner, the Los Angeles Times declared, “It’s a girl!”

Wiener Wyman stood out as the youngest member and only woman on the Los Angeles City Council from 1953 to 1965.  Notably, Wiener Wyman did not see herself as a victim of gender discrimination; rather, she saw her break with other council members in terms of age and experience.  This, despite the fact that other city council members voted to not allow her personal leave to enjoy her honeymoon. Additionally, Wiener Wyman had to contend with the fact that “the only toilet was off the council chambers and that was for the men.”  She recalled, “That became an incredible issue that got around town. Where was I going to go to the bathroom? I thought I would die over that!”

During her time in office, Wiener Wyman famously led the charge to entice the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles, making it the first Major League Baseball team west of the Mississippi River.  Although the displacement of Mexican American families from Chavez Ravine and the building of Dodgers Stadium was controversial then and now, Wiener Wyman defended her support for this civic boosterism and the prestige it brought to Los Angeles.  However, she conceded of her leadership on this fight: “it probably cost me some of my popularity.”

Beyond her twelve years in elected office, Wiener Wyman’s political legacy perhaps best lies in her fundraising efforts for other Democratic candidates.  During one memorable event in the backyard of her Los Angeles home, Wiener Wyman and her husband, Eugene Wyman, hosted a dinner for Democratic congressional candidates and charged $5,000 a couple, an unthinkable sum in 1972.

Rosalind Wiener Wyman’s life and career point to the many ways in which California women have and continue to engage in political life, as well as the rich collection of political history at the Oral History Center.  As we approach the hundredth anniversary of women’s suffrage, documenting the experiences of these women political leaders will become all the more important.

Amanda Tewes, Interviewer/Historian


From the Director: Oral History and the Berkeley Tradition

From the Director: Oral History and the Berkeley Tradition

On the evening of Thursday April 26th, the staff of the Oral History Center hosted our annual event in which we take the opportunity to express our gratitude to our remarkable narrators and our generous sponsors. I’ll also usually say a few words about the center and provide an overview of the scale of the work that we do for the benefit of those who might only know it just from the vantage point of being interviewed. Preparing my remarks was easy this year because 2018 happens to be a pretty special year at Berkeley: it marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of the university! What follows is an edited version of my remarks:

This evening I want to spend a few minutes sharing my thoughts on the essential role that this oral history program has played in this history of this university. See, the University of California was founded on March 23, 1868, just a little over 150 years ago. And while what we now know and love as the Oral History Center wasn’t established for another 90 years, in some very important ways, this program has been with the university since the beginning:  it has been with the university through the first and second-hand experiences of those who built the university into what it is today, transmitted over the past 64 years through recordings now archived in the Bancroft Library.

Physicist Raymond Thayer Birge, from an interview completed in 1960, conveys his knowledge of the university’s earliest years from his departmental perch: “The Department of Physics is very old. It goes back to John Le Conte, the first man appointed to the faculty of the original University. He was appointed professor of physics, he was also acting president for those first two or three years. Then later on, I after we had had two or three presidents; he was president, I think for five years, Then he got fired, although that doesn’t appear on the public record, but he actually did. [But] he remained [on faculty] until I think 1891, when he died; and he was the first member of the original faculty to die, as well as being the first one to be appointed.”

The Faculty Club, designed by famed architect Bernard Maybeck, is a treasured institution on campus. In our 1962 interview with Leon Richardson, we get a first-hand account of its founding: “Well, I was one of the founders of the Faculty Club, and I can tell you just how it began. Three or four of us saw a little (tumbled down … unoccupied) cottage on the southern rim of the campus and we said among ourselves, ‘Couldn’t we rent one of those cottages, maybe for $5 a month and then hire a caterer to come and give a luncheon to us five days a week?’ Anyway, we hired the cottage and got the caterer and it went well. From that we began to expand and expanded until the day came when we got the regents to build us a clubhouse on the campus with Maybeck as the architect.” In another passage from the Richardson interview, we learn Jane Sather gave a considerable sum to pay for the bells of Sather Tower but when money was left over, the decision was made to build the structure that has welcomed visitors to campus since 1910, now called “Sather Gate.”

Faculty Club, University of California Berkeley

William Dennes, who arrived on campus as a junior professor of philosophy in 1915, many decades later recalls what he found: “The campus was mostly like a neglected ranch: foxtail and other dried grass in August, when the term then began, ragged and for the most part not gardened, [but there was] an ivy bed around California Hall. And Benjamin Ide Wheeler was very concerned that the boys and girls shouldn’t make paths across his ivy bed!”

Although the International House movement began in New York City, Berkeley established the second house in the country and our I-House remains a lively center of intercultural exchange today. In a 1969 oral history, Harry Edmonds offers his recollections: “One frosty morning in September, 1909, I was going up the steps of the Columbia Library … when I met a Chinese student coming down. I said, ‘Good morning. ‘ As I passed on, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that he had stopped. So I stopped and went back to him. He said, ‘Thank you for speaking to me. I’ve been in New York three weeks, and you are the first person who has spoken to me’ … I went on about my errand but had no sooner gotten around back of the library that I realized something extraordinary had happened. Here was a fellow, this student, who had come from the other side of the world, … he had been here for three weeks, and no one had spoken to him. What a tragedy. I retraced my steps to find him to see if I could be of some help, but he had vanished in the crowd. That evening when I went home, I told my wife of my experience. She asked if I couldn’t ‘do something about it.’” Before too long, Edmonds played an instrumental role in founding the International House movement.

I could go on quoting from interviews describing the rise of the Free Speech Movement and Ethnic Studies on campus, examinations of the Loyalty Oath and the creation of the several new campuses of the UC System, and, yes, there is a very good account of the founding of the Oral History Center, but I’ll stop here. These quotes were drawn from much longer oral histories which are just an exceedingly small sample of the 4000 interviews in our collection that document not only the history of this university but also the region, the state, and frankly, the world.

So what is to be gained from these interviews? Are they just colorful anecdotes or do they offer something greater?

If you get the chance to listen to the interviews, the cadence of the speech found in the oral histories is strikingly different today, as often is the vocabulary. We are in the process of digitizing these interviews, so in the years to come you’ll be able to listen to their words, how they spoke those words, and begin to explore how we might gain new understandings through voice and affect. These interviews also provide information not readily available in the public record, as hinted at in Birge’s recollection of John LeConte’s career challenges. Moreover, they offer detailed accounts of everyday life — the kinds of things that provide texture to our understanding of the past but might be ephemeral and thus exist only in our memories, otherwise disappearing when we do too and not documented in writing. They reveal the moments of inspiration behind the ideas, institutions, and innovations of the university; they reveal origins often shrouded in the mystery of epiphany and immediate experience. These interviews give experts the opportunity to share their ideas, discoveries, and challenges in everyday language, thus giving non-experts the opportunity to learn about complex and fascinating things outside of jargon-filled publications, for example. And, finally, they tell us just how Sather Gate came to be! 

In 2018, 150 years since the University of California was established, I encourage you to dig into our collections and read the first person accounts of how and why Berkeley became one of the greatest universities in the world.

Martin Meeker, Charles B. Faulhaber Director of the Oral History Center


Checking in with Summer Institute Alum Marc Robinson

Checking-in with Summer Institute Alum Marc Robinson

When Marc Robinson traveled from Spokane, Washington to Berkeley, California in August 2017, it was in the name of narrative history. He came to the Advanced Oral History Summer Institute to work on his project about black student activism in the late 1960s, which was somewhere between dissertation and manuscript. He had done some interviews while earning a PhD in American Studies from Washington State University, but felt like he was just scratching the surface. Like many who understand the value of oral history in doing contemporary history, he wanted to talk to more people, get a broader range of narratives, and explore the way that some of the stories he was recording contradicted archival documents.

Marc Robinson, Summer Institute alum and, as of fall 2018, CSU San Bernardino professor

Robinson’s doctoral research was about student activism on campuses in the Northwest, particularly around those who were in the Black Student Union during a time of social and political unrest in the 1960s. He focused on two campuses, one urban — the University of Washington — and one rural — Washington State University. After doing several interviews with students who were active there, Robinson wanted to broaden his cohort of narrators to include not only black students, but their allies and the larger community of people connected to the Black Student Union, but were not students themselves.

He came to the Summer Institute looking for more training in longform life history interviews and left the program thinking deeply about what this type of interview can really provide to a researcher. “Narratives aren’t really telling the Truth, but their recollection of what happened as it pertains to them,” he says. He found that some of the narratives that he had collected challenged the materials he had found in the archives, which made him see interviewing as an opportunity to understand the complexity of memories. The program taught him to expect this complexity and see oral history as having transformative power. Another takeaway? The importance of the tech side of interviewing. “It made me think more about headphones, mics, the quality of sound, and knowing your equipment,” he says.

Since his time in Berkeley, Robinson was hired for a tenure track faculty job in the History Department at Cal State University San Bernardino (congratulations, Marc!), where he’ll start in the fall of 2018. He plans to continue working on his project and is interested in getting his students involved in the interviewing process. “It can be a really valuable teaching tool,” he says. He hopes to get his students involved in projects that illuminate local history, current events, and the community, something that Cal State San Bernardino has a track record of.

Please join us in congratulating Robinson on his new job! Look out for his book, which is on track to be out by 2020. We’re excited to see what he learns from his next round of interviews and what they can teach us about the times we are living in now.

Interested in learning more about Robinson? About the SI or joining us in 2018?

Follow him on Twitter @MarcARobinson1, and apply for the SI here.


Remembering Gene Brucker (1924-2017) and the Department of History Oral History Project

Remembering Gene Brucker (1924-2017) and the Department of History Oral History Project

We note with sorrow the passing in July of Professor Emeritus Gene Brucker, historian of Renaissance Florence, one of our esteemed oral history narrators, and the instigator and longtime supporter of our oral history series on the Department of History at Berkeley.

The oral history series had its beginning in 1995, when Gene was designated as the Faculty Research Lecturer. Instead of focusing his lecture on Renaissance Florence, he turned his historian’s eye on Berkeley, on his own department, where he had arrived in 1954 in time to participate in its postwar flowering into one of the most distinguished history programs in the US. In his research he found few remaining written records; surprisingly, the department had discarded a great deal of its own history. He turned to informal interviews with his colleagues to develop his lecture. Later discussion with his friend Carroll Brentano, historian of the University of California and wife of Gene’s colleague, Robert Brentano, led to the idea for an oral history project under the auspices of the Regional Oral History Office, predecessor to OHC. I was fortunate to work with them as the project director and interviewer. For over a decade Gene and Carroll served as project advisors. They convinced their colleagues to themselves become subjects of historical research, and they facilitated the funding that made the project possible.  

Gene Brucker

Among our wealth of oral histories on the University of California, OHC’s series on the Department of History at Berkeley stands out. With lengthy biographical oral histories of nineteen professors of European, American, and Asian history, and one faculty wife, all of whom came to Berkeley in the late 1940s to the early 1970s, it the most extensive of our several series on university departments. And thanks in great part to the vision of Gene Brucker, the interviews are extensive in scope as well: along with a deep dive into the personal background, education, and scholarly trajectories of each narrator, they discuss postwar departmental history in some detail, including governance, key hiring and promotion decisions, curriculum and teaching. And they examine Berkeley’s academic culture, the informal and formal associations and interactions that invariably affect scholarship. They also explore the involvement, often intense in this postwar generation, in broader campus governance and major campus controversies from the loyalty oath, free speech, and antiwar protests to the belated hiring of women faculty in the 1970s.

Having contributed so much to the project, Gene Brucker, a man who really did not like to talk about himself, finally agreed, reluctantly, to record an oral history in 2002. I met with him for eleven sessions, documenting his journey from farm boy in Cropsey, Illinois—via the University of Illinois, Oxford, Princeton, and the Florentine archives—to a career as a distinguished historian of Florence and preeminent citizen of the Berkeley campus. Like others in the series, it is replete with insights into academic culture, the historians’ craft, and the postwar years of growth and tumult on the Berkeley campus. Gene’s oral history and others in the Department of History project. See also “In Memoriam: Gene Adam Brucker

Ann Lage, interviewer emeritus, October 24, 2017.


From the Oral History Center Director – OHC and Education

For an office that does not offer catalog-listed courses, the Oral History Center is still deeply invested in — and engaged with — the teaching mission of the university.

For over 15 years, our signature educational program has been our annual Advanced Oral History Summer Institute. Started by OHC interviewer emeritus Lisa Rubens in 2002 and now headed up by staff historian Shanna Farrell, this week-long seminar attracts about 40 scholars every year. Past attendees have come from most states in the union and internationally too — from Ireland and South Korea, Argentina and Japan, Australia and Finland. The Summer Institute, applications for which are now being accepted, follows the life cycle of the interview, with individual days devoted to topics such as “Project Planning” and “Analysis and Interpretation.”

In 2015 we launched the Introduction to Oral History Workshop, which was created with the novice oral historian in mind, or individuals who simply wanted to learn a bit more about the methodology but didn’t necessarily have a big project to undertake. Since then, a diverse group of undergraduate students, attorneys, authors, psychologists, genealogists, park rangers, and more have attended the annual workshop. This year’s workshop will be held on Saturday February 3rd and registration is now open.

In addition to these formal, regularly scheduled events, OHC historians and staff often speak to community organizations, local historical societies, student groups, and undergraduate and graduate research seminars. If you’d like to learn more about what we do at the Center and about oral history in general, please drop us a note! 

OHC student employees Hailie O'Bryan and Pilar Montenegro
OHC student employees Hailie O’Bryan and Pilar Montenegro in front of our “blue wall of transcripts”

In recent years we have had the opportunity to work closely with a small group of Berkeley undergrads: our student employees. Although the Center has employed students for many decades, only in the past few years have they come to play such an integral role in and make such important contributions to our core activities. Students assist with the production of transcripts, including entering narrator corrections and writing tables of contents; they work alongside David Dunham, our lead technologist, in creating metadata for interviews and editing oral history audio and video; and they partner with interviewers to conduct background research into our narrators and the topics we interview them about. With these contributions, students have helped the Center in very real, measurable ways, most importantly by enabling an increase in productivity: the past few years have been some of the most productive in terms of hours of interviews conducted in the Center’s history. We also like to think that by providing students with intellectually challenging, real-world assignments, we are contributing to their overall educational experience too.

As 2017 draws to a close, I join my Oral History Center colleagues Paul Burnett, David Dunham, Shanna Farrell, and Todd Holmes in thanking our amazing student employees: Aamna Haq, Carla Palassian, Hailie O’Bryan, Maggie Deng (who wrote her first contribution to our newsletter this issue), Nidah Khalid, Pilar Montenegro, Vincent Tran, and Marisa Uribe!

Martin Meeker, Charles B. Faulhaber Director of the Oral History Center