Oral History Center Releases Project Documenting Founding Generation of Chicana/o Studies

Montage of four photos, which are described in the caption, except the 4th photo which has a double line of people on a road with signs in English and Spanish that say things like “From Calexico to Sacramento.”
Clockwise: Chicano activists rally in front of Campbell Hall on the UC Santa Barbara campus (courtesy of UC Santa Barbara). Vicki Ruiz (R) as a junior scholar interviewing Rosa Guerrero, choreographer of ballet folklorico (courtesy of Vicki Ruiz). Rudy Acuňa at Cal State University Northridge (courtesy of CSUN). Participants in the Chicano Movement march in Los Angeles (courtesy of UC Santa Barbara).

                                                                                           By Todd Holmes                                                                                                         Project Director, Chicana/o Studies Oral History Project

El Plan de Santa Bárbara
Published 1969

In April 1969, over a hundred students, faculty, and staff from California’s colleges descended on the campus of UC Santa Barbara. For an era known for campus activism, the event was anything but uncommon. Its focus, however, certainly was. The aim of the gathering was to develop a master plan for the inclusion of the Chicano community within the curriculum and infrastructure of higher education. Ultimately, the 155-page document that resulted, titled El Plan de Santa Bárbara, proved one of the most important works of the civil rights era.

El Plan demanded the inclusion of the Chicano community within the state’s education system, and provided a roadmap for its incorporation within college teaching and research. Above all, it forged a bridge between civil rights activism and classroom curricula, creating the foundation for the academic field known as Chicana/o studies.  As Mario T. García, who later became a professor at UC Santa Barbara, remembered it, “That year, I would say ’69, ’70, I became Chicano. The movement created Chicano studies. Without the movement, we wouldn’t be around. It wasn’t that the Chancellor here all of a sudden woke up one morning and said ‘Oh, it would be great to have Chicano studies.’ That came as a result of protests and demonstrations.”  

In commemoration of the 54th anniversary of this historic event, the UC Berkeley Oral History Center is releasing the Chicana/o Studies Oral History Project, which examines the formation and evolution of this academic discipline through in-depth oral histories with the first generation of scholars who shaped it. These interviews offer a rare, firsthand look at the development of Chicana/o studies over the last fifty years, as well as unique insight into the lives and careers of the pioneering scholars involved. To be sure, that journey was marked by struggle, which makes the stature enjoyed today by both the discipline and its scholars even more noteworthy.

These interviews go beyond the “published” history of the field, as the scholars themselves discuss their experiences in the academy, the institutional challenges they confronted over their career, the works that inspired them, and the discipline’s struggle to attain academic legitimacy. 

Photo montage of Antonia Castañeda, Rudy Acuňa, Emma Pérez, Mario T. García, and Vicki Ruiz.
Left to right: Antonia Castañeda (Photo by Luz Maria Gordillo), Rudy Acuňa (Photo by Harry Gamboa Jr.), Emma Pérez (Photo by Alma López), Mario T. García (Photo courtesy of Mario T. García), and Vicki Ruiz (Photo by Ralph Alswang, courtesy National Endowment for the Humanities).

Most of the founding faculty entered the halls of academia in similar fashion. They were first generation students drawn to the developing field of Chicana/o Studies out of the desire to know their history and make sense of the gap between the stories told at home and those taught in the classroom. 

Albert Camarillo, Stanford University

“My family was the first family out of the barrio to send someone to college. There were 44 Mexican-Americans out of, I think 28,000 students at that time. . . Chicano Studies has allowed us to see a diversity in the American experience, where my generation growing up in public schools, had no inkling of whatsoever.” – Albert Camarillo, Stanford University

“I’m a Tejana, I was born in Texas. There was history that we learned sitting around the table, but there was no reflection of it in the books, at all. . . . It was a lifeline to finally put together my experiences.” – Antonia Castañeda, St. Mary’s University

To simply say their academic path was a rough climb could be deemed an understatement. Support was in short supply; barriers and naysayers certainly were not. From the start, racial stereotypes had them automatically placed in vocational classes by administrators, just as teachers often met their academic achievements with more surprise than praise. As Vicki Ruiz remembered, “I went to community college, for many reasons, but one of the reasons was, I was told by a counselor Mrs. Callahan that I was probably not college material.” Decades later, Ruiz would become the first Latina historian to be inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The graduate experience did not prove any easier. Older faculty, firmly situated within the orthodoxy of their respective disciplines, afforded little latitude for the research agendas of the new Chicana and Chicano students. Patience and understanding was offered even less. In such an environment, many struggled with feelings of homesickness, resentment, and an isolation that blurred the lines between graduate student and outsider. To cope, they built networks and interdisciplinary groups such as El Comité at Yale, the Chicano Political Economy Collective (ChPEC) and Chicana Colectiva at Berkeley, and Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social (MALCS).

“At Berkeley, Winthrop Jordan (of Mayflower lineage) asked me how long my family had been in the country. I told him, ‘My dad’s family has been here since 1598. My mother’s, I don’t know 25,000 years, whatever the anthropologists finally determined.’” – Deena González, Gonzaga University

David Montejano, UC Berkeley

“​​On campus itself, we had a graduate student group. We called ourselves The Committee, or El Comité, because there were only ten of us. This included the law school. This is across the board.” – David Montejano, UC Berkeley

Even as university professors, the founding generation of Chicana/o Studies continued to struggle for legitimacy. Many stepped into faculty positions only to find their programs underfunded and facilities relegated to outskirts of campus – a not-so-subtle reminder that while a PhD may open the door, it did not guarantee an equal seat at the table. Undeterred, they developed the Chicana/o Studies curriculum from scratch, with material so scant as to hardly fill a single bookshelf in the early days. They organized student events, fostered community partnerships, founded innovative teaching and research programs, and created collaborative networks with universities throughout the West, all under the skeptical eye of university administrators and rival departments anxious to protect their academic turf. Moreover, they worked diligently to expand the selection of published works in the field from one bookshelf to many. Most academic careers are spent in the pursuit of contributing to a respective discipline. This generation did not merely contribute to Chicana/o Studies, they built it.

“Oh yeah, there was an awful lot of resentment… [They thought] the students were disrespectful. They were bringing in a lot of color, you see. And so consequently, yeah, they were very resentful.” – Rudy Acuña, CSU Northridge

Deena González
Deena González, Gonzaga University

“It was hard to put together a reading list because there was so little…today, the challenge is, what do I use, because there’s so much that has been produced since I first had to deal with that challenge in the fall of 1969.” Mario T. García, UC Santa Barbara

“For a long time, the idea was, you know, Chicana history, why is that important? Why are Chicanas important? Why are these women important? I just feel very privileged, because I’ve  had the opportunity to interview so many people, so many women whose quiet courage made  a difference, not just in their lives, in their families’ lives, but in their communities.” Vicki Ruiz, UC Irvine

Much has certainly changed since those early decades. What began a half-century ago as a fledgling academic field now stands as a vibrant mainstay on college campuses across the United States, just as the young professors who built the field came to be celebrated as some of the most distinguished scholars in the humanities and social sciences. University presidents and National Humanities Medal winners are listed within their ranks, as are Guggenheim Fellows, award-winning authors, and nationally recognized educators. They came to head national organizations, create innovative programs, conduct groundbreaking research, and take their place within the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In short, their teaching and scholarship fulfilled the very mission espoused in the 1969 El Plan: the creation of an American curriculum that includes all its people.

In this respect, the Chicana/o Studies Oral History Project serves as a model for the distinctive contributions oral history can make to the documentation and study of intellectual history. The interviews, which are ongoing, will take center stage in the two main products of this project. First, each interview is transcribed and made available with other relevant material on the project’s dedicated website. To date, the project features well over 100 hours of recordings with 22 of the most distinguished scholars in the field; sixteen of these interviews are available now; the others are forthcoming. Second, the oral histories form the heart of a short film series, tentatively titled, Chicana/o Studies: The Legacy of a Movement and the Forging of a Discipline. Here a series of short edited videos will put the interviews into conversation around selected themes for use in high school and college classrooms. A short trailer for the film series is below.

Today, we commemorate over 50 years of Chicana/o Studies and the pioneering scholars who built it. It is hoped, however, that this project gives as much a nod to the future as it does the past. For as each scholar makes clear in their interview, the development of Chicana/o Studies has just begun. 

“I think that there’s still so much to do….I believe in the young generation. I watch them. I really think they can teach us so much, because they come with freshness and eagerness and new ideas. And I just want them to know their history.” Emma Pérez, University of Arizona

For more information on the project and forthcoming film series, please visit the project webpage and/or email Todd Holmes todd.holmes@berkeley.edu.

About the Oral History Center

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library has interviews on just about every topic imaginable. You can find the interviews mentioned here and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. We preserve voices of people from all walks of life, with varying political perspectives, national origins, and ethnic backgrounds. We are committed to open access and our oral histories and interpretive materials are available online at no cost to scholars and the public


OHC’s October 2021 Director’s Guest Column, “The Political Significance Of Oral History: Celebrating The Renewal Of The California State Government Oral History Program,” by Todd Holmes

Two decades ago, I made my first research trip to the California State Archives. To be sure, having the primary repository of the state government in one’s backyard is a benefit not every Sacramento resident readily appreciates. Yet as a young history major at Sacramento State University, the building located at 10th and O Street stood as equally prominent as the historic Capitol two blocks away. It was in the third floor reading room of the archives that I cut my teeth as a political historian, carefully sifting through the papers of some of California’s most renown politicians: Governor Earl Warren; Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh (aka Big Daddy); and the indelible Senator Randolph Collier, popularly known as the Silver Fox of Siskiyou County. I still remember the excitement of my first peek behind the political curtain with the archival material, getting the backstory of an event or piece of legislation that the press didn’t report, and thus the public never knew. I also remember the day a friendly archivist expanded that historical purview by introducing me to the volumes of the State Government Oral History Program, a treasure trove of political history that not only significantly impacted my archival research, but consequently, my career as a historian.

Oral history is commonly seen as a “bottom up” endeavor, where the stories and experiences of everyday folk—generally speaking, those who don’t leave written records—are captured and preserved in the historical record. The vital contributions such “bottom up” oral history has made to our understanding of the past is a book-length discussion in and of itself. It has not only underpinned the development of Ethnic Studies, for instance, but also helped make those fields of study—and the diversification of the past they bring—mainstays within educational curriculum throughout the country. In similar fashion, oral history has also proved pivotal in deepening our understanding of history from the “top down.” Over the years, my research in political history expanded well beyond the State Archives in Sacramento to include more than three dozen repositories across the U.S. and Canada. And at each archive, oral histories provided crucial insight and context to the material, and therefore a more thorough understanding of the respective topics and individuals under examination. Thus, while the history profession teaches us to value the archives above all else, I came to see, like so many before me, that archival documents alone don’t provide the whole story. From my experience, to fully understand, say, the operation and structure of Ronald Reagan’s Administration, or the political strategies of Richard Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson, oral histories had to be part of one’s research repertoire.

It was this appreciation of oral history’s contributions to the political past that led the California Legislature to create the State Government Oral History Program in 1985. Coordinated by the State Archives, the program sought to document the history of those who had worked in the state’s legislative and executive branches with the aim to preserve California’s institutional memory for future generations. A program of such size and scope required an extraordinary level of collaboration, not just between state agencies, but also between the State Archives and the university-based oral history programs throughout California. These university partners included UC Davis, Sacramento State University, California State Fullerton, UCLA, Claremont Graduate School, and of course, the Oral History Center at UC Berkeley (known then as the Regional Oral History Center). By all accounts, the State Government Oral History Program was as impressive as it was successful. Well over 200 interviews had been conducted by the early 2000s, totaling thousands of hours of recordings. And true to its mission, all interviews were transcribed, bound, cataloged, and made available to the public at the State Archives. Within its first two decades of operation, the program had not only proved instrumental in compensating for gaps in California’s official record, but also came to serve as a model for similar efforts among other states and on the federal level.

Due to severe budget constraints, however, funding for the program was cut in 2003, resulting in what would become a fifteen-year hiatus in the program’s operation. To be sure, the impact of that gap will be long-felt, and in some cases unrecoverable. Many influential lawmakers and civil servants unfortunately passed during that time, while others succumbed to the various ailments of age. Moreover, term limits in the state legislature presented another hurdle for the program’s renewal as institutional memory faded with each election cycle. The dilemma proved stark: how could the program be placed back in the state budget when fewer and fewer legislators remembered such a program ever existed?

Luckily, there were those in state government who did. When I joined the OHC in 2016, reestablishing the state program that introduced me to oral history stood as my top priority. And as fortune had it, my efforts immediately found sympathetic allies both on campus and in Sacramento. My colleagues at the Center offered a steady stream of support, especially OHC director Martin Meeker, who accompanied me to more meetings in Sacramento than he cared to count. Other allies included: State Archivist Nancy Lenoil (now retired); Steve Boilard, director of the Center for California Studies at Sacramento State University (now retired); and State Librarian Greg Lucas. Together, we initiated a collaborative, multi-faceted effort to renew the program and have its funding restored in the state budget. We held events in Sacramento, inundated email inboxes with informational flyers, lobbied and educated legislators on the existence of the program, and began to build the groundwork at the State Archives for an advisory council to assist in creating the list of interviewees. Our efforts eventually paid off. In 2018, the State Government Oral History Program was finally renewed.

OHC Historian Todd Holmes and OHC Director Martin Meeker with Governor Jerry Brown celebrating the release of his oral history 2020

In the years since, work on behalf of the program has proceeded at an increasing pace in the effort to make up for lost time. Governor Jerry Brown was selected for the program’s inaugural interview in 2019, an oral history conducted by myself, OHC director Martin Meeker, and KQED senior political editor Scott Shafer. Indeed, Governor Brown was a fitting choice for the program’s relaunch, as his 40+ hour oral history represented a tour de force of California political history, from his father’s gubernatorial administration to his own half century in politics. Other program-sponsored oral histories include the Women in Politics project, which is currently underway at Cal State Fullerton and features oral histories with the founding members of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus. The program also sponsored the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32) Project which I am conducting in collaboration with the USC-Schwarzenegger Institute. This project features oral history interviews with Governor Schwarzenegger, as well as key members of both his administration and the legislature regarding the passage and implementation of California’s signature climate law. This past spring, the OHC also conducted oral histories for the program that focused on the state’s legislative caucuses in the long-overdue effort to document the ethnic diversification of the California legislature. These interviews were conducted by OHC interviewers Amanda Tewes, Shanna Farrell, Roger Eardley-Pryor, and myself.

In the new fiscal year, I’m happy to report that the State Government Oral History Program has officially been awarded a three-year renewal. We at the OHC are proud to continue our work with the state program, and collaborate with the oral history centers at Cal State Fullerton and San Diego State University in this important effort. One of the flyers used in the renewal campaign included the epigraph: “Charting a good path forward is inextricably linked to understanding the terrain previously traveled.” To be sure, such words ring true for the study of history in general. Yet, they especially resonate with endeavors like the State Government Oral History Program, where the recording and documentation of the political past helps shape the public policy of tomorrow.


Oral History Project Celebrates Famed Political Scientist James C. Scott and the Yale Agrarian Studies Program

Since its inception in 1953, the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley has been responsible for compiling one of the largest and most widely used oral history collections in the country. The interviewees within this vast collection include many of the nation’s high-profile citizens, ranging from senators and governors to artists, actors, and industrialists. And standing among this distinguished list is an equally impressive group of scholars. As a research unit based at UC Berkeley, the Oral History Center has long gained rare access to the academy and ultimately built one of the richest oral history collections on higher education and intellectual history in the nation. Interviews with Nobel laureates and university presidents fill this collection, as do leading scientists and pioneering faculty of color. Thus, a project on the famed Yale political scientist, James C. Scott, and his equally renowned Agrarian Studies Program, stands as a fitting addition to the Bancroft collection. We are pleased to announce the release of the Yale Agrarian Studies Oral History Project, a two-part series featuring the life history of James C. Scott, and shorter interviews with over a dozen affiliates of the Yale Agrarian Studies Program. The project was created and conducted by OHC Historian Todd Holmes.

James C. Scott

For many students and scholars, James C. Scott needs no introduction. He is the Sterling Professor of Political Science at Yale University, with additional appointments in the Department of Anthropology and School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He is the author of over nine books, most of which are not only widely read across the disciplines of the humanities and social sciences, but considered foundational works in those disciplines. To be sure, the impact of Scott’s scholarship is immeasurable. Over the decades, his books became a series of major interventions, shaping dozens of discourses and research agendas throughout the academy. “Brilliant” became an adjective used by readers with no sense of hyperbole. In recognition of his contributions, he was awarded the 2020 Albert O. Hirschman Prize, the Social Science Research Council’s highest honor.

In his oral history, James C. Scott: Agrarian Studies and Over 50 Years of Pioneering Work in the Social Sciences, he discusses his childhood in New Jersey and the Quaker school that played a large role in shaping the scholar known for marching to his own drummer. He discusses his experience with the National Student Association, the interesting turn his studies took upon entry to Yale Graduate School, and the string of books he produced in the decades that followed. These include The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia; Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance; Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts; Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed; The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia; and Against The Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States, among other works. He also recounts the founding of the Agrarian Studies Program, an interdisciplinary flagship in the humanities and social sciences now celebrating over thirty years of operation at Yale University.

Part Two of this project features interviews with affiliates of this renowned Program. Aptly titled, “Reflections on James C. Scott and the Agrarian Studies Program,” this segment of the project has scholars recount their experience with both Jim Scott and the Program, recollections that help to document the history and impact of Agrarian Studies, as well as offer future generations a glimpse at the extraordinary scholar who shaped it.

For the last three decades, Yale’s Agrarian Studies Program has stood as one of the most exciting intellectual ecosystems in the academy. Officially founded by Jim Scott and collaborators in the fall of 1991, the Program brought a critical and interdisciplinary lens to the everyday experience of rural societies. With the world as its intellectual playground, and the sweep of history its scope, the Program became the place for cutting-edge research. Anthropologists, historians, and political scientists filled the rooms of the weekly colloquium, as did sociologists, activists, and real-life farmers. The topics of discussion stood just as diverse. From peasant revolts in France or ancient Roman cuisine, to dam building in India or the industrial foodways of American agribusiness, nearly any topic of interest found a place within the big tent of Agrarian Studies. Few could have realized in the fall of 1991, that the newly-minted program would not only last thirty years, but also come to shape nearly three generations of scholarship and redefine the notion of interdisciplinary work.

Below are the interviews of the Yale Agrarian Studies Oral History Project. You can access the transcript for each interview through the respective hyperlink. Segments of these interviews are also featured in the video below celebrating the Program’s thirtieth anniversary. Lastly, we are pleased to announce that a video on the life and career of James C. Scott is currently underway and will be released in spring 2022. Stay tuned!!

Interviews & Transcripts

James C. Scott

Sterling Professor of Political Science

Yale University

 

 

Mark Bomford

Director, Yale Sustainable Food Program

 

 

 

Michael Dove

Michael Dove

Margaret K. Musser Professor of Social Ecology

Yale University

 

 

Michael Dove

Paul Freedman

Chester D. Tripp Professor of History

Yale University

 

 

Robert Harms

Robert Harms

Henry J. Heinz Professor of History & African Studies

Yale University

 

 

Marvel “Kay” Mansfield

Marvel “Kay” Mansfield

Former Program Coordinator

Yale Agrarian Studies

 

 

Alan Mikhail

Alan Mikhail

Professor of History

Yale University

 

 

Peter C. Perdue

Professor of History

Yale University

 

 

Alison Richard

Former Provost / Franklin Muzzy Crosby Professor Emerita of the Human Environment

Yale University

 

 

Paul Sabin

Professor of History & American Studies

Yale University

 

 

Nathan Sayre

Professor of Geography

University of California, Berkeley

 

 

Ian Shapiro

Sterling Professor of Political Science

Yale University

 

 

Helen Siu

Professor of Anthropology

Yale University

 

 

K. Sivaramankrishnan

Dinakar Singh Professor of Anthropology / Professor, School of the Environment

Yale University

 

 

Louis Warren

Turrentine Jackson Professor of U.S. Western History

University of California, Davis

 

 

Michael Watts

Class of 1963 Professor of Geography (Emeritus)

University of California, Berkeley

 

 

Elisabeth Wood

Crosby Professor of the Human Environment / Professor of Political Science

Yale University

 

 

Project by Todd Holmes

todd.holmes@berkeley.edu


Oral History Center Documents the Founding Generation of Chicana/o Studies

The development of Chicana/o Studies is also a story that highlights another side of the civil rights movement, one where actions in the classroom, rather than those in the streets, proved the long-lasting vector of social change.

Over fifty years ago, UC Berkeley anthropologist Octavio Romano founded the publication, El Grito: A Journal of Contemporary Mexican American Thought. In many respects, it was one of many actions of the time that sought to channel the educational aims of the Mexican American civil rights movement into the corridors of higher education. And in the years that followed, scholars on campuses throughout California and the West built upon those aims, ultimately establishing the academic discipline that became known as Chicana/o Studies.

Rudy Acuňa – Chicana/o Studies Department California State University, Northridge

As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, it is worth reflecting on the scholars who documented that heritage and fought for its inclusion in American classrooms and textbooks. In 2017, the UC Berkeley Oral History Center initiated a project to do just that: The Chicana/o Studies Oral History Project. This project commemorates the 50th Anniversary of Chicana/o Studies and documents the formation of the field through in-depth interviews with the first generation of scholars who shaped it. As a research unit with The Bancroft Library, the Oral History Center has long enjoyed rare access to the academy since its founding in 1953, compiling one of the richest collections on higher education and intellectual history in the country. Interviews with Nobel Laureates and university presidents fill this collection, as do those with renown poets and leading scientists. Thus, oral histories with the founding generation of scholars in the field of Chicana/o Studies certainly stood as a fitting addition. Moreover, documenting the formation of an academic field aimed at studying the Mexican American experience was a rare and special opportunity all its own.

“I’m a Tejana, I was born in Texas. There was history that we learned sitting around the table, but there was no reflection of it in the books, at all. . . . It was a lifeline to finally put together my experiences.” —Antonia Castañeda, St. Mary’s College

“It’s not just the students that need to learn Chicano Studies. It’s our colleagues that need to learn Chicano Studies.” — David Montejano, UC Berkeley

Shows Todd Holmes Interviewing Antonia Castañeda
OHC’s Todd Holmes Interviewing Antonia Castañeda (2018)

While the importance of the project was without question, the reality of executing a project of this size and complexity ushered forth a host of logistical challenges. To that end, we forged partnerships with scholars and universities across the country, establishing what could be called an unprecedented collaboration to document the history of Chicana/o Studies and celebrate the scholars who shaped it. We created an advisory council composed of recognized junior faculty in the field. Establishing the council was vital, as it not only brought a larger, community voice into decisions on the project’s scope and direction, but also seasoned expertise to the nomination process for interviewees—a procedure that likely proved much lengthier and complicated than anyone bargained for. In the end, the council developed a list of over 20 prominent and pioneering scholars to be interviewed for the project.

We are happy to announce that the result of all this hard work and collaboration will officially be released in Spring 2021. The Chicana/o Studies Oral History & Film Project will feature in-depth oral histories with over 20 scholars. These oral histories will take center stage in the two main products of this project. First, each interview will be transcribed and made available with other relevant material on the project’s dedicated website. These interviews go beyond the “published” history of the field, as the scholars themselves discuss their experiences in the academy, the institutional challenges they confronted over their career, the works that inspired them, and the discipline’s struggle to attain academic legitimacy. Second, the oral histories form the heart of a short film series, tentatively titled, Chicana/o Studies: The Legacy of A Movement and the Forging of A Discipline. Here a series of short edited videos will put the interviews into conversation around selected themes that can be used in high school and college classrooms. A short trailer for the project is below.

Taken together, this project commemorates the 50th Anniversary of Chicana/o Studies, and significantly advances our understanding of the field’s development and evolution. Yet the development of Chicana/o Studies, as captured in these interviews, is more than just the story of a discipline. It is the story of a generation of Chicana/o scholars who broke through barriers to take their place in the nation’s universities, and spent their careers documenting the history and experience of their community. It is the story of educational reform, where scholars of color demanded that America’s curriculum equally include all its citizens. In many respects, it is also a story that highlights another side of the civil rights movement, one where actions in the classroom, rather than those in the streets, proved the long-lasting vector of social change.

“That year, I would say ’69, ’70, I became Chicano. The movement created Chicano studies. Without the movement, we wouldn’t be around. It wasn’t that the Chancellor here all a sudden woke up one morning and said ‘Oh, it would be great to have Chicano Studies.’ That came as a result of protests and demonstrations.” —Mario T. García, UC Santa Barbara

David Montejano
David Montejano, UC Berkeley

This project would not have come to fruition without the collaboration we developed with universities across the country. The Oral History Center is an independent, soft-money research unit at UC Berkeley, which means the office receives very little direct support from the university. This means that we need to raise funds to cover the cost of each oral history. For the Chicana/o Studies Oral History Project, a generous consortium of Deans, Provosts, Chancellors, and Presidents stepped forward to extend support. Stanford University sponsored the first two interviews, with the University of California Office of the President raising the bar by pledging to fund all UC-related interviews. The pledge not only sought to highlight the role of UC campuses in the field, but also served as a call-to-arms for other universities in the West to follow suit. Many university administrators answered that call. Deans at UT Austin, Arizona State, and the University of Arizona pledged support, as did administrators at Loyola Marymount, Gonzaga University, and UT San Antonio. Again, highlighting the role of California in the field, the California State University system agreed to fund all CSU-related interviews for the project. The array of support behind the Chicana/o Studies Project stands as an inspiring—if not unprecedented—collaboration within the academy.

“My family was the first family out of the barrio to send someone to college. There were 44 Mexican-Americans out of, I think 28,000 students at that time. . . . Chicano Studies has allowed us to see a diversity in the American experience, where my generation growing up in public schools, had no inkling of whatsoever. ” — Albert Camarillo, Stanford University

As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month this October, we at the Oral History Center are pleased to announce the forthcoming release of this important project. For more information on the Chicana/o Studies Oral History Project and Film, visit the Project Page and/or email Todd Holmes todd.holmes@berkeley.edu


UC Berkeley Oral History Center Proudly Participates In San Francisco History Days

Welcome to the Oral History Center’s Home Page for

San Francisco History Days 2020

The Oral History Center is an independent research unit of the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. Established in 1953, the OHC has been responsible for compiling one of the largest and most widely-used oral history collections in the country. Many of California’s high-profile citizens — from governors and senators to actors, artists and industrialists — have been interviewed by our office. And no region is better represented in this collection than San Francisco and the Bay Area. Below is just a sample of the Center’s work over the decades. Here we feature:

  • Edited videos from interviews in the collection
  • Further oral histories of prominent San Franciscans
  • Search the OHC / Bancroft collection with our new full text search function
  • Season 3 of the OHC’s Berkeley Remix podcast – “First Response: AIDs and Community in San Francisco”
  • Bay Area Women in Politics – a recorded livestream panel for the project with former San Francisco Supervisor Louise Renne, Pittsburg Councilmember Shanelle Scales-Preston and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

Explore These Features and Much More Below!

Featured Videos

Rick Laubscher: Market Street Railway & Bringing the Streetcars Back to San Francisco.  

Rick Laubscher & Crew with first leased streetcar for San Francisco Trolley Days (1983)

Rick Laubscher is an award-winning journalist, public relations executive, and founder of Market Street Railway in San Francisco. A fourth generation San Franciscan, Rick’s long career in journalism, business, and civic activism has centered on his beloved city. This edited video details how streetcars came back to San Francisco through the dedicated work of city residents like Rick. This is an excerpt of his larger oral history, which covers the Laubscher family business on Market Street, his careers at KRON and Bechtel, as well as the many civic activities he undertook in the city. You can access the full transcript of that oral history here.

 

Robert Demmons: San Francisco’s First African American Chief of the San Francisco Fire Department. 

Robert Demmons

Robert Demmons was the first African American Fire Chief for the San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD). He joined the department in 1974 and was successfully promoted through the ranks. He was sworn in as Chief on January 17, 1996. This edited video features excerpts from his oral history discussing his long career with the San Francisco Fire Department and his experience as the city’s first African American Fire Chief. Chief Demmons’s interview was part of larger project on the San Francisco Fire Department. More information on that project, as well as the full transcripts of those interviews, can be accessed here

 

The Bay Bridge Oral History Project

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Oral History Project tells the story of the engineering marvel that has connected Oakland and San Francisco since it opened to the public in 1936. To be sure, no structure binds together the region, nor symbolizes its interconnectedness, like the Bay Bridge. The Oral History Center conducted this project in 2012. The majority of interviewees for this project spent their careers working on and around the bridge, and they offer their perspectives on the engineering achievements, the maintenance challenges, and the complex symbolism of this massive structure. The Project Page features the full transcripts of those oral history interviews, as well as four edited videos that cover the areas of engineering and construction of the bridge, its maintenance, and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Access The Project Page Here

Featured San Francisco Oral Histories

San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown

Joseph Alioto – 36th Mayor of San Francisco, and accomplished lawyer, banker, and businessman in the city.

Gerson Bakar – San Francisco real estate developer and philanthropist.

Willie Brown – 41st Mayor of San Francisco, and longtime Representative of San Francisco in the California State Assembly

Ruth Clause Chance – Bay Area philanthropist and Executive Director of the Rosenberg Foundation

Jim Chappell – Executive Director of the San Francisco Bay Area Urban Planning and Research Association (SPUR)

San Francisco publisher and iconoclast Warren Hinckle

Rhoda H. Goldman – San Francisco philanthropist, community leader, and environmentalist

Martha Gerbode – San Francisco philanthropist and environmentalist

Anne Halsted – Civic leader and community advocate in San Francisco

Warren Hinckle – Famed journalist, editor, and publisher, as well as one of San Francisco’s favorite iconoclasts

Edward Howden – Civic leader and Civil Rights advocate in city government

Quentin Kopp – Elected representative on San Francisco Board of Supervisors

Roger Lapham – 32nd Mayor of San Francisco and leading businessman

Esther Gulick, Sylvia McLaughlin, and Kay Kerr, Founders of Save The Bay

Sylvia McLaughlin – Environmentalist, civic activist, and one of the founders of the Save The Bay movement

Grace L. McCann Morely – First director of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

William Newsom – San Francisco native; California Superior Court and Court of Appeals judge

Hadley Roff – Top aid and political advisor to four San Francisco mayors (1967-92)

Elise Stern Haas – Leading philanthropist and art patron in San Francisco

Keith Yamamoto – Biochemist and Vice Chancellor of Research, UC San Francisco, Mission Bay Campus

Search Our Collection On Your Own!

The Oral History Center collection of over 4,000 interviews is now full-text searchable across the entire collection. With just a few keystrokes, you can search the entire collection and find that “needle in the haystack’ you’re looking for and much more! Type in “San Francisco” and see the many oral histories related to the City in the Bancroft collection. Click Here for search page.

OHC’s Berkeley Remix Podcast

In 2016, The Oral History Center kicked off a podcast series that highlighted the unique and valuable oral histories in our collection. Below we feature Season 3 of the Berkeley Remix

First Response: AIDs and Community in San Francisco

This podcast is about the politics of the first encounters with the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. The six episodes draw from the thirty-five interviews that Sally Smith Hughes conducted in the 1990s. A historian of science at UC Berkeley’s Oral History Office, Sally interviewed doctors, nurses, researchers, public health officials and community-health practitioners to learn about the unique ways that people responded to the epidemic. The interviews we selected for this podcast are focused on public health, community engagement, and nursing care. Most of the following podcast episodes are about the period from early 1981, when the first reports emerged of an unknown disease that was killing gay men in San Francisco, to 1984 and the development of a new way of caring for people in a hospital setting.

Bay Area Women in Politics

Mary Hughes, political consultant and the first narrator of the Bay Area Women in Politics Oral History Project

The Oral History Center is excited to announce the launch of this new project documenting the lives, careers, and experiences of women in Bay Area politics. To kick things off, the OHC recently hosted a livestream panel with former San Francisco Supervisor Louise Renne, Pittsburg Councilmember Shanelle Scales-Preston and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

Click Here to watch the recorded livestream panel.

Click Here for the Bay Area Women in Politics Oral History Project Page

 

Donate Today!

The Oral History Center currently receives (and historically has received) only a very small portion of its operating budget from the university or the State of California. Throughout most of its history, OHC expenses—including staff salaries and benefits, equipment, transcription, and travel—have been funded through a mixture of charitable donations by individuals and corporations, as well as grants and contracts in support of specific oral history projects.

The OHC also benefits from a small number of endowments, which support the position of the Center’s director and new project research and development. Most of the funding received, either from donations, contracts, or endowments, is earmarked for specific oral history projects. As a result, OHC is not typically in a position to pick and choose precisely the projects we undertake and the individuals we interview without first securing the necessary funding.

Thus, we actively seek partnerships with individuals, foundations, agencies, and corporations that will work with us to establish a research agenda that responds to the needs of students, scholars, and the public at large.

Considering Donating Today to support the Oral History Center at UC Berkeley! CLICK HERE – OHC Donation Page

For more information on the OHC and its work, please visit the OHC website

Also feel free to contact OHC Director Martin Meeker at mmeeker@berkeley.edu


Marching To His Own Drummer in the Social Sciences – Release of James C. Scott’s Oral History

Since its inception in 1953, the Oral History Center of the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley has been responsible for compiling one of the largest and most widely-used oral history collections in the country. And standing among this elusive list of interviewees is an equally impressive class of scholars. As a research unit based at UC Berkeley, the Oral History Center gained rare access to the academy and ultimately built one the richest oral history collections on high education and intellectual history. Interviews with Nobel Laureates, university presidents, leading scientists, and pioneering faculty of color fill this collection. Thus, we saw a project on the famed Yale political scientist, James C. Scott, and his equally renowned Agrarian Studies Program, as an obvious and fitting addition. We are pleased to announce the release of Part 1 of the Yale Agrarian Studies Oral History Project – James C. Scott: Agrarian Studies and Over 50 Years of Pioneering Work in the Social Sciences.

This is a black and white photo of James C. Scott holding a self portrait in his office
Photo of James C. Scott holding a self portrait

For many students and scholars, James C. Scott needs no introduction. He is the Sterling Professor of Political Science at Yale University, with appointments in the Department of Anthropology and School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He is the author of over 9 books, most of which are not only widely read across the disciplines of the humanities and social sciences, but considered foundational works in those disciplines. To be sure, the impact of Scott’s scholarship is immeasurable. Over the decades, his books became a series of major interventions, shaping dozens of discourses and research agendas throughout the academy. “Brilliant” became an adjective used by readers with no sense of hyperbole. In recognition of his contributions, he was recently awarded the 2020 Albert O. Hirschman Prize, the Social Science Research Council’s highest honor.

In these interviews, he discusses his childhood in New Jersey and the Quaker school that played a large role in shaping the scholar known for marching to his own drummer. He discusses his experience with the National Student Association, the interesting turn his studies took upon entry to Yale Graduate School, and the string of books he produced in the decades that followed. These include The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia; Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance; Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts; Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed; The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia; and Against The Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States, among other works. He also recounts the founding of the Agrarian Studies Program, an interdisciplinary flagship in the humanities and social sciences now celebrating thirty years of operation at Yale University.

Part 2 of this project features shorter interviews with nearly 20 affiliates of the Agrarian Studies Program. In this segment of the project, scholars on both the East and West Coasts discuss Jim Scott and the Program’s impact on what is now three generations of scholarship. Part 2 of the Yale Agrarian Studies Oral History Project will be released in early Spring 2021. Segments of these interviews are featured in the video below. Stay Tuned!

 

 


Port Chicago Commemoration – Release of Robert L. Allen Oral History


This week marks the 76th Anniversary of the Port Chicago Explosion, the worst disaster of America’s World War II home front that took the lives of 320 African American men, and led to the largest work stoppage and mutiny trial in military history. On Friday, July 17 at 1:00pm, The National Park Service will hold a virtual commemoration to honor the deceased, the impact their loss had on addressing racial inequality, and the importance of social justice moving forward. In conjunction with this event, the Oral History Center is pleased to release the oral history of Robert L. Allen, award-winning journalist, author, and professor of African American Studies, whose 1989 book, The Port Chicago Mutiny, uncovered this untold story and helped lay the foundation for what became the Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial. In addition, the Oral History Center has also released the newly-digitized oral histories with Port Chicago survivors that Allen conducted for the seminal book.

Photo of Robert Allen, 1967
Robert Allen, 1967

In many respects, the life of Robert Allen proves as extraordinary as the many African American men and women whose stories he brought to light through nearly fifty years of writing and scholarship. Born in 1942, Allen grew up in segregated Atlanta where he experienced firsthand the harsh realities of racism, the complicated divisions which ran through the Black community, and the bridges of solidarity that ultimately helped forge the Civil Rights Movement. A graduate of Morehouse College, he moved to New York City in the early 1960s where he abandoned an internship with IBM for a reporting job with the National Guardian. As the publication’s first Black journalist, Allen became a leading voice in documenting the African American experience in the City and the growing intersection between the Civil Rights and Anti-War Movements. In 1967, that intersection became personal as Allen formally refused his draft notice and formed the anti-draft group African Americans for Survival. That same year, his work with the National Guardian allowed him the rare opportunity to explore that same intersection on the international level, attending the International Peace Conference in Czechoslovakia, as well as a multi-week tour of both North and South Vietnam. In 1968, Allen moved to the Bay Area of California to head up the publication’s San Francisco office. It was a region the native Atlantan would come to call home.

Photo of The Black Scholar 5th Anniversary, Photo by Cleveland Glover
The Black Scholar, 5th Anniversary (photo by Cleveland Glover)

The Bay Area not only once again gave Allen a front row seat to national change, it also proved a fertile ground for his growing intellectual interests and curiosity. He had earned a master’s degree in sociology from The New School during his time in New York City, and continued his studies in California with a doctorate from UC San Francisco. In 1975, he began serving as senior editor for The Black Scholar, a position he would hold for the next thirty-seven years. During Allen’s tenure, The Black Scholar became one of the most influential journals of Black Studies in the country, tackling the most pressing issues of the African American community through both its journal and book series. At the same time, his scholarly career began to take footing in the more traditional academic environments, holding positions at San Jose State, Mills College, and UC Berkeley, where he taught in the African American and Ethnic Studies Departments from 1993 to 2012.  

The author and editor of many books on the African American experience, Allen is best known for his 1989 book, The Port Chicago Mutiny, which recounted the untold story of the military explosion that cost the lives of 320 African American men and led to the largest mutiny trial in military history. As Allen discusses in his oral history, he stumbled onto the story by accident in other research during the 1970s, not knowing at all what he had discovered or the impact the story would ultimately have. Shortly after publication, his research and work on the Port Chicago Explosion had earned him a Resolution of Commendation from the California State Assembly, as well as a Northern California Emmy Award for the television documentary—rare honors for an academic and writer. And over the years, the impact of the story continued to grow. By 1994, a memorial was formally established at the site, and in 2009, with the signature of President Barack Obama, the Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial was officially created.

Photo of Robert Allen on 1967 Vietnam Tour
Robert Allen on 1967 Vietnam Tour

In collaboration with our partner and sponsor, the National Park Service, the Oral History Center is pleased to release Robert Allen: From Segregated Atlanta to UC Berkeley, A Life of Activism and African American Scholarship, as well Allen’s digitized oral histories with Port Chicago survivors, Moreover, the OHC is proud to join the National Park Service in commemorating the 76th Anniversary of the Port Chicago Explosion.

 

Additional Robert L. Allen collections

Robert Allen Port Chicago Papers

Robert L. Allen Bancroft Library Papers


Joey Terrill: Chicano Artist, AIDS Advocate, and Favorite Son of East L.A.

The Oral History Center is pleased to release our life history interview with famed Chicano artist Joey Terrill: At the Forefront of Queer Chicano Art.

Joey Terrill is a Chicano artist and second-generation native of East Los Angeles. For nearly four decades, his paintings and prints have stood at the forefront of queer Chicano art, pushing the boundaries of form and cultural representation by exploring the confluences of race and sexuality. In the 1980s, his work expanded further to address the epidemic that was ravaging the arts community: AIDS. From silkscreens and collages to various styles of painting, his artwork has long given voice to the experience of gay Chicanos while simultaneously advocating for racial justice, gay liberation, and HIV awareness.

Joey Terrill 1980 image titled My Mother's Maiden Name
My Mother’s Maiden Name © 1980 Joey Terrill

Joey’s artwork was featured in the Getty Center’s 2017 Pacific Standard Time: LA/ LA, an ambitious and far-reaching series of exhibitions across Southern California that explored Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles. In connection with this exhibition, The Getty Center sponsored life history interviews with selected Chicana/o and Latina/o artists, many of whom were showcased in the LA/ LA programs. These interviews, conducted by the Oral History Center at the University of California, Berkeley, aimed to document the lives and experiences of these artists amid the dynamic and changing art world of the West. Joey Terrill was one of the selected artists.

Hollywood itself would be hard-pressed to craft a more touching and heartfelt story than the life story told here in Joey Terrill’s oral history. Raised by a single mother in East Los Angeles, Terrill was heavily influenced by the burgeoning Chicano civil rights movement. He participated in the 1970 Chicano Moratorium as well as the United Farm Workers’ grape and lettuce boycotts during the late 1960s and early 1970s. As an openly gay man, he also linked calls of civil rights to gay liberation—a subject he began to explore in his art. From his “Maricon” photo series and two-issue zine “Homeboy Beautiful,” to his wide range of paintings, Terrill’s artwork created its own space within both the Chicano and gay art scenes. By the mid-1980s, Terrill’s work also began to address the AIDS epidemic, expressing outrage toward homophobia and government inaction, as well as paying tribute to many fallen friends. In recent years his work has also engaged with the experience of being a longtime HIV survivor.

For over four decades he has stood as one of the pioneers of queer Chicano art, and as a true gem of the Los Angeles arts community. Through his art and AIDS advocacy, Terrill has not only touched the lives of thousands, but has also served as a bridge to a new generation of artists, activists, and LGBTQ youth.

 


New Release: Rick Laubscher – San Francisco Journalist, PR Executive, and Founder of Market Street Railway

Today we are excited to release the oral history interview of Rick Laubscher. Born in 1949, Rick came of age amid the bustle of Market Street at the family’s business, Laubschers’ Delicatessen. It was in these early years that he developed a fascination in transportation, and a special love of streetcars; the “iron monsters” that rumbled through the streets of San Francisco and past the family’s delicatessen. He spent countless hours as a child drawing city maps (to scale) for his collection of Matchbox trams and buses. And during the age of lava lamps and flower power, his dorm room walls at U.C. Santa Cruz were adorned with transportation maps. Indeed, Rick had what he called “the transportation bug,” a condition that would only grow in time.

On the campus of U.C. Santa Cruz, however, Rick also developed an interest in journalism. He created the University’s first radio station, albeit unregistered with the FCC, and upon graduation headed to New York to study at the Columbia School of Journalism, where he was awarded the Pulitzer Fellowship. Returning to California, he started his career as a broadcast journalist with KGTV in San Diego. Here he helped pioneer live reporting in the Southern California market, and won two “Golden Mike” awards for his work. In 1977, Rick returned home to San Francisco as a reporter for KRON-TV. If Herb Caen was the voice of San Francisco, Rick Laubscher was certainly seen by some as the dandy of the city’s television news. Immaculately dressed in a three-piece suit, Rick reported on a number of historic events, most notably the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. Rick knew both the victims and the killer, and his coverage of the tragedy won him an Emmy Award.

In 1980, Rick left broadcast journalism to embark on a new career as a public-relations executive with the Bechtel Group in San Francisco. Over the next two decades, he worked around the world on behalf of Bechtel, crafting communication programs for both the company and their international clients. In the process, he helped mend relations between San Francisco and its business community, fostering a network of associates that would open the door for a dual career in civic service.

Rick’s affinity for streetcars is matched only by his love for San Francisco. And for nearly forty years, while working for Bechtel and later in private practice, he undertook numerous projects to give back to the City by the Bay. He served on the executive boards of the Chamber of Commerce, SPUR, and the JASON Foundation for Education, and was the founding Chairman of the City Club of San Francisco, one of the first fully open business and civic organizations in the City’s financial district. Above all, he revamped Market Street Railway, the nonprofit that brought vintage streetcars back to San Francisco. What started with an idea among likeminded enthusiasts—Rick calls it a “Mickey Rooney / Julie Garland Moment” of “Why don’t we get the kids together and put on a show”—finally took root in the summer of 1983 with San Francisco’s Historic Trolley Festival. Its popularity and international acclaim quickly made the festival an annual event. And by 1995, streetcars once again became permanent fixtures on the City streets. As President and CEO of Market Street Railway, Rick guided this effort with unrelenting energy. He assembled a diverse cast of supporters, searched around the world to secure additional streetcars, and skillfully navigated the city bureaucracy to make his vision of permanent streetcar lines to San Francisco a reality. For the fourth-generation San Franciscan who excitedly watched the “iron monsters” rumble down Market Street as a kid, it was simply a labor of love.

This oral history offers a look at San Francisco through the eyes of one of its remarkable residents. From journalism to business and an astonishing array of civic endeavors, Rick Laubscher helped shape the city he called home.


New Oral History Center Podcast: Women In Politics

 

A young Helen Gahagan Douglas during her Hollywood years. She was a successful actress and singer before entering Congress, making her one of California’s original movie star politicians.

In this Historic year for women in politics, our new podcast series, From The Outside In: Women In Politics, showcases important interviews from the Bancroft Library collection with women who have left their mark on the political arena.

This six episode series will run until the 2016 Presidential Election, with new episodes released every Monday. The series is narrated by Emmy-Award winning journalist Belva Davis.

This week please join us for episode two, “Cracking the Ceiling and Breaking the Mold,” featuring Communist Party activist LaRue McCormick and California’s famed “Pink Lady,” Congresswoman Helen Douglas.

This episode, and further information about the series, can be found at the Oral History Center website.