Third annual Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration Webinar at UC Berkeley Library

We invite you to the third annual Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration Webinar at UC Berkeley Library. The webinar is free and open to all with prior registration. Please log in to your Zoom account before registering for the webinar. Only authenticated users will be able to register and join (See here)
Date and Time: Monday, September 18, 2023, 10 am to 11:15 am PDT
  • Sarah Aponte; Chief Librarian, Dominican Studies Institute, CUNY
  • Dr. Irma Guadarrama, former professor/ researcher and writer at Houston University–author of a 2023 book,  “To Change the Impossible World: Central American Women in Struggle and Resistance.”
  • Kathia Salome Ibacache, Librarian for Romance Languages
  • David Woken, Latin American and Caribbean Studies Librarian, University of Chicago
Closing Remarks: Dr. Matthew Hill, Librarian for Latin American and Iberian Studies, Brigham Young University
Organizer: Liladhar P, Librarian for Latin American and Latinx Studies

This image speaks about National Hispanic Heritage Month Webinar Celebration at UC Berkeley Library that will take place on September eighteenth of this year, 2023. The image provides basic information same as in the text of this post about how to register for this webinar as well as information about the speakers who will participate in it.

National Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration Webinar 2023 at UC Berkeley Library

Workshop Reminder — Publish Digital Books & Open Educational Resources with Pressbooks

A presentation slide with dark red background, library logo, and text about the event that reads: "Public digital books and open educational resources with Pressbooks. Berkeley Library, Timothy Vollmer, Scholarly Communication + Copyright Librarian, Office of Scholarly Communication Services, September 20, 2023."

Date/Time: Wednesday, September 20, 2023, 11:00am–12:30pm
Location: Zoom only. Register via LibCal and you’ll receive the Zoom link for the event.

If you’re looking to self-publish work of any length and want an easy-to-use tool that offers a high degree of customization, allows flexibility with publishing formats (EPUB, PDF), and provides web-hosting options, Pressbooks may be great for you. Pressbooks is often the tool of choice for academics creating digital books, open textbooks, and open educational resources, since you can license your materials for reuse however you desire. Learn why and how to use Pressbooks for publishing your original books or course materials. You’ll leave the workshop with a project already under way.

Curious about how UC Berkeley faculty, students, and staff have used Pressbooks? Check out some of the Berkeley-created digital books and resources below, or browse over 5,700 open access books on the Pressbooks Directory.

Six book covers from Pressbooks created by UC Berkeley faculty, students, and staff.

Primary Sources: Behind the Scenes of the Civil Rights Movements

drawing of faces

The Library has invested in the creation of Reveal Digital’s Behind the Scenes of the Civil Rights Movement and now has access to the first batch of digitized content on the JSTOR platform. The following information about the collection was shared in Reveal Digital’s announcement:

Covering primarily the 1950s and 1960s, Behind the Scenes of the Civil Rights Movements provides access to primary source documents that focus on how ordinary citizens in the smaller communities viewed, participated in and lived through this historical era. When completed in 2025, the collection will include letters, general correspondence, logs, demonstration plan outlines, transportation logs and plans, meetings, worship services, photographs, newsletters, news reels, interviews and musical recordings from Black, Latine, Native American and Asian American Pacific Islander communities.

The eight compilations from the Atlanta History Center include:

  • Alert Americans Association broadside “Martin Luther King…At Communist Training School”
  • Atlanta American Council of Christian Churches documents on the Black Manifesto
  • Clarence Bacote papers
  • Coretta Scott King documents
  • Herman L. Turner papers
  • Jones family papers of Lovett School
  • Roland M. Frye papers
  • Southern Regional Council documents

A link to this collection can be found in the History: America guide under Parimary Sources by Topic > Civil Rights and in the Library’s A-Z Database list.

Berkeley Bustle, Fall ’23

photo of UC Berkeley's campanile clock tower

UC Berkeley’s campanile sounding out the fall semester 

Fall brings the bustle back to campus: the doubled traffic, the logistics planners, the events and grounds crews, the battalions of excited and brilliant first-year students. The bustle never left the OHC. We continue to push forward on a number of fronts, publishing oral histories, podcasts, and documentaries, giving presentations at conferences, and leading educational and public history work. But first, our fourth podcast season, Berkeley at 150: Let there Be Light, explores three different aspects of life at Berkeley: home, food, and studying hard. First-years to alums, feel free to enjoy in no particular order.

In August, we hosted our 21st Oral History Advanced Institute. With around fifty remote attendees from across the United States and around the world, we explored the A-Z of oral history, from theory and methodology to interviewing practices and options for archiving and interpreting interviews once they are completed. Most valuable of all, for us and for the attendees, was the workshopping of individual projects. Everyone came away with a richer experience of what it means to do this work! Watch our web space and our social media in early 2024 for next August’s institute.

Recently, we launched the UC Berkeley School of Public Health Oral History Project, which documents the changes and innovations the school has undertaken over the past twenty years. We’ve recently had the great fortune of interviewing some titans in the humanities and social sciences, exploring the relationship between a thinker’s lived experience and their ideas. Roger Eardley-Pryor interviewed famed environmental historian Carolyn Merchant, who is one of the key contributors to the domains of ecofeminism and feminist science studies. But  more than that, it is nearly impossible to be an educated general historian without encountering her work in your formation and scholarship. Merchant and James Scott are two intellectuals who seem to transcend the notion of fields, whether traditional or new. It is rare to visit a scholar’s office or home, no matter what their discipline, and not see a copy of Scott’s Seeing Like A State on the shelf. Not only did Todd Holmes interview Scott and other scholars at the Agrarian Studies program that Scott founded at Yale, but he also produced a film about Scott, which is part of our ongoing work to make our interviews accessible and useful to educators, students, and the general public.

We’re putting the finishing touches on our first-ever exhibit in collaboration with The Bancroft Library, entitled “Voices for the Environment: A Century of Bay Area Activism.” Right across from our offices in The Bancroft Library, the museum space will feature audio from our interviews set to video of photos, maps, and more, while original paintings, murals, photos, posters, and pamphlets are displayed throughout the gallery space. There are also podcasts with more interview content for each section of the exhibit, all of which will be placed online as a permanent digital exhibition for the public to explore.

At the Oral History Association annual meeting in Baltimore, Roger Eardley-Pryor will present on a panel on the integration of audio and objects into public history and education work on October 19th. Amanda Tewes will be moderating that panel, as well as “Place-Based Oral Histories” on October 20th. Amanda also served on the OHA’s 2023 Program Committee. Shanna Farrell, who is on the Oral History Association Council, will be moderating the “Interviewing Dilemmas” panel on October 20th.

With the interviews for the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Project near completion, the interviewers recently collaborated with graphic artist Emily Ehlen and producer Rose Khor to build graphic-art pieces and a podcast derived from the interviews. We’re looking forward to their release.

Communications Director Jill Schlessinger asked student editors to reflect on the nature and meaning of oral history based on their experiences working with transcripts and conducting research at the center. Editor Adam Hagen also wrote a piece about Ernesto Galarza based on our interviews with the Mexican American educator and activist.

We’re continuing a lot of projects: on Japanese American intergenerational narratives, the East Bay Regional Park District, the Getty Trust, the San Francisco Opera, and the California State Archives. A host of new projects are coming this school year, from the California Supreme Court to cannabis genetics to the California Coastal Commission to more voices from UC Berkeley and the Bay Area science community. Stay tuned.

We wish everyone on campus and beyond a fantastic year!

A spearhead for the barrio: the educational activism of Ernesto Galarza

From the Archives

By Adam Hagen

UC Berkeley’s Oral History Center houses a number of oral histories that center the lives of Mexican American activists. One such history, Burning Light: Action and Organizing in the Mexican Community in California, contains the recorded speeches and interviews of Ernesto Galarza from the late 1950s through the early 1980s, and provides a glimpse into the life of a man whose commitment to the Mexican American agricultural workers of California never wavered, even when he found himself a continent apart from them.

An older Ernesto Galarza at a book signing, signing a book, with two young women waiting in line; everyone is smiling.
Ernesto Galarza signs one of his books. (Photo: Occidental College)

Galarza’s words, which he imbues with a certain dry poetry, recount a life of extraordinary experience and achievement: Galarza worked as an organizer with the United Farm Workers of America, where he was instrumental in bringing the bracero program to an end; as an educator at the elementary and collegiate levels; and for a time as the chairman of the development of bilingual educational material for the National Committee of Classroom Teachers. He also worked as a consultant for several organizations and institutions, including the government of Bolivia. A recurring theme in Galarza’s oral history, and the subject of this profile, is his efforts on behalf of bilingual education and Spanish literacy advancement in the Mexican American community.

Galarza was born in the village of Jalcocotán in the Mexican state of Nayarit in 1905. But fleeing the tumult of Francisco Madero’s revolution, he and his family came to Sacramento in 1911, when the Central Valley’s patchwork of farm property was not yet its present expanse and its limits did not so easily elude the eye. There, enveloped in a community of agricultural laborers in the Sacramento barrio, a young Galarza would see firsthand the struggles of Mexican Americans and braceros as they tried to navigate the foreign land in which they now found themselves. And, as his family was of modest means—exacerbated by his mother’s death in 1917—he too joined in this work from an early age. One of the recorded talks compiled in the oral history contains a poignant allusion to his communities’ challenges in adapting to life in the United States, and, as it deals with the matter of English language acquisition, reveals the seeds of his future work. In the talk, Galarza recalls that he “became a leader in the Mexican community at the age of eight for the simple reason that I knew perhaps two dozen words of English.”

Ernesto Galarza sitting on a desk, with chalk board in the background, looking serious.
Professor Galarza in a classroom. (Photo: Occidental College)

English proficiency, however, was only one of a number of skills that Galarza exhibited in his youth. His academic prowess was so apparent that Sacramento High School teacher Ralph Everett approached him personally and asked that he reconsider his plan to work at the Sacramento Libby, McNeill & Libby cannery after graduation, insisting that he attend college instead. Everett even went to great lengths to help Galarza gain admission to Occidental College in Los Angeles, the institution he would graduate from in 1927. After Occidental, Galarza would go on to earn a master’s degree in history from Stanford University in 1929 and a doctorate in sociology from Columbia University in 1944.

Galarza’s recollection of his time at these institutions reveals how rare it was for a “Mexicano” to have the opportunity to obtain a higher education in the early twentieth century. He had this to say at a talk for Chicano studies students at UC Berkeley in 1977:

The Chicano students that I knew in the thirties at Columbia and elsewhere were very few in number. At Columbia University I didn’t know another graduate student in the department of history or political science or public law, which is where I did my work. Neither were there many of us in the undergraduate institutions in Southern California where I went to college at Occidental. I remember, I think it was in 1925, out of sheer curiosity I inquired among my friends at UCLA, USC, Pomona, Whittier and all of that cluster of colleges in the south, and I could only identify six of us in all of those places. Of course, possibly that wasn’t a good count because even then there were some Chicanos who had already given up their identity. They had become anything but Mexicans. In those days, we didn’t talk about Chicanos. You were either a Mexicano or you were not.

His skills in English and consequent academic achievements were a relative anomaly among the bracero and Mexican American communities due to there being a dearth of bilingual and English language education resources at the time of his youth. According to Galarza, not until the latter half of the twentieth century did the federal government take the concept of bilingual education and English as a second language (ESL) education seriously and fund it in any substantial fashion. And, as he notes in his oral history, once funding did increase there remained a system that overlooked the intricacies of bilingual education; advisory committees in Washington attempted to regulate the bilingual and ESL instruction from afar, and their distance resulted in curriculum that was incongruent with students’ needs.

Concerned about this oversight, Galarza explains that he and other instructors working in bilingual education were actively challenging the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and the Office of Bilingual Education in the 1970s, and had begun to see success. As he says in the oral history, he felt their work “has been so effective, even modest as it is, that it has created waves that have become very ominous to them.”

mini book, with images of a bottle of milk and a cow, with the wording: Historia verdadera de una botella de leche
An example from the collection of Mini-Libros.

And beyond his pushing for better, more personalized bilingual education curriculum on an institutional level, Galarza—believing that Spanish literacy had to precede English instruction—took it upon himself to craft and publish what he called “Mini-Libros,” easy-to-read Spanish texts that he designed for use in the classroom and hoped would engage young readers. So as to make students as comfortable as possible, the Mini-Libros even contained vocabulary specific to Mexico and the working-class immigrants coming to the United States at the time.

These actions were especially timely because Mexican immigration into the US was greatly increasing in the 1960s and ’70s, a topic thoroughly discussed in the interview. Galarza recognized the wealth of challenges—from housing to employment to education—that came with incorporating such a massive population into the fabric of American society, and identified the issues of literacy and English proficiency as those he was most eager to help resolve.

Each summer in his undergraduate years Galarzo would return to Sacramento to do what he called “bread and butter work” in the farms and the cannery. Later, when he left California to study at Columbia and the path home was no longer so easily negotiated, his community’s want of literacy became a major concern, in part his due to its personal impact:

I began to be disturbed by the lack of news from home. My family and my friends back in Sacramento were not writers. They didn’t know, many of them, how to write…When I realized after my third or fourth year back in the East that this was happening to me, I became very disturbed. And while we stayed in the East another six years, that feeling never left me that what was happening back in California in all the towns that I knew and where I had worked, I was not keeping abreast of.

Galarza believed that the Mexican immigrant children coming into the school system in the mid-twentieth century had to be brought into the fold of American life, to be “acculturated,” in his words, so as to avoid the fate of his own family and community. And such acculturation could not begin with a hard-and-fast imposition of English instruction, something he believed would only further alienate the newly arrived immigrants, accelerate the creation of insular communities, and complicate their path to prosperity in the US. He viewed bilingual education as the obvious answer to this challenge. It would help a child, as he noted in his oral history, to “recognize—to get into—and become familiar with this strange environment into which he’s been dropped.”

Galarza’s oral history is an invaluable glimpse into the subtle divides of his time: for each acknowledgement of how badly the “American hosts” have treated Mexican Americans, he has another remark on the myopia of Mexican American activists due to their protests against acculturation—something he believed was “largely for the purposes of propaganda.” And beyond these commentaries, he proves to be equally invaluable as a representation of a steadfast activism that lacks glamour and prefers actions to words. Galarza identified the challenges of his time and repeatedly asked the central question: what to do about it?

Find this interview and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. You can search by name, keyword, and several other criteria.

Adam Hagen recently graduated UC Berkeley with majors in Spanish linguistics and history. Adam worked as a student editor for the Oral History Center and was also a member of the editing staff of Clio’s Scroll, the Berkeley Undergraduate History Journal.

Related Resources from The Bancroft Library

The Bancroft Library has more than thirty holdings by Ernesto Galarza, including poems, books, reports, pamphlets, conference proceedings, and audio of talks and panel discussions. From the UC Library Search, go to “Advanced Search,” select “UC Berkeley special collections and archives,” and in the search field, enter Ernesto Galarza.

The Chicana/o Studies Oral History Project provides a rare, firsthand look at the development of the field of Chicana/o studies over the last fifty years, as well as unique insight into the lives and careers of the pioneering scholars who shaped it.

The Oral History Center digital collection contains additional oral histories of Mexican American activists, such as Hope Mendoza Schechter and Herman E. Gallegos. More can be found by searching “Mexican American community” or “Mexican American activism” on the Oral History Center home page.

Ernesto Galarza’s oral history is part of the Oral History Center’s Advocacy and PhilanthropyIndividual Interviews collection. Read more about the collection in the article by Lauren Sheehan-Clark, “Helping Hands: A Guide to the Oral History Center’s Advocacy and Philanthropy Individual Interviews.”

About the Oral History Center

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library preserves voices of people from all walks of life, with varying perspectives, experiences, pursuits, and 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. You can find our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. Sign up for our monthly newsletter featuring think pieces, new releases, podcasts, Q&As, and everything oral history. Access the most recent articles from our home page or go straight to our blog home.

Connection, Insight, Inspiration, Truth: Berkeley undergraduates reflect on oral history

“I was just one of thousands of people over the years who have done the little things necessary to create and to pass on personal narratives of the past.” —Mollie Appel-Turner 

Photo collage where numerous photos that are not individually discernible make up an image of The Bancroft Library, with grass in front and sky above.
Photo collage depicting The Bancroft Library

Introduction: Thoughts on the Production of Oral History and Its Importance

by Serena Ingalls, class of 2023

Like many of my student co-workers at the Oral History Center (OHC), I have recently graduated from UC Berkeley. Graduation from college is a major milestone, and I find myself looking back at all of my different experiences at Cal: classes, clubs, the pandemic, and my job as a student editor and researcher at the Oral History Center. My job in oral history in particular is a point of contemplation, as I’ve spent many hours in this role and it’s a unique experience that only a handful of other students can relate to. I find myself wondering, how has this job impacted me and my view of the world? How has my work in this role contributed to the field of history? 

Before closing the UC Berkeley chapter in our lives and moving on to other post-grad interests, we as the student editors took the time to reflect upon our work at the Oral History Center and what it means to us. We hope that you’ll enjoy stepping into our world as student editors in oral history, just as we have enjoyed the experience of getting to know the many fascinating individuals in our oral history archive. 

Editor’s note: Our team’s student editors serve critical functions in our oral history production, analyzing entire transcripts to write discursive tables of contents, entering interviewee comments, editing front matter, writing abstracts, and more. They do the work of professional editors and we would not be able to keep up our pace of interviews without them.  

Mollie Appel-Turner: Oral History and Connection

Mollie Appel-Turner - portrait
Mollie Appel-Turner

Working for the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library while pursuing a history degree was both deeply rewarding and extremely unfamiliar. My area of interest when it comes to history has always been western medieval Europe. While there are plenty of sources from the era where people recount their life experiences, I always had an awareness of the massive separation—temporal, cultural, and physical—between myself and the speaker. At the Oral History Center, I was keenly aware that the work that I was doing on oral histories was with the ultimate goal of preserving knowledge for future generations. But for the time being, that gulf I was used to, which to me practically defined the work I did as history, was simply not present. In my time outside of work, I also spent a fair chunk of time reading people’s personal accounts. While these accounts differed in many ways from the oral histories that I worked on, as time passed, I came to see these different kinds of personal accounts as reflections of one another. I would frequently stop in the middle of my shift, cursor blinking next to a spelling error, and think about how I was just one of thousands of people over the years who have done the little things necessary to create and to pass on personal narratives of the past. The immediacy, and modernity of the accounts that I worked on at the Oral History Center, rather than widening the distance I felt between me and the medieval people I studied, made me feel closer to them in a way that I did not expect.

Mollie Appel-Turner joined the UC Berkeley Oral History Center as a student editor in fall 2021. She recently graduated with a degree in history with a concentration in medieval history. 

Shannon White: Oral History and Inspiration 

In my time at the Oral History Center, I have worked on and witnessed the publication of interviews from an innumerable variety of narrators, including artists, writers, curators, academics, conservationists, and otherwise “ordinary” people with extraordinary stories to tell. I recall the first oral history I worked on upon joining the Center: Thomas Gaehtgens, former director of the Getty Research Institute, whose interview was not only incredibly detailed but also quite interesting to read. More recently, I have helped edit interviews from the Chicana/o Studies Oral History Project, the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project, and the California State Archives State Government Oral History Program.

 As a member of the OHC’s editorial team, most of my work is behind the scenes and prior to publication. I see these interviews at almost every stage in production. By the time an oral history transcript is finalized, I have generally read through it in its entirety several times and am quite familiar with the contents; as such, I interact with oral history at multiple levels. This experience has ultimately helped form and maintain my view of oral history as an inherently dynamic, interactive record—a form of living history.

The final oral history is a labor of many people to produce, with several rounds of edits and review that heavily draw from the narrator’s own input, and as such possesses a strong sense of the narrator’s personal style: how they speak, what they consider important or even essential for understanding their stories, their sense of humor, and what elements of the initial oral interview they would prefer to keep private.

The result is a distinctively humanizing portrayal of the narrator that arises from the nature of oral history as a lightly edited, audio-based interview format. The reliance on the “oral” aspect of oral history means that, bar serious editing, the published transcripts of interviews from the OHC tend to preserve a great deal of the tone of the original audio recording, including quirks of speech unique to each narrator. My personal favorite detail is always the bracketed notes included by the transcriber to indicate when someone is laughing, a phenomenon that often accompanies the conversation between interviewer and narrator and, in my opinion, highlights the deeply personal nature of these interviews.

Shannon White in front of trees
Shannon White

By sheer virtue of the volume of in-progress oral histories I interact with, I find that in time they become almost a part of you—there are so many narrators whose words and stories I remember, and whose work I have actively sought out after encountering their oral histories. For example, I became interested in Bay Area arts institutions after reading the interview of a San Francisco Opera board member; my own undergraduate research has been informed in no small part by border theory, a concept I was first introduced to by the narrators of the Chicana/o Studies Oral History Project; and my work on the oral histories of California politicians has contributed to my awareness of the history of the state’s politics. Oral history is intimate and alive, and its existence has the unique ability to inform and inspire those who engage with it.

Shannon White is a recent UC Berkeley graduate in the Department of Ancient Greek and Roman Studies. They were an undergraduate research apprentice in the Nemea Center under Dr. Kim Shelton and a member of the editing staff for the Berkeley Undergraduate Journal of Classics. Shannon worked as an editorial assistant for the Oral History Center.

Serena Ingalls: Oral History and Insight

Before working at the Oral History Center as a student editorial and research assistant, my interactions with oral history were limited. As a history major, it was a topic occasionally mentioned in my classes at Cal. I could understand the value in oral history as a way of filling in gaps in the historical record and giving a voice to those who were excluded from the written record. After I began my work with the OHC, however, I gained a new appreciation for oral history. This change in perspective came after seeing firsthand the immense effort that goes into producing oral histories to be shared with the public, and from reading the oral histories in our archive.

At the Oral History Center, I’ve worked in two roles. One of my roles is as a research assistant. In order to promote our archive and share our interviews with the public, we post on social media about relevant historical anniversaries (25th, 50th, 75th, 100th). I research these anniversaries and then search the archive to see if we have content that references these historical events. It’s surprising how many specific events are mentioned by interviewees, so I never discount an event without checking first with the archive. If there is one event that is very historically significant and has several interviews that reference it, sometimes I’ll write an article on the subject for the OHC. My other role is as an editorial assistant. Editorial assistants are part of the process of readying an oral history for publication. Student editorial assistants have a range of responsibilities during the editorial process which include inputting corrections from narrators, writing the table of contents, and more. Editing the oral history is a collaborative process, and it can take months or even years before an oral history is fully ready for publication. Once an oral history is completed and shared with the public, all who have worked on a particular oral history know the narrator inside and out. 

The OHC has an enormous archive of interviews with narrators who have incredible insight on the history of California and beyond. Their voices provide knowledge, but more critically, they add life to these historical periods. The interviews are at times surprising, heartbreaking, and even funny, and no two interviewees have the same story. Each interview is a unique combination of the mundane and the extraordinary, just like the life of any person. 

“Each interview is a unique combination of the mundane and the extraordinary, just like the life of any person.” —Serena Ingalls

Serena Ingalls recently graduated UC Berkeley with majors in history and French. She is an editorial and research assistant for the Oral History Center. Serena came up with the idea for an article about what it’s like to work on oral histories when she worked on an article about the seventy-fifth anniversary of the tape recorder. 

William Cooke: Oral History and Truth

A few short months ago, I graduated from UC Berkeley. I have completed 12 political science courses; written dozens of sports articles for Berkeley’s independent student newspaper, The Daily Californian; struggled my way through one too many required science classes; and penned more than a few essays en route to a minor in history. 

As a journalist and student, determining and advancing truth was at the heart of everything I did. For example, in order to make a sound political science argument about the role of agency in a democracy, I could not reinvent what Harriet Jacobs wrote in her autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Desiderius Erasmus had something specific to say about tyranny. What was it, exactly? Did Cal’s football team run or pass the ball more often on third down? If the United States federal government really did assume a different position towards organized labor after World War II, what evidence supports that claim? 

The answers to my own questions, or the questions my professors asked of me, had to be completely truthful. I certainly couldn’t say that I didn’t have an answer to an essay prompt.  

Oral history is a little bit different. When I first began working here last year, I couldn’t help but be skeptical. An interviewee in her eighties cannot with absolute accuracy remember her childhood years during the Great Depression, or her immediate reaction to the assassination of President Kennedy. Memory fails people all the time. A story might be true on the whole, I thought to myself, but the details might not. And what use was the answer “I don’t know?” That might be the truth, but what good is an oral history in which there are gaps? 

In short, how could a researcher possibly find use in an incomplete, possibly inaccurate story told by someone fifty years after the fact?

Of course, these questions are not on my mind as I write a table of contents or fix formatting issues on a transcript. My work can be tedious at times. As someone whose mind likes to stay busy, I don’t mind. But every now and then I will stop and think critically about what I’m reading and how it relates to my role as a student, journalist, and assistant at the Oral History Center; namely, promoting truth. 

I soon came to terms with the fact that oral histories cannot be totally accurate and that in an important way they are true. While the historian attempts to explain how people in the past saw themselves, their situation or others in very broad terms, the oral history provides insight into how a creator of history currently thinks of her past self, a valuable perspective for social scientists of all stripes. An interviewee might have felt more anxious than nervous at a certain moment in history, but how he remembers the past is also an important part of history. What good is there in knowing the true happenings if we do not know how the living, breathing makers of history think about what happened? 

And for that reason, I have come to realize that oral history isn’t impure, or less true. I do still read the oral histories I work on with a wary eye. But I don’t worry about their truthfulness like I first did back in the spring of 2022. Instead, each time I complete my portion of a project, I feel a sense of gratification for having helped keep history alive. Because true history is not a fixed thing. It lives in the minds of everyone who has experienced it. 

William Cooke recently graduated UC Berkeley with a major in political science and minor in history. In addition to working as a student editor for the Oral History Center, he is a reporter in the Sports department at UC Berkeley’s independent student newspaper, The Daily Californian.

Related Works

Serena Ingalls, Saving the Spoken Word: Audio Recording Devices in Oral History 

Mollie Appel-Turner, Shirley Chisholm, Women Political Leaders, and the Oral History Center collection

William Cooke, Title IX in Practice: How Title IX Affected Women’s Athletics at UC Berkeley and Beyond and Heavy hitters: the modern era of athletics management at UC Berkeley

Shannon White, “I take this obligation freely:” Recalling UC Berkeley’s loyalty oath controversy

Jill Schlessinger, editor, A peaceful silence: Berkeley undergrads reflect on remote employment during the pandemic

About the Oral History Center

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library preserves voices of people from all walks of life, with varying perspectives, experiences, pursuits, and 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. You can find our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. Sign up for our monthly newsletter  featuring think pieces, new releases, podcasts, Q&As, and everything oral history. Access the most recent articles from our home page or go straight to our blog home.

“Carolyn Merchant: My Life Exploring Science, Environment, and Ethics,” oral history release

New oral history: “Carolyn Merchant: My Life Exploring Science, Environment, and Ethics”

Video clip from Carolyn Merchant’s oral history on the 1970s social contexts for her book The Death of Nature

Color photograph of Carolyn Merchant outside with a green tree in the background
Professor Carolyn Merchant at UC Berkeley. (Photograph by Robert Holmgren.)

Carolyn Merchant is a Distinguished Professor Emerita of Environmental History, Philosophy, and Ethics at UC Berkeley. Her extensive research and teaching at Cal explored historical relationships between humanity, nature, and science with an ecofeminist focus on Western culture’s domination of nature and women. Throughout her academic career, Merchant published numerous peer-reviewed articles and wrote eleven books, as well as four edited volumes. Her genre-shaping publications—including The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution (1980); Ecological Revolutions: Nature, Gender, and Science in New England (1989); Radical Ecology: The Search for a Livable World (1992), among others—influenced various academic fields from Women’s Studies to the History of Science, and from Ethics to Environmental History.

Merchant and I video-recorded seven hours of her oral history over four interview sessions in the spring of 2022. Those recordings resulted in a 132-page transcript that includes an appendix with photographs. Merchant’s full-life oral history not only explored her intellectual and academic career, but also recorded lesser known details from her female-centered childhood, her educational mentors, her personal relationships, and her social activism, all of which shaped her academic research and teaching at UC Berkeley.

Sepia photograph of Carolyn Merchant wearing a sweater and a pearl necklace
Carolyn Merchant in her senior year in Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York, 1958.

Merchant was born in 1936, in Rochester, New York, where she and her younger sister were raised by their mother, grandmother, and aunt. Merchant recalled how sharing a home with five strong women taught her that “women could do anything. …That gave me a role model unconsciously to know that I could do anything I wanted to.” As a high school senior in 1954, Merchant became a national top ten finalist in the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. She earned her AB in Chemistry from Vassar College in 1958, studied physics for a year at the University of Pennsylvania, and then, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, she earned her MA in 1962 and her PhD in 1967 in the History of Science. Her graduate research explored the Vis Visa controversy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries over a “living force” in nature, from Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz to Jean-Baptiste le Rond D’Alembert.


Video clip from Carolyn Merchant’s oral history on learning and teaching the history of science, 1960s and 1970s

During graduate school in Wisconsin, Merchant met and married botanist Hugh Iltis, with whom she had two sons, both of whom later graduated from UC Berkeley. Merchant also began her environmental activism during graduate school, which included lighting Wisconsin prairies on fire as a means to restore native plants and animal habitat. At that time, Merchant first read Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which affected both her life and academic trajectories. In the late 1960s, upon completing her PhD thesis and her divorce from Iltis, Merchant and her sons moved from Wisconsin to Berkeley, California.

Color photograph of Carolyn Merchant outside and wearing a straw hat with a floral design
Carolyn Merchant in Honolulu, Hawaii, 1967.

Merchant’s life on the west coast provided new opportunities and realizations. While teaching the History of Science as a Visiting Lecturer at Oregon State University, Merchant lived on a Corvallis farm where the runner-up Dairy Queen of the state of Oregon taught her how to milk goats and cows. Merchant’s back-to-the-land experiences would shape her later analysis on utopias and what she described as the “organic society,” from John Salisbury’s organic concept of the state in 1159, to Francis Bacon’s The New Atlantis in 1627. To support herself and her family back in Berkeley, Merchant worked as an adjunct instructor, which she eventually parlayed into a fulltime position. She taught as a Lecturer at the University of San Francisco, where by 1976 she became an Assistant Professor, and she also taught in the innovative, interdisciplinary, yet short-lived Strawberry Creek College program at UC Berkeley.

Throughout the 1970s in the Bay Area, Merchant engaged in feminist, environmental, anti-war, and anti-capitalist politics, which is how she first met UC Berkeley historian Charles Sellers, whom she later married. Over many decades together, Merchant and Sellers advocated for social justice and shared adventures traversing the United States in a camper van while searching for rare birds and visiting far flung archival collections. On the road, Merchant used some of the first laptop computers to draft her eventual publications. Back in the Bay Area, Merchant connected with intellectuals like Theodore Roszak and became a visiting scholar at Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences. Around that time, Merchant learned from a USF colleague that UC Berkeley planned to hire a professor to work in the then-nascent field of environmental history. “I can do that,” she said to herself, and walked up the hill from her house to campus to submit her application. As she recalled, “when I was interviewed, I was from Stanford, and I was not a local yokel four blocks away in Berkeley where my house actually was.”

Video clip from Carolyn Merchant’s oral history on her hiring at UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources, 1980

Color photograph of Carolyn Merchant inside a room, leaning on a white cabinet and standing on a dark wood floor
Carolyn Merchant at her home in Berkeley, California, July 1984.

Women played a central role in Merchant’s research, as well as with her hiring at UC Berkeley in 1979. Merchant applied to the College of Natural Resources for a position in a new department then called Conservation and Resource Studies, which later became the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management. On the hiring committee were five male faculty members and five female undergraduates. Many women took courses in the college, yet the faculty of the College of Natural Resources were still mostly men. After her on-campus interview, Merchant recalled “the students wanted a woman, and they lobbied. …They wanted to understand what role women had played in the environment, and how they used the environment, and how they developed as scientists and environmental scientists. And they liked me because I was interested in pursuing those topics and finding out by digging into the archives who the women were and what they had done.” The first three hires for the new department were all women. In 1980, one year after Merchant joined the faculty at UC Berkeley, she published The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution, which remains in print today and has been translated into numerous languages. As Merchant recalled, when the book appeared, “there was a column in Newsweek, and then it was brought up at a congressional hearing. It [my book] was a criticism of what mechanistic science alone would do to the environment if it wasn’t associated with an ethic and some restraints and understanding of what the consequences were. So it was very gratifying to see that reception.”

The majority of Carolyn Merchant’s oral history explores her career as a Professor of Environmental History, Philosophy, and Ethics at UC Berkeley. The topics we discussed ranged from the evolution of Merchant’s research and teaching to her reflections on how the College of Natural Resources has changed over time. Generally, Merchant’s research and teaching examined the history and ethics of science and the environment through the lens of gender. As she noted during her oral history, “gender is so important and so central. Because most of human history, and most of even environmental history and the history of science, has been concerned with the roles that men play. And I want to make the roles that women play and the importance of gender as an equal thing, so that the roles of women are not obscured—and that women and men are equal partners not only in an existing political economy and a social economy, but they are equal partners in every aspect of trying to work together as partners to make the whole planet continue to live on.”

Video clip from Carolyn Merchant’s oral history on gendered reproduction

In her oral history, Merchant also addressed some of the specific, interrelated research themes that she developed throughout her career. One of those themes focused on science and domination, especially Merchant’s attention to impacts on nature as both a mental construct and a physical reality when institutions of science emerged within a patriarchal society. She also spoke about women and nature through the lens of ecofeminism. “Ecofeminism comes from a woman named Françoise d’Eaubonne in France,” Merchant explained. “Ecofeminism asserts the power of women and also their interrelationships with nature, and how women can save nature, and how women themselves can become important forces in the whole role of the conservation of resources.” Merchant discussed her partnership ethic, a contribution she made to environmental ethics in which humans of all genders, along with nonhuman nature, would be valued as equal partners inhabiting a flourishing earth. “Partnership makes nature and humans equal, and interactive, and sharing and giving,” Merchant declared, “and we have to conserve nature if we are going to go ahead and live in the future with an active nature and an active humanity.” In light of her own politics to protect and conserve nature, Merchant also reflected on about the importance of gendered reproduction, and how control of women’s bodies and the unpaid labor of those bodies are essential to the material, social, and cultural maintenance of a capitalist and patriarchal society. In contrast to the modern world’s focus on production, Merchant emphasized the need for reproduction: “allowing the reproduction of nature and its systems to continue is what is going to allow humanity to reproduce itself and to continue. …Because if we don’t allow the natural resources of the world to keep reproducing themselves, if we don’t set aside land or pass laws that prevent us from using everything up, we won’t be able to continue reproduction.”

Color photograph of Carolyn Merchant seated in her office on campus behind a desk covered with stacks of paper, which sits in front of a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf entirely full of booksCarolyn Merchant’s oral history is now available to read online, even as the ever-worsening impacts of climate change create an interrelated set of crises for the Earth and all living organisms on it, including humanity. After her long career teaching and researching environmental topics at UC Berkeley, Merchant admitted, “of course, I’m distressed that we have all the environmental problems that we have now.” Yet, in the face of these crises, she also shared her optimism. “There’s also hope in the sense that there are laws being passed, there are people who are working continuously, and there are new societies and new organizations being formed. So we’re at a tipping point. And hopefully, we’ll go in the direction of conservation, and environmental justice, and environmental reform, and saving the Earth.”

Carolyn Merchant, “Carolyn Merchant: My Life Exploring Science, Environment, and Ethics” conducted by Roger Eardley-Pryor in 2022, Oral History Center, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2023.

Video clip from Carolyn Merchant’s oral history on her partnership ethic for humanity and nature

Video clip from Carolyn Merchant’s oral history on becoming a national finalist in the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, 1954


The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library preserves voices of people from all walks of life, with varying political perspectives, national origins, and ethnic backgrounds. We are committed to open access and our oral histories and interpretive materials are available online at no cost to scholars and the public. You can find our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. Sign up for our monthly newsletter featuring think pieces, new releases, podcasts, Q&As, and everything oral history. Access the most recent articles from our home page or go straight to our blog home.

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Prensa Libre (Guatemalan Newspaper) Archive Trial at UC Berkeley Library

The Library has started a thirty-day trial of Prensa Libre Newspaper. One can access the resource by authenticating from an off-campus location using the following hyperlink:

Currently, the full-text content is available for the issues starting in 1980 through 2022.

This is the landing page of the Presna Libre Newspaper's Digital Archive. Prensa Libre is a Guatemalan newspaper that was established in 1951. It has been digitized by EastVIew and as of September 5, 2023, issues from 1980 through 2022 were accessible.
Prensa Libre Digital Archive’s Landing Page.


Prensa Libre fue fundado el 20 de agosto de 1951 por Pedro Julio García, Álvaro Contreras Vélez, Salvador Girón Collier, Mario Sandoval Figueroa e Isidoro Zarco Alfasa.

Prensa Libre is a Guatemalan newspaper published in Guatemala City by Prensa Libre, S.A. and distributed nationwide. It was formerly the most widely circulated newspaper in the country and as of 2007 it has the second-widest circulation.[1] It is considered a local newspaper of record. It was founded in 1951. (Source: Wikipedia)

Romance Language Collections Newsletter no. 8 (Fall 2023)

This year’s welcome back newsletter for those working in the Romance languages focuses on digital and print resources. For the most up-to-date information on the UC Berkeley Library’s services, please continue to check the Library’s Get Help page.

Cinegramas: Revista Semanal (1934-36)
A substantial run of the Spanish weekly film magazine Cinegramas: Revista Semanal (1934-36) was acquired months before the Covid pandemic hit but can now be consulted in The Bancroft Library. It ceased publication with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936.
What’s new in the Library for Fall 2023?

  • 2022-23 Serials Reductions
  • E-reserves & bCourses
  • Reference & Instruction
  • Library Workshops
  • Library Research Guides
  • New Books and More
  • Open Access Books
  • UC Library Search – 4 FAQs
  • Featured Digitized Work

See also:

This week in Summer Reading

Book cover for Bartleby the Scrivener

Bartleby, the Scrivener
Herman Melville

I recommend Bartleby, the Scrivener, written by Melville in 1853. In this short story, Bartleby is a new, quiet clerk in a lawyer’s (the narrator’s) office, who soon ends up not doing any of the work, for inexplicable, impenetrable reasons. He adamantly resists answering any questions or to go along with accommodations his baffled employer tries to make for him. The lawyer and we readers can only guess at what kind of an anarchic (maybe?) inner life he lives. Another part of the joy of the story is the lawyer’s inability to do anything about Bartleby, not even to fire him, so that Bartleby’s inscrutable life has found a perfect partner in his employer’s avoidance. Bartleby is THE classic character of passive inexorability in the face of the rules. His short reply to all probing is one of the most well-known quotes in American literature: “I would prefer not to.”

Slavic and E. European Cataloging & Metadata Librarian