Changing My Perspective: Save Mount Diablo and the Study of Oral History

Andrew Deakin is a sophomore at UC Berkeley majoring in political science. He enjoys backpacking, reading, and tending to his vegetable garden. He was an Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program intern with the Oral History Center in spring 2022, during which time he worked on a podcast for the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project.

Andrew
Andrew Deakin, OHC URAP intern

Last fall, combing through undergraduate research positions, a post caught my eye. The Oral History Center was looking for undergraduates to work on a podcast documenting the history of the conservation organization Save Mount Diablo. Finally! I was astounded that a research opportunity could indulge so many of my interests: journalism, history, podcasts, public policy, and, of course, my love for the outdoors. After reading the project description, I knew I would apply. Funnily enough, it wasn’t until I had my interview for the position that I learned exactly what oral history is. Since working on this project, I’ve developed an appreciation for a discipline that, frankly, I didn’t even know existed until recently. I found oral history to be an exciting, unadulterated way to engage with the past. Instead of reading from a dry, unappealing textbook, I learned to experience history through the recorded lives of individual people. Although one person’s perspective doesn’t always offer a complete historical picture, it’s invigorating to witness lived history through the personal experience, and sometimes life story, of another person.

         One interview in the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project that I made a deep personal connection with was with long-time supporter of Save Mount Diablo, John Kiefer. Like most of the interviews I reviewed, John’s began with his childhood. John was born in 1934 in Menlo Park. He was raised in a rural environment. For John, Menlo Park was “Pure, pure country. Try to grasp a vision of not very many homes, and most of the homes that were there were built in the late 1800s. There were some newer ones that had been built in the thirties and forties and fifties—that was new.” Maybe I have a romantic view of a rural childhood, but I couldn’t help but envy this aspect of John’s upbringing. I grew up in suburban Orange County, California. Try to grasp a vision of many identical homes, most built in the last 30 years, that are spread evenly like butter over what once must have been pristine Southern California chaparral.

Later in John’s interview, he put my experience into words. John said, “The average person, unique and marvelous, [isn’t] connected to nature.” John calls this modern experience of feeling disconnected with nature “Nature Deficit Disorder,” which he thinks “is a serious problem among our youth.” I’m thankful that as I grew up, I was a member of my local Boy Scout troop where I garnered my love for the outdoors. We often went camping in Caspers Regional Park, and I had the chance to spend time camping and backpacking in the Anza-Borrego Desert, Zion National Park in Utah, and Catalina Island. These experiences were especially transformative for me, and I fostered some of my strongest friendships while in the outdoors. John’s interview gave me a historical perspective to realize that the way I and many people of my generation are raised is novel, and perhaps not healthy either. John does amazing work combatting this issue, and I found his tenacity to get youth involved in the outdoors inspiring.

After a stint in the military, John decided he wanted to travel. For John, his decision was simple. He remarks, “I had a yearning to travel, and so I had gone to school with a few good friends from Central and South America, and I said, ‘Well, that’s the place for me.’” John’s retelling of his early adulthood was informative of my own experience. I, too, yearned to travel and, much like John, set my eyes on a foreign country somewhat arbitrarily and decided I would spend this summer there. I’ve been taking French courses and enrolled in the French Department’s summer abroad program in Paris. It was heartwarming to hear John recollect so aptly what the archetype of young adulthood is. John reminisces, “So what was that period of my life about? Well, it was, in fact, like the fable…where one leaves home with a bag of clothes…in search of the holy grail, which simply means…to start to experience who you are beyond your family.” John’s retelling of his young adulthood relieved some doubts I had about treating this period of my life so whimsically. John’s interview taught me it’s okay to take risks and to find myself while I’m still young. John’s existentialist philosophy really stuck with me, and I thank him and the process of oral history for leaving me with that. In the end, John applied his love of nature to his work with Save Mount Diablo. I hope that, given John’s experience, I will be able to apply my own love of the outdoors in my future work.

I’m honored to have partaken in the production of the Save Mount Diablo podcast for its fiftieth anniversary. It’s a historical practice I never considered, and I’m left with new tools to better understand history going forward. It was refreshing to do work on a tangible product, something that has real value and will be consumed by a wider audience. Learning about the lives of all the wonderful people who work for Save Mount Diablo gave me both a historical framework to understand the land conservation in the East Bay and the personal wisdom from these peoples’ life stories. This project informed me about the process of podcast production and storytelling, something I thought I might enjoy, but never had the chance to pursue. Although John’s interview impacted me the most, we did not use much of his material for the podcast. Deciding which quotes neatly weaved into the narrative we were telling taught me how to tell a compelling story and when to cut content when necessary. Now, as the semester is ending, I understand the processes, some difficult and some exhilarating, but all satisfying, to produce this kind of media. It has given me the experience to determine where I might go from here and if I have a future working in the media. I thank the Oral History Center and my URAP mentors, Shanna Farrell and Amanda Tewes, for this fulfilling and incredible opportunity, and I hope this research opportunity continues for future undergraduates to discover the joys of oral history.

Find the interview mentioned here and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. You can search by name, key word, and several other criteria.


Growth and (Re)connection: My Experience with the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project

Anjali George is a junior at UC Berkeley majoring in Sociology. She enjoys reading, dancing and being in nature. She was an Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program intern with the Oral History Center in spring 2022, during which time she worked on a podcast for the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project.

Anjali
Anjali George, OHC URAP intern

When I joined the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project offered through The Oral History Center’s Berkeley Remix podcast, I really did not have any idea what I was doing—I had no experience in oral history, very little knowledge of Save Mount Diablo and no understanding of podcasts beyond the fact that I enjoy listening to them. Yet, I knew immediately that this was something I deeply wanted to do. Despite my lack of experience, I have always been fascinated by the practice of oral history and the importance of documenting and sharing history in a way that is accessible to the public. From what little I knew of Save Mount Diablo at the time (a land trust and conservation organization in the East Bay), I felt drawn to its mission and values, and I knew I wanted to be part of this effort to celebrate and preserve its history through the podcast.

 As I worked through the Save Mount Diablo interviews that had been compiled for this oral history project, I learned so much more about the organization and environmental conservation in general, as well as about myself and my own relationship with the environment. I think what I initially found compelling about the organization was its focus on fostering education and community in order to sustain its more physical goals, like fundraising and land conservation. Ted Clement, who has been Save Mount Diablo’s executive director since 2015, had so many insightful thoughts and experiences that he shared in his interview. Hearing him speak about how the climate crisis, at its core, is “a materialization of our very poor relationship with nature,” very clearly put the organization’s education branch into perspective. Ted explained that the widespread disconnect between people and nature calls for an entire cultural realignment, which is where education comes into play. After stepping into his role in the organization, Ted immediately prioritized education as a primary goal, so that the broader community can start to transform its cultural values and develop a healthier, more meaningful relationship with nature. He spoke of earth-centered cultures, in which nature is considered sacred, placed “at the center of the value system.” Listening to Ted’s interview, it became clear that Save Mount Diablo is more than just a land trust and conservation organization—its efforts to spread awareness and educate the public, coupled with its desire to connect people to nature and to one another, make its work so much more impactful in creating sustainable change.

 Even with my lack of oral history experience prior to this project, I have always found it so crucial to understand history in general, not only to learn from the past, but also to preserve it. And in that sense, I have a deep admiration for the practice of oral history and the way it preserves and passes along different histories, especially regarding topics and perspectives that often get overshadowed or overlooked. Working with Ted’s interview—as well as all of the other interviews that had been conducted—really reinforced the importance of oral history for me, in the sense that hearing the history from those who actually experienced it adds so much more depth and understanding to the story. On the more technical side, I hadn’t previously understood the complexities of creating a podcast—or more broadly, even taking primary sources and turning them into a developed, cohesive story. By listening to the interviews and reading through the transcripts, I quickly began to recognize what pieces of information were important to get across to the audience. From there, I learned how to develop a narrative that conveys the relevant information while also speaking to the audience and making them care about the story. Even the thought process that goes into crafting a compelling story—drawing on charismatic speakers, finding quotes that are both significant to the story and also entertaining to hear, summarizing information that might be too dense or nuanced for an audience to bother sitting through—there are so many small details to take into consideration to be able to turn those initial interviews into a finished product. 

I learned so much more than I could have expected from working on this project—about working with primary sources and creating a story, about environmental conservation, about myself and how I want to move through this world—and I’ll continue to carry this experience with me and apply it in other aspects of my life and my learning. I’ve learned how to look at any given information and pull out the important themes, how to string different stories together to paint a broader picture, how to think about what appeals to an audience and how to make them care. Even outside of a storytelling framework, these skills easily transfer over to different parts of my life, from critically analyzing academic content to carrying conversations in my daily life. Moreso, hearing Save Mount Diablo’s history and accomplishments, even hearing how its relationship with nature and conservation efforts has changed over the years, has genuinely inspired me to rethink my own relationship with nature and what I can do in my own life to reconnect with the natural world around me. In this tumultuous time, with the pandemic and the increasing severity of the climate crisis, I think it is very easy for people to feel hopeless or to feel like the damage done is irreversible. However, I believe documenting Save Mount Diablo’s history and its accomplishments is an important reminder that there are people on the ground putting in the effort, doing the work that needs to be done, creating change and making a real impact on the climate crisis. I think this podcast can be not only a celebration of Save Mount Diablo’s work, but also a source of hope and motivation for the listening audience to persevere and to keep doing our part—no matter how big or small—and I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to have taken part in this project.

Find the interview mentioned here and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. You can search by name, key word, and several other criteria.