Monthly Program: Eternal Flames: Excerpt from a work in progress

Sunday, October 16, 2:00 pm, Monthly Program via Zoom. View a video of this presentation here.

Eternal Flames: Excerpt from a work in progress
A Presentation by Jim Gasperini

Jim presented a chapter of his work in progress, a cultural history of fire entitled Fire in the Mind: From the Burning Bush to Burning Man, How We Imagine Fire.

The potential lifespan of a well-tended fire is far longer than that of any human being. By keeping a fire burning, a community can maintain an animated link both to its past and to its future. Long-lasting fires can symbolize the unity and continuity of a family, city, or nation; honor historical events or persons of significance; serve as reminder of commitment to a goal or principle; or represent the ever-present light of the divine. When we choose to keep ceremonial fires perpetually lit, we sacralize a practice going back to a stage in our domestication of fire, before early humans learned how to make fire on demand.

This presentation examined the many efforts we have made over the centuries to establish and maintain “eternal” flames, in the face of the inevitable fact that no human institution could possibly last for more than a tiny fraction of eternity.

Jim Gasperini is the Institute’s webmaster and a member of its Board. A Williams College graduate, he designed and wrote initial titles for the Time Machine series of interactive history books for young adults (Bantam); wrote Hidden Agenda, an educational game about Central American politics (Scholastic); and designed the third version of the city-planning simulation Sim City. Through his 3D photography company Cockeyed Creations he researched and published sets of stereograph reproductions for the White House Historical Association, Gettysburg and Antietam national military parks, and many museums, zoos, and national parks. See more about his background at

California and the West Events

Fall 2020: Revealing San Francisco’s Hidden 19th-Century Black History: A Tour of California Historical Society Artifacts, lecture by Susan D. Anderson, SF History Days (video here)

Summer 2020: Harlem of the West: The Fillmore Jazz Era and Redevelopment, online lecture by Elizabeth Pepin Silva

Fall 2019: An event-filled two-day excursion to Sacramento

Fall 2019:  Tour of Marin Civic Center and presentation by member Bonnie Portnoy on The Man Beneath the Paint: Tilden Daken

Summer 2019: Reading of Judith Offer's play, Scenes from the Life of Julia Morgan

Fall 2018: Public Program, "South Asians in the South Bay: The Privileged Immigrants"

Spring 2018: Excursion to Niles area of Fremont with historic train ride and silent film museum

Spring 2018: The California and the West study group initiated the two public programs on "The Future of the Past in the Digital Age" and Benjamin Madley's talk on An American GenocideThe United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846–1873.

Fall 2017: Martinez Adobe Fandango; Public Program: “Siberia and California: Connections During the Russian Revolution and Civil War”

Fall 2016: Amador County

Summer 2016: San Francisco Presidio

Winter 2016: Berkeley History Center

Spring 2015: Sonoma Plaza

Winter 2015: San Francisco Public Library

Summer 2014:  Red Oak Victory and World War II Homefront National Historic Park, Richmond

Spring 2014:  Los Gatos History Museum, "American Bohemia: The Cats Estate in Los Gatos”

Winter 2014:  Tour of California Historical Society exhibition on Juana Briones, January 25

Summer 2013:  Green Gulch Farm Zen Center visit, August 15

Spring 2013: Visits to Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum and the McCune Collection at the Vallejo Public Library, April 13

Play Readers Upcoming Meeting

In the abundance of caution recommended by heath authorities, the group has decided to take a break from regular meetings.

The group welcomes new members.  If you wish to be placed on our email list and receive announcements, contact Joanne Lafler.

Writers Group Upcoming Meetings

Saturday, April 8, 1:30 pm, via Zoom. Ann Harlow will present.

Public Programs

Sunday, August 21, 2:00 pm, Public Program via Zoom.
Writing and Revising Narrative History
A Presentation by Megan Kate Nelson
Join the Mechanics' Institute and the Institute for Historical Study for this exciting talk about writing with historian Megan Kate Nelson who left academia in 2014 to become a full-time writer. During this Zoom event, she will offer advice for writers who want to publish trade history books and other pieces for general readers. Dr. Nelson will talk about how to make the transition from academic to narrative history writing, how to revise manuscripts for trade publication, and how to pitch articles and Op-eds to newspapers and magazines.
Megan Kate Nelson is a historian and writer, with a BA from Harvard and a PhD in American Studies from the University of Iowa. She is the author of four books: Saving Yellowstone: Exploration and Preservation in Reconstruction America (Scribner 2022); The Three-Cornered War: The Union, the Confederacy, and Native Peoples in the Fight for the West (Scribner 2020; a finalist for the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in History); Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War (Georgia, 2012); and Trembling Earth: A Cultural History of the Okefenokee Swamp (Georgia, 2005). She writes about the Civil War, the U.S. West, and American culture for The New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Smithsonian Magazine, and TIME. Before leaving academia to write full-time in 2014, she taught U.S. history and American Studies at Texas Tech University, Cal State Fullerton, Harvard, and Brown. She grew up in Colorado but now lives in Boston with her husband and two cats.

Next Monthly Program

Sunday, March 19, 2:00 pm, Monthly Program via Zoom.
“Designed for Large Explosions” - The Port Chicago explosion and the Manhattan Project
A Presentation by Daisy Brown Herndon
Daisy Brown Herndon, a former school librarian, was “working” as a free-lance researcher in the WWII reading room at the National Archives in College Park, MD in 1995 when she “met” the protagonist of her novel (in-progress) Scrap Mettle: In 1942, when the Navy opens all ratings to Negroes, young Booker T. Taylor joins up to prove his mettle. Herndon’s research for the historic novel led her to the Port Chicago explosion, the subsequent mutiny trial, and the outlandish but intriguing nuclear explosion theory (PCnet) that changed both the focus of her writing and the course of her life. In 2020, Herndon began publishing articles on MEDIUM, including Uncle Sam’s Nuclear Cloak, a four-part series featuring a new perspective on the history of the bomb.
Of the 320 Americans killed in the explosion at Port Chicago, 202 were African American sailors who loaded ammunition at the segregated base. Only 51 victims could be identified. A local newspaper reported “Most Victims Atomized.”
The presentation will be recorded, and the question-and-answer part will be posted on YouTube for IHS members only. If you don’t want to be on the recording, just make sure your video is off. And please remember to mute your microphone!

About Us

The Institute for Historical Study is a community of researchers, writers, and artists. Our common bond is a devotion to history in its many forms. Through wide-ranging programs, we share research, ideas, and practical advice and provide a public forum for the discussion of history. 


We Promote:

  •  the study and discussion of history outside the traditional classroom setting
  •  research, writing, performances, exhibitions, and other expressions of historical study
  •  non-traditional and interdisciplinary areas of study as well as traditional approaches to history



Member News

Members' Recent Activities:

On October 14 and 15, 2022, Marilyn L. Geary presented her book Miners, Milkers & Merchants: From the Swiss-Italian Alps to the Golden Hills of Australia and California at “Settimane Ticinesi,” a series of events dedicated to Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Canton of Ticino held at the Consulate General of Switzerland in San Francisco. On the first day focused on Ticino’s immigration to California, actors from the American Conservatory Theater read letters from Marilyn’s book dramatizing the immigrant experience. On the next day she gave a talk on the history of Swiss-Italian immigration to California, a mass migration which brought 28,000 Ticinesi to California between 1850 and 1920. Marilyn also conducted oral histories of the Rev. Dr. Jane Spahr and Paula Pilecki for the Anne T. Kent California Room of the Marin County Free Library.
Presbyterian Minister Janie Spahr has committed her life to advocating for justice and greater inclusivity for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. She was the founder and first executive director of Spectrum, the Center for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Concerns in San Anselmo, California, now called the Spahr Center. Paula Pilecki served as its executive director for over sixteen years. Both were instrumental in providing services for the LGBTQ community and in changing attitudes by reaching out to and
collaborating with organizations throughout Marin County.
In October, California Audubon published Leslie Friedman’s poem, “Meeting the Vulture.” “At a very large online gathering discussing raptors,” Leslie writes, “my name was picked out of a pot. I was asked if I had a
comment or story about raptors, so I read ‘Meeting the Vulture.’ I was immediately asked for permission to publish it.
Jim Gasperini’s work in progress Fire in the Mind won the Grand Prize in the 2022 San Francisco Writers Conference Writing Contest. For this annual contest, literary-agent judges read excerpts from unpublished manuscripts and choose First Prize Winners in four categories. The Grand Prize Winner is then selected from among the four winners. Fire in the Mind took top honors in Adult Non-Fiction.
At the November meeting of the American Academy of the History of Dentistry, held in New York City, Peter G. Meyerhof was awarded the Hayden-Harris Award. “This award is the Academy’s highest award and given to those who have made outstanding contributions to the advancement of the history of dentistry. Dr. Meyerhof shares an interest in dental history as well as in the history of California.”
Dan Kohanski’s latest book is now out: A God of Our Invention: How Religion Shaped the Western World (Apocryphile Press, 2023). The book examines the history of the development of Jewish and Christian ideas of God and then explores how this history has led to Christianity’s enormous impact on the Western world. Dan wishes to acknowledge the tremendous help of the Writers Group, without whom
this project would not have been successful. On April 4th, Dan will speak about A God of Our Invention at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, in conversation with Club member George Hammond.
The paperback edition of Robert McNally’s The Modoc War is now available. “It was a nonfiction finalist in the Northern California Book Awards and the winner of a California Book Awards gold medal from the Commonwealth Club as the year’s best book on California. Available online from
and University of Nebraska Press.”
A book launch and reception for Peter Stansky’s The Socialist Patriot: George Orwell and War (Stanford University Press, 2023) took place Thursday, February 23 at the Green Library at Stanford at 4:30, in the Bender Room. The program featured  a talk by the Orwell scholar John Rodden about Peter’s earlier
Orwell work, The Unknown Orwell and Orwell: The Transformation. Peter himself spoke about his new book. The Socialist Patriot was available for sale, along with the combined edition of the two previous books.
Katya Miller’s essay “Conversations with Clan Mothers: Searching for Meaning in a National Statue” can be found on the website of Women Rising Radio. Katya’s work to bring these North American leaders together also resulted in WRR’s program 44, “Indigenous Women Envision Rematriation,” a half-hour listen.
Welcome new members:

Vince Emery created Vince Emery Productions
where he combines his skills as writer, literary detective, editor, and publisher, producing books and videos by and about established writers. “Our goal,” he writes, “is to give readers a deeper, closer connection with their favorite authors.” Dashiell Hammett, Harvey Milk, Jack London, and George Sterling are among the featured authors. Vince is currently working on “George Sterling's Greatest Hits,” “The Harvey Milk Letters,” and soon, “Writers of Carmel: An Anthology.”

Nathan Alexander Foxton is an artist living in San Francisco. Before moving here last year he had been working in Indianapolis, Indiana at the Harrison Center for the Arts (curator), at Ivy Tech Community College, University of Indianapolis, and Herron School of Art + Design (adjunct instructor). He’s a figurative painter, constructing space from a two-dimensional perspective. Nathan is interested in telling stories through his art about the soul of place and has a background teaching art history among other subjects. He has exhibited his work in group and solo shows.

John Hyde Barnard is a musician, writer, historian, and a retired Los Angeles City Librarian. He recently signed a publishing contract for “The Creole Incident: The Beginning of the End of Slavery,” a runner-up in the San Francisco Writers Conference Adult Non-Fiction Category (2021). “This historical narrative,” he writes, “details how the Union and the Constitution were saved, twenty years before the Civil War, by the actions of a few select members of the House of Representatives, led by the venerable John Quincy Adams, along with a handful of radical abolitionists and 19 enslaved individuals. The book is slated for release in late 2022.” John is still active as a musical arranger, director, publisher and performer and divides his time between Sausalito, Los Angeles and New York.

Members:  Please submit news of your history-related publications, lectures, awards, research finds, etc. to

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