Find out more about the Institute for Historical Study and its members by reading our quarterly newsletter. Follow the links to current and past editions. Each issue includes a president’s message, study group reports, and member news, along with the special features listed below for recent issues. (WIP indicates a report on a Work-in-Progress meeting, now called a Monthly Program; book reviews are of books by Institute members only.)

Spring 2023

“The Historical Play Reading Group – A Chapter in Our History” by Oliver B. Pollak
In Memoriam
      Lorrie O’Dell by Lynn Reese
      Oscar Berland by Harvey Schwartz and Paulette Comeau
      Joanne Lafler by Bonda Lewis and Elizabeth Thacker-Estrada
Monthly Programs
      “The Who, What, When, Where, How and Why of Paraplegic Vivian Edward’s Transcontinental Goat Cart Odyssey, 1907-1910” by Oliver B. Pollak
Book Review
      Miners, Milkers, & Merchants: From the Swiss-Italian Alps to the Golden Hills of Australia and California by Marilyn L. Geary (Life Circle Press, 2021),
      reviewed by Maria Sakovich
History Remembered
     “Querido – Not a Teaspoon of Warm Water” by David Rosen

Winter 2023

“What’s in a Name? Jack London and Racism” by Joanne Lafler”
“Moscow, 1985: Beginning of Transition” by Leslie Friedman
Monthly Programs
     “Eternal Flames” by Jim Gasperini
     “The Genocide in California’s Closet” by Robert Aquinas McNally

Fall 2022

“Thoreau as I Understand Him after Long Absence from New England” by Charles Sullivan
Monthly Programs
     “Second Wave Feminism in a Postwar Suburban Synagogue” by Michael Several
     “Joy of Life: Impressionists and Post-Impressionists in Russia” by Marina Oborotova
     “Writing and Revising Narrative History” by Megan Kate Nelson
     “How to Create Your Own Legacy Book” by Margaretta Mitchell
“A Few More Words about Richard Herr” by Margaretta Mitchell

Summer 2022

“’A Local Habitation and a Name:’ Can the Historian’s Pen Give Scattered Fragments a Local Habitation and a Name?” by Carol Sicherman
Monthly Programs
     “Why the Jews Won’t Accept Jesus, and Why This Is a Problem for Christians” by Dan Kohanski
     “General Vallejo’s Efforts to Establish a Mission in Santa Rosa” by Peter Meyerhof
In Memoriam
     Richard Herr, by Ann Harlow and Maria Sakovich

Spring 2022

“The 862 Project — Whose Beginning?” by Richard Robbins
Monthly Programs
     “Beyond Genealogy: Tips and Techniques for Researching and Presenting Family History Online” by Jim Gasperini
     “George Daniel de Monfreid: Post-Impressionist Trailblazer and Gauguin’s Best Friend” by Laure Latham
     “Matera and the Sassi: From National Shame to International Fame” by Marilyn Geary

Winter 2022

Hamilton, History, and Broadway” by Judith Offer
Monthly Programs
     “George T. Strong, the Civil War Sanitary Commission, and the Women’s Movement” by Christopher Webber – A Continuation
     “Out of the Fog: The Surprising Origin Story of the Cable Cars” by Taryn Edwards
     “Organized Crime, Big Business, and the Corruption of American Democracy” by Jonathan
     “Exploring Indigenous California History” by Ann Harlow
     “The Four Wars That Shaped George Orwell: From the ‘Great’ One to the ‘Cold’ One” by Peter Stansky
In Memoriam
     Bogna Lorence-Kot by Maria Sakovich and Carol Sicherman

Fall 2021

“New Scholarship Illuminating Feminism Before Feminism” by Carol Sicherman
Monthly Programs
     “Solomon Schocken: Sonoma’s Preeminent Jewish Entrepreneur” by Peter G. Meyerhof
     “George T. Strong, the Civil War Sanitary Commission, and the Women’s Movement” by Christopher Webber, reviewed by Joanne Lafler
In Memoriam
     Richard Raack, by Oliver Pollak and Maria Sakovich
     Paul Trimble by Maria Sakovich
Paper Review
     “How Effective Was Art in Teaching the Bible to Medieval Laity?” by Georgia Wright, reviewed by Sharan Newman

Summer 2021

“Another Role for Historians” by Dot Brovarney, part 2

Monthly Programs
     “Centennial of the Suffragist Portrait Monument in the US Capitol” by Elizabeth Thacker-Estrada and Bonda Lewis, reviewed by Ann Harlow
    “Beth Wright’s Keys to Successful Self-publishing” by Elizabeth Nakahara
    “Campaigns of the California Volunteers” by Richard Hurley, reviewed by Marilyn L. Geary
In Memoriam
    “John Rusk,” by Maria Sakovich
Historians and Their Professions: Reflections
    “Bibliographies, Biographies, Autobiographies, Gender, Faith, and Historians: Reflections” by Oliver Pollak

Spring 2021

“Another Role for Historians” by Maria Sakovich and Dot Brovarney
Annual Meeting:  presentations by Stephen Barton, Laure Latham and Walt Stevenson
Opinion Corner
    “When Your Historical Subject Is a Racist” by Kevin Knauss
Monthly Programs
    “Lost Department Stores of San Francisco” by Anne Evers Hitz
    “Digging for Online Gold from Alaska (or Anywhere)” by Steven Levi
Book Review
    The Story of Our Butterflies by Leslie Friedman, reviewed by Peter Stansky
Special longer piece:
    “Remembering a Second Home in Swabia” by David Rosen

Winter 2021

“Reflections on Self-Publishing” by Peter Stansky
“Predatory Journals and a Trojan Horse” by Carol Sicherman
Monthly Presentation
   “The Arc of Our History, 1980-2020: Celebrating the Fortieth Anniversary of the Institute for Historical Study” by Oliver Pollak
In Memoriam
   “Ross Maxwell” by Joanne Lafler
   “George Piness, Husband of Edith”
Book Review
   “Twenty Years On” By Peter Stansky (Pinehill Humanities Press, 2020), reviewed by Leslie Friedman

Fall 2020
“Pandemic and the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1768-1771)” by Oliver B. Pollak
Monthly Programs
    “Exploring the Links between Tourism and War” by Bert Gordon
    “Blacks in Marin from the Spaniards to the Great Migration” by Marilyn Geary, reviewed by Jody Offer
Public Program: “Harlem of the West: The Fillmore Jazz Era and Redevelopment” by Elizabeth Pepin Silva, reviewed by Louis Trager
Book Review: Leonard Woolf: Bloomsbury Socialist By Fred Leventhal and Peter Stansky, reviewed by Leslie Friedman
Special – 1918 Recalled: “Whatever Happened to Great-Uncle Jay?” by Jim Gasperini

Summer 2020
“The Perils of Predatory Journals” by Carol Sicherman
Monthly Program: “Bio-Bibliography—Readings and Film about Word War I that Moved Me” by Oliver Pollak
Pandemic Times (“stories in the general area of ‘living during a historic moment'”) by Joanne Lafler, Oliver Pollak, Leslie Friedman, Margaret Simmons, Peter Mellini, Bonnie Portnoy, and Pamela Peirce 

Spring 2020
“History Re-imaged” by Richard Robbins
Annual Meeting:  presentations by Pam Peirce, Kevin Knauss and Tim Welsh
Monthly Program: “Wild Women Suffragists and Their Reputation as Sex Radicals” by Joe Miller
“Remembering Georgia Wright” by Joanne Lafler, Jody Offer, Bonda Lewis, Bert Gordon, Peter Mellini, David Chadwick and Maria Sakovich
In Memoriam: Carroll Winslow Brentano
Book Review: Gold Rush Bishop: William Ingraham Kip, First Episcopal Bishop of California and His Family by Mary Judith Robinson, reviewed by Leslie Friedman

Winter 2020
“Tracing the Truth, Part III: – Planning Your Visit to an Archive or Library” by Taryn Edwards
Monthly Program:
“The Impact of Religion on Sex from the Hittites to Augustine” (Dan Kohanski)
In Memoriam: Georgia Wright
Special Event: “Historical Treasures of Sacramento Revealed”

Fall 2019
“Urban Legend or Not: The Questionable Circumstances Surrounding the Death of a President in 1920s-era San Francisco – Part 2” by Monika Trobits
Monthly Programs:
“Fire in the Mind” (Jim Gasperini)
Potluck and Program: video “Three English Cathedrals: Norwich, Lincoln, Wells” (Georgia Wright)
“Reminiscing about a Forty-year Journey to Recover the Debates on the Woman Question in France, 1400-1920” (Karen Offen)
Book Reviews:
The Dancer’s Garden by Leslie Friedman (Peter Stansky)
Scholars Without Walls: A History of the Minnesota Independent Scholars’ Forum 1983-2018 by Lucy Brusic, Evelyn Klein, and Mike Woolsey (Oliver Pollak)

Summer 2019
“Urban Legend or Not: The Questionable Circumstances Surrounding the Death of a President in 1920s-era San Francisco” by Monika Trobits
Monthly Programs:
“Pioneers to the Present: The Jews of Richmond and Contra Costa County” (Oliver Pollak)
“Jenny in the World” (Bonda Lewis)
In Memoriam: Harry C. Meserve
Book Review: The Woman Question in France, 1400-1870 and Debating the Woman Question in the French Third Republic, 1870-1920 by Karen Offen (Lyn Reese)

Spring 2019
“Tracing the Truth: Adventures in Historical Research Online and In-Person” by Taryn Edwards (part 2)
Monthly Programs:
“Introducing Big History” (Ross Maxwell)
“Waves of Beans” (Monika Trobits)
“The Oratory of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr.”    (Chris Webber)
Book Review: Overtaken by the Night: One Russian’s Journey through Peace, War, Revolution, and Terror by Richard G. Robbins Jr.

Winter 2019
“Tracing the Truth: Adventures in Historical Research Online and In-Person” by Taryn Edwards
Monthly Program: “Beloved Freedom: Secret on the Capitol Dome” (Katya Miller)
World History Group: The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire by Kyle Harper
In Memoriam: Autumn Stanley
In Memoriam: Ellen Huppert
Book Review: The Sweet Life: Cherry Stories from Butler Ranch, compiled and edited by Dot Brovarney

Fall 2018
David Rosen, U.S. Coast Guard Historian
“A May Walk in Rome: How Spending Two Weeks at the American Academy Made Me Consider Rewriting My Novel” (Stephanie McCoy)
Play Readers: King Charles III by Mike Bartlett
Public Event: “Storms, Droughts, Floods: Two Classic Documentary Films”
Book Review: Sea and Sky: Community Art in Seward, Mural Capital of Alaska by Jacquelin Pels

Summer 2018
Essay: “Timepieces Hidden in Plain Sight” by Steve Sodokoff
WIP: “Leonard Woolf: Bloomsbury Socialist” by Peter Stansky
Program: “Niles, California: Our First Official ‘Monthly Program”
Program: “Conversation with History Publishers Jackie Pels and Malcolm Margolin”
Public Event: “The Making of An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846– 1873” (Benjamin Madley)
Medieval Studies: “Ivory Vikings: the Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them” by Nancy Marie Brown
Play Readers: “Cressida,” by Nicholas Wright and “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” by August Wilson
In Memoriam: Kathleen Casey

Spring 2018
Essay: “Driving with Dictators” by Oliver B. Pollak
WIP: “Political Correctness in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603)” (Charles Sullivan)
WIP: “The Filibusterers and Freebooters of California” (Neil Dukas)
WIP: “From Vigilance in Early San Francisco to the 1859 Duel” (Monica Trobits)
Panel Discussions: “The Future of the Past in the Digital Age, 1.0 and 2.0”
Play Readers: “Longitude” by Arnold Wesker

Winter 2018
Essay: “Still Enduring Vietnam” by Leslie Friedman
Russian Revolution Centennial: Report on Public Program
WIP: Churchill and Contemporary British Historians: Effacing History to Support Politics (Richard Raack)
Play Readers: Hugh Whitmore’s Breaking the Code
Medieval Studies: Ellen Huppert on Genghis Khan
Minigrant Reports: Cathy Robbins, Margaretta Mitchell

Fall 2017
Essay: “Closet Archaeology: History under the Floorboards” by Carol Sicherman
WIP: The Unveiling of Andrew Smith Hallidie (Taryn Edwards)
Play Readers: Laurence Housman, Collaborators, and John Hodge, Victoria Regina
Medieval Studies: Lyn Reese on Jerusalem, 1000–1400
In Memoriam: Linda Larson Boston, Kevin Starr

Summer 2017
Essay: “Just When You Thought You’d Finished Your Research” by Ellen Huppert
Book Review: Edward Upward: Art and Life by Peter Stansky
“In Memoriam: Jules Becker” by Peter Mellini and John Rusk
Medieval Studies: John Rusk on Mayan civilization

Spring 2017
Essay: “English Novelist Presages Donald Trump 150 Years Ago” by Jody Offer (George Eliot, Felix Holt, the Radical)
Annual Meeting Program: “Challenges on Writing the Biographies of Lesser Known People”
Program: “Tom Mooney Revidivus—23 Years in California and International History, 1916 – 1939”
WIP: The Swiss-Italian Connection: Linking West Marin Dairy Ranchers to Their Alpine Roots (Marilyn Geary)
Play Readers: Howard Benton’s Drawing the Line

Winter 2017
Minigrant Report by Neal Dukas (Hawaiian military history)
Public Program: “Where Do Archives Come From?”
“Back to the Gold Country” by Maria Sakovich with contributions by Patti Starr Page, Ron Forsell and Marilyn Geary
Play Readers: Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Jefferson’s Garden
“Remembering State Historian Kevin Starr” by Linda Larson Boston
Book Review: Separate But Equal: Individual and Community since the Enlightenment by Richard Herr

Fall 2016
Essay: “Recommending a Book to Institute Members” by Ellen Huppert (Danielle Allen, Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality)
Reports on day trip to San Francisco Presidio and weekend trip to Amador County
Writers: Charles Sullivan, “Making History: Reconstructing the Elizabethan Quest for the ‘Northwest Passage’”; Carol Sicherman, article about a collection of postcards sent to Matylda Schiff Sicherman in the years just before, during, and after World War I.
Play Readers: Ernest Hemingway’s The Fifth Column;  Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars

Summer 2016
Essay: “Serendipity, Cyberspace, and the Tactility of Documents” by Carol Sicherman
WIP: When Governments Control History (Richard Raack)
WIP: Russian Choral Music in 1920s and 1930s San Francisco: An Example of Cultural Sharing (Maria Sakovich)
WIP: Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in an International Context (Richard Herr)

Spring 2016
Essay: “Slander Sells” by Judith Offer
Annual Meeting talks: Charles Sullivan, Phyllis Grilikhes-Maxwell, David Hirzel, Lori Hart Beninger
Book Review: Building the Golden Gate Bridge: A Workers’ Oral History by Harvey Schwartz

Winter 2016
Essay: “The Making of a Geek” by Cathy Robbins
WIP: Jenny Again: Bringing Her Home and Loosing Her on the World (Bonda Lewis)
Book Review: Santa Zanni by Steven Levi

Fall 2015
Essay:  “Learning History Through the Soles of My Feet” by Joanne Lafler
WIP: A New Theory about the Location of the Sonoma Mission Cemetery (Peter Meyerhof)
WIP: Ghost Ship: The Manila Galleon San Felipe of 1576 (Edward Von der Porten)
WIP: “Art Capital of the West”: Real and Imagined Art Museums and Galleries in Berkeley (Ann Harlow)

Summer 2015
Essay: “The Independent Historian and the Question of ‘Academic’ Rigor” by Neil Bernard Dukas
WIP: Crime in San Francisco (Paul Drexler)
WIP: How the International Women’s Organizations and their Allied Affiliates “Entered” the War, 1914-15 (Karen Offen)
Minigrant Report: The Film Fire Ruin Renewal (Margaretta K. Mitchell)

Spring 2015
Essay: “Parachuting into the 21st Century” by Louis Trager
Annual Meeting talks: Sue Mote, Margaret Simmons, Liz Vasile, Edward Von der Porten
WIP: Who Could “Read” Sculpture on French Gothic Portals? (Georgia Wright)
WIP: Writing African History as an Outsider Invited Inside (Carol Sicherman)

Winter 2015
Essay: “Reflections on Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-first Century” by Ellen Huppert

Fall 2014
Essay: “A Singular Adventure in Paris” by Georgia Wright
WIP: The She-Novelist in Venice: The Life and Death of Constance Fenimore Woolson (Stephanie McCoy)
WIP: Vladimir Dzhunkovsky’s Memory Palace: The Strange Case of his Memoir and Archive (Richard Robbins)
WIP: Torrid Splendor: Finding Calabria (Cathy Robbins)

Summer 2014
Essay: “Ephemeral Research” by Robert Chandler
WIP: The Huppert Family from Poland to California by Way of Austria, Czechoslovakia, England, France, and Cuba (Ellen Huppert)
Report on visit to World War I art exhibition at St. Mary’s College

Spring 2014
Interview with Member Jeanne Farr McDonnell
Annual Meeting Report
WIP: Dragon of the Waldorf: Arthur J. Goldsmith, the Mid-century Interventionists, and the Civil War of the American Elites (Louis Trager)
WIP: From the Anschluss to May 1939: More Background on How the War Came (It wasn’t as you likely have read it.) (Richard Raack)
Report on visit to California Historical Society Juana Briones exhibition
Report on visit to History Museum of Los Gatos
Book Review: Robert Chandler, San Francisco Lithographer: African American Artist Grafton Tyler Brown

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Upcoming Events

Sunday, September 10, 1:30 pm, Writers Group, via Zoom. Ann Harlow will present.

Sunday, September 17, 2:00 pm, Monthly Program via Zoom.

How We Domesticated Fire, and Fire Domesticated Us"
A Presentation by Jim Gasperini
Jim is nearing completion of his cultural history of fire, Fire in the Mind: From the Burning Bush to Burning Man, How We Imagine Fire. He will base his presentation on a chapter of the book.
How did we, alone among the animals, come to control fire? Every human culture has at least one story explaining how this happened, ranging from simple accidents to fantastic stories of trips on gossamer balloons to steal fire from the Moon People. Analysis of these stories brings up such questions as: why do so many, such as the Greek myth of Prometheus, require that fire be stolen? Why do so many involve explicit sexual symbolism? Even Sigmund Freud created a myth about control of fire, with comically bizarre sexual symbolism.
Jim will also explain current scientific thinking about our early encounters with fire, drawing on a wide range of scientific disciplines, including a study of the genetics of human lice. In the process of domesticating fire, fire domesticated us: to keep the fire going we needed to learn to cooperate, and invented fire-preserving rituals. Our partnership with fire drastically changed our bodies and our brains. That we have imaginations at all we owe in part to our relationship with fire.
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. A draft of Fire in the Mind won Grand Prize in the 2022 Writing Contest at the San Francisco Writers Conference. See more about the book and his background at
We need a volunteer to write a short report on the presentation for the newsletter. If you would like to volunteer, please contact the program coordinator (Dan Kohanski).
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!