Report on San Francisco Main Library Tour

SF History Center
Nine Institute members received an exclusive tour of the main San Francisco Public Library on January 31, 2015. Our guide, Susan Goldstein, has served as City Archivist since 1995. In her position, she works with all the city departments to preserve and make accessible their historical records. She also manages a robust program and exhibition schedule and is currently engaged in a number of digitization projects. At the moment, she is busy preparing for the 100
th anniversary celebration of the San Francisco City Hall, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the American Library Association Conference this coming June.

The library, designed by James Ingo Freed of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners (New York) and Cathy Simon of Simon Martin-Vegue Winkelstein Moris (San Francisco), opened its doors in 1996. Our tour included all six floors. It is immediately apparent that the “new library” has become a vital part of the city’s fabric—dynamic and responsive to the community’s needs.  Under construction is a state-of-the-art digital media center for teens. Already in place is a computer training center and an extensive adult literacy program. It was noted that the library also hosts a laudable outreach program for the homeless. A wide array of rotating exhibits ensures that a visit to the library is always fresh and interesting.

In addition to the general and dedicated collections, there are special centers on African-American and Gay and Lesbian social studies. Appropriately, a large room has been set aside just for Book Arts. All three centers are beautifully appointed contemplative spaces in which to study in quiet comfort. Dig a bit deeper and you’ll find the library holds an improbable number of unique special collections. To cite just a sampling: calligraphy, wit and humor, and the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The library also holds the photo morgue of the News-Call and over 40,000 digitized photos as part of the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection

The Art and Music Center on the 4th floor boasts an extensive clippings file that includes arts and entertainment programs and an etchings and engravings collection, both of which date back to the 19th century. You can check out music scores from their vast collection.

Some may be surprised to find that the library has been a federal depository since 1889. The library’s Government Information Center is your one-stop-shop for almost anything related to city, state and federal government. Particularly impressive are city police records dating back to the 1860s and mayoral records to the Mexican period.

The periodicals and newspapers collection (the Magazines and Newspapers Center) rivals or surpasses that of any Bay Area university.

Our tour culminated with a visit to the San Francisco History Center and the Book Arts Room on the 6th floor. Whether you are working on city or county history, architecture, labor, landmarks education or vital statistics, you’re bound to find something of value in the 30,000 plus volumes or audio collection held by the center. The center still makes good use of its subject and biography card catalog and ephemera guides. All materials must be used in-place and cannot be checked out. You can learn a great deal about other available resources just from a visit to the History Center. For example, if you are into maps, there is the David Rumsey Map Collection.

From a historian’s perspective, there are two points worth emphasizing. (1) A conversation with the library staff is worth its weight in gold. There is a treasure trove of primary materials tucked away in the stacks, some of it uncatalogued within layers of larger collections, that the library staff know intimately well. (2) The library is growing its digital holdings in leaps and bounds and much of it is accessible from home. On the library website, by selecting the “eLibrary” tab at the top of the page you can search access “Articles and Databases” from home, IF you hold a library card. (Any California resident with identification can get a library card for free at the Main Library or any branch.) Through the “Articles and Databases” search, for example, you can search or browse Proquest’s historical copies of the Francisco Chronicle from 1869 through 1922. The library plans to add access to the remaining years (1923 to the present) later this year.

Goldstein would love to grow the library’s collections, but storage is a practical limitation. Even if items are digitized the originals are generally retained. There is a downside to items that are “born digitized,” says Goldstein, because author notes, which are key to a full understanding of the developmental process, are generally absent. Migrating to new formats is no less challenging.

After an informative and inspiring morning at the library, the participants gathered at the Café Asia in the Asian Art Museum for an opportunity to share their thoughts and get reacquainted.

— Neil Dukas


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

Sunday, June 12, 1:30 pm, Writers Group via Zoom. Kieren McCarthy will present.

Public Programs

Thursday, July 22 2021,  7:00 pm, Public Program, via Zoom. Member Stephen E. Barton will introduce his new book, J. Stitt Wilson: Socialist, Christian, Mayor of Berkeley.

Steven Barton

Faced with the dramatic extremes of wealth and poverty that characterized Gilded Age America, Wilson (1868-1942) gave up a promising career in the ministry to advocate for “applied Christianity”—a democratic and socialist economy based on caring and cooperation that would embody Jesus’s message of love. His varied efforts included socialist evangelism in the Midwest, California and Great Britain; building an alliance between the Socialist Party and the labor movement in his campaigns for governor, mayor and Congress, and supporting Upton Sinclair’s End Poverty in California campaign within the Democratic Party. He and his family became an integral part of “Bohemian Berkeley,” and although his sons all died young, his daughters became socialists, feminists and stars of stage and screen. This will be an online event on Zoom; the link will be sent to those who register here. The event is cosponsored by the Berkeley Historical Study.
Public programs have included panel discussions, individual presentations, and film series. Programs are co-sponsored with other institutions, including public libraries, universities, museums, and archives. Read More...

Next Monthly Program

Sunday, May 15  10:00 am, Monthly Program via Zoom
Second Wave Feminism in a Post War Suburban Synagogue
A Presentation by Michael Several

1973, book cover

Between 1968 and 1979, women at the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center wrote and produced five musical comedies. These productions are an example of women forging a presence in an institution that barred them from equal participation in religious ritual and prevented them from fully participating in temple governance. The musicals exemplify the role of synagogues as community centers where Jewish identity and a sense of community were fashioned in post-war suburbs. In addition, the scripts present markers of Jewish identity and document the influence of the second wave of the women’s movement on a group of middle class Jewish suburban women.

1979, scene from Moise and Mendel

Using oral histories, photographs, advertising flyers and programs in a Power Point presentation, Michael Several will weave themes in the scripts to important events that marked the second wave of the women’s movement.

  Michael Several graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in political science. He has written articles about the ancient Near East, public art in Los Angeles, and an attempt in 1893 to ethnically cleanse Redlands of its Chinese population. Prior to moving to Berkeley in 2020, he was the historian at the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, where he taught a monthly class, conducted oral histories, and assembled and organized documents that were donated to Special Collections at UCLA.

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. 

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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:

Peter Meyerhof received the Campbell Augustus Menefee Scholastic Award from the Sonoma County Historical Society “in recognition for his many significant historical research projects and presentations about Sonoma County history.”
Carol Sicherman was invited to blurb Politics, Democratization and Academia in Uganda: The
Case of Makerere University (2021), an impressive analysis of efforts by academics to intervene in politics.
On March 25 Bert Gordon presented a paper, “Music, Power, and Tourism: Occupied France during the Second World War,” at the Tourism and Musical Imaginaries 2022 Conference, at the University of California Berkeley. Bert is also teaching an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute course at UC Berkeley: “The History of France: From Roman Gaul to the Present,” March 28 through May 16.

Kevin Knauss’ latest book, Amos P. Catlin, The Whig Who Put Sacramento On The Map, is now
available. See Kevin’s post about the book and Catlin’s life, including "a YouTube video where I
visit different places where Amos lived and worked.”

Margaretta (Gretta) Mitchell’s latest book is called Dreamscapes and Destinations. “This book was hatched in 2020, the first year of the pandemic. Since travel was out of the question, I turned to pictures to return to various destinations, some of which live in my memory as dreamscapes — beginning with the Ancient Stone Circles in England and ending with the vast space of Death Valley, California.” Each
geographical section includes brief anecdotal introductions to the 93 black and white images.

Gretta has produced three “legacy” books: Iconographies (2015), Island Dreams (2017) and Secret Garden (2020) published by her imprint, Elysian Editions. Institute members have a $10 discount on book purchases: $30 will cover tax and shipping. Please send checks to: Margaretta Mitchell, 280 Hillcrest Road, Berkeley, CA 94705.

Marilyn L. Geary has published the book Miners, Milkers & Merchants: from the Swiss-Italian Alps to the Golden Hills of Australia and California. Based on letters of the Rotanzi family from the Vallemaggia in Ticino, Switzerland, the family biography also reflects the experiences of the multitudes who left Ticino seeking relief from poverty in the mid-nineteenth century. It is available for purchase at https:www.marilynlgeary.com.

Welcome to our newest members.

Lyndon Comstock has worked in the field of community economic development. Since retiring, he has
published books about Annie Clemenc and the 1913 Keweenaw copper strike, the early history of a Berkeley neighborhood, his grandmother in Salonica at the time of the Balkan Wars, and pre-abolition Black history in central Kentucky. Other historical research topics include: the United States Colored Troops at Fort Pillow; the community of Bolinas, California; Croatian partisans in World War II; Students for a
Democratic Society; and Chögyam Trungpa’s life in Tibet before 1959. Lyndon also served as a primary source for Cliff Rosenthal’s book about community development financial institutions.

Kieren McCarthy describes himself as “a journalist and writer based in Oakland. I’m from the UK but have been in California for over a decade now. I have a masters degree in mechanical engineering but went into journalism from university. I’ve written for a wide range of national newspapers and magazines, most in the UK. I wrote a book about the extraordinary battle for the internet address Sex.com. Currently I’m writing a book about John McLaren, the superintendent of Golden Gate Park from the 1890s to 1943 and have been digging into San Francisco and California history.”

About himself Michael Several writes: “Having never been an academic, I have had the luxury of learning about a great variety of subjects and taking my time to investigate each one at a leisurely pace. This life-long journey resulted in articles on empire building in ancient Egypt, public memory in Los Angeles, anti-Chinese racism in Redlands, and institutional and community formation of the San Gabriel Valley Jewish community. Currently I am researching the impact of the environment, the introduction of new communication technology, the advances in horticulture, and the completion of water and transportation projects on the development of the San Gabriel Valley between 1873 and 1886.”

Laure Latham describes herself as “a blogger, storyteller and lawyer,” holding a B.A. in religious anthropology from Paris Jussieu University and a B.A. in law from La Sorbonne. She has practiced law at the Paris Bar and has taught international tax at La Sorbonne. Her writings include articles on the environment as well as children and the outdoors. Laure coauthored George-Daniel de Monfreid: Ami et confident de Gauguin and is currently working on a fictional account of Russian America and Ohlone people taking place in 1839 California. She lives in London.

Esther Shallan is a philosopher (PhD in Philosophy from Oxford Brookes University and Mphil in the philosophy of psychology from Kings College London) with interests and research on the problem of evil, the nature of suffering, and personality traits. She is also a psychotherapist working in North London who specializes in bereavement, depression, and anxiety disorders. Esther is currently working on a book entitled "God, Good and Evil: The Problem of Moral Evil Re-evaluated.”

Congratulations to Our 2020 Mini-Grant Recipients:

Steven Levi for expenses of a visual presentation of his poem, “The Contract," about women's suffrage.
Pam Peirce for editing of her biography of Katherine Gibson Wicks.

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

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We welcome all men and women who have a commitment to historical study, which may be demonstrated in one or more of the following ways...

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Institute for Historical Study
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Berkeley, CA 94708
info@instituteforhistoricalstudy.org

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