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ROHO in Action—Spring 2015

Alice Paul: Claiming Power and the Suffragist Oral History Project

Guest column by Jill Zahniser
Photo of Carl Pope
Alice Paul, 
the subject of a new biography

ROHO’s Suffragists Oral History Project (SOHP) has long been a boon to those of us working to reconstruct American women’s campaign to win the vote.  In particular, the interviews, completed in the 1970s, showcase significant figures in the National Woman’s Party (NWP), among them leader Alice Paul.  The online searchable format happily makes the content of these precious oral histories easily accessible to all. 

The late Amelia R. Fry and I co-authored the recent biography of Alice Paul’s early life and suffrage years, Alice Paul: Claiming Power
Oxford, 2014). Fry was a key member of the SOHP staff.  She became dogged in her pursuit of surviving NWP members; by her own account, she spent half a dozen years persuading Paul to record an oral history, which the two finally did in 1972 and 1973 (Conversations with Alice Paul, iii).  Fortunately, the editing and publication of the oral history was completed by the time Paul died in 1977.

During my research, I found that comparing the Paul oral history with correspondence and other records from the suffrage period yielded a rich vein of inquiry into how Paul constructed her own persona and her own history as leader of the Congressional Union and later the NWP. The comparison casts new light on Paul’s famed reluctance to claim the spotlight at the same time that she sought ever more publicity-grabbing ways to convince the United States Congress of the value of the female vote.

One of the most striking instances of Paul’s shaping her own history concerns her decision to offer her services as an activist with Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the militant branch of the British woman suffrage movement.  Many papers and books have quoted the aged Paul’s description of a moment she framed as a turning point in her life:  a 1907 University of Birmingham speech by Christabel Pankhurst. Paul later told Fry, “I don't know that I'd ever heard of her name before.” Paul goes on to describe the hostility of the crowd, comprised mostly of male students.

Paul: So she started to speak. And the students started to yell and shout, and I don't believe anybody heard one single word that Christabel said. So she kept on anyway for her whole speech. She was completely shouted down. So I just became from that moment very anxious to help in this movement. You know if you feel some group that's your group is the underdog you want to try to help; it's natural I guess for everybody.

The University administration reprimanded the students and rescheduled the meeting. Paul again attended.

Paul: Well, then I understood everything about what the English militants were trying to do. She and the other young women who spoke with her—they were all three young girls—they had anyway one heart and soul convert—I don't know how many others they had. That was myself (Conversations, 32-4).

Paul’s letters from England, available at the Schlesinger Library, contradict this creation myth she spun for herself, consciously or otherwise. The letters reveal that she and her mother had been following the exploits of the Pankhursts in the American newspapers for years. Our biography details the reasons Paul hesitated for six months before joining the WSPU and even then resisted participating in the regularly scheduled demonstrations, which routinely ended in women’s arrest and imprisonment (Zahniser & Fry, 46-7).  In mid-1909, Paul decided to join a Pankhurst street protest. This harrowing yet exhilarating experience became the true turning point which changed her life forever.

Oral histories like “Conversations with Alice Paul” offer biographers far more than simply the subject’s recollections. Combined with other resources, they can provide unexpected glimpses into the complexities of the psyche.

2015 Advanced Oral History Summer Institute Planning Underway

Summer Institute keynote speaker, Amy Evans
Summer Institute keynote speaker, Amy Evans

Fresh off a successful and sold-out Introduction to Oral History Workshop -- or Oral History 101 -- in March, we are preparing for our annual Advanced Oral History Institute, to be held from August 10-14. Registration is now open. Along with our regular institute faculty, we are thrilled to announce Amy Evans as our keynote speaker and guest faculty member. Evans is an artist, writer, teacher, and documentarian. She built the documentary program at the Southern Foodways Alliance, where she served as their lead oral historian for more than ten years. The Mississippi Historical Society has twice recognized Amy's work, and Food & Wine magazine named her one of the "most fearsome talents" in the culinary world. Her writing has appeared in Saveur, The Bitter Southerner, and Cornbread Nation 5: The Best of Southern Food Writing. Amy holds an MA in Southern Studies from the University of Mississippi and a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art. She appreciates a good meringue and can never eat too many oysters. Along with Amy, several other scholars and public historians will join us as guest speakers and panelists at the institute.

What some participants in the 2014 Advanced Summer Institute said:

“It was great to have so many opportunities to connect with fellow participants and hear about the Institute faculty’s projects. The schedule was effective, and humane!”

“I was impressed by the training provided by the Summer Institute. The curriculum was well designed and comprehensive, from an overview of the field, crafting of a project, to its analysis and dissemination in the digital age.”

“I feel empowered, now, to do my project correctly. I had fundamental project ideas that stuck with me throughout the week, but my understanding of the oral history process grew richer. I arrived timid and uncertain about how to begin, but I feel ready to do oral history work now.”

“It was great to see the Institute faculty working in great partnership and with passion for their work, which is very diverse but focused. I learned a lot and was greatly inspired.”

“The opportunity to talk about oral history and hear about other people’s research was invaluable. I don’t think I’ve ever had such an intensive amount of dialogue about my work or chosen research methods. It was so helpful to engage in these conversations with both faculty and other parcipants.”

“I found it extremely beneficial to have such a wide array of projects and project stages represented by the participants. Also, the Institute faculty was exceptional. What professionals, wonderful presenters, and teachers! It was truly inspiring.”

Continue to From the Archives!


ROHO in Action—Winter 2014

First New Interviews in the Global Mining and Materials Research Project

Photo of Robin Nagle, ROHO 2014 Oral History Summer Institute
Dr. Roshan Bhappu, first interviewee
for the new "Global Mining" project

For over twenty years, the Regional Oral History Office (ROHO) produced in-depth oral histories of members of the mining community under a project called "Western Mining in the Twentieth Century," which was overseen by Eleanor “Lee” and Langan “Lang” Swent, Doug Fuerstenau and others.

The 104 interviews in the project covered the history of mining in the American Southwest, Mexico, South America, and Australia from the 1940s until the 1990s.

Along with the recent name change from ROHO to the Oral History Center of the Bancroft Library, we are proud to announce a new project entitled “Global Mining and Materials Research,” which will focus on key transitions in technology, policy, and geopolitics that have brought mining to its current state worldwide.

Much has changed in mining-related industries in the years since the Western Mining project was in full production, including the increased globalization of mining operations, the decreasing concentration of mineable minerals in ore, increasingly complicated regulatory environments, new systems of environmental remediation, new technology for exploration, extraction, and processing, and new stories of political conflict and resolution. In addition to collecting interviews about mining engineering, metallurgy, and administration, we also hope to explore the history of information technology and data analysis with respect to mining, as well as the legal, regulatory, and policy history of the industries. 

We are also very pleased to announce the publication of the first interview of this project, with prominent metallurgist Dr. Roshan Bhappu. The interview with Dr. Bhappu was funded with revenue from the Hearst Foundation endowment for the Regional Oral History Office. Thanks also to former Western Mining Project Lead Lee Swent, Dr. Douglas Fuerstenau, and Noel Kirschenbaum for their advice and support while the Global Mining project was being established. Finally, we are of course grateful to Roshan Bhappu for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak to us about the past, present, and future of mining in world history.


ROHO in Action—Fall 2014

ROHO Commemorates 50 Years Since the Free Speech Movement with a Major Oral History Project

FSM Oral History Project photoFifty years ago, the Berkeley campus of the University of California was rocked by the Free Speech Movement (FSM). The Regional Oral History Office (ROHO) has made available nearly 40 never-before seen interviews that recount the experiences of a cross section of participants in or witness to the events, including: student leaders and the lawyers who defended those disciplined and arrested; faculty who were in favor of and others who vehemently opposed FSM; ordinary students who as one freshman noted, were "trying to figure out what was going on. People were really caught by how important this was and trying to sort out the adult world response to it. You knew that this was a big deal." Because of repeated massive demonstrations-10,000 students surrounding a police car in the middle of Sproul Plaza; 800 people occupying the central administration building-Berkeley drew national attention. In the words of one interviewee, a journalist who covered the FSM for the nation-wide Collegiate Press News Service: "FSM opened up everything-just blew out the tubes of being able to move large amounts of information across the country. It wasn't exactly that Berkeley was the first place where this mechanism kicked in [political protest] but it was the place where it went critical."

Announcing a New 2-Day Oral History Workshop for Everyone

We are proud to launch a new 2-day oral history workshop that is designed for the person who is interested in learning the practice from ground-up. This workshop is conceived of as a companion initiative to the more in-depth Advanced Oral History Summer Institute, which typically attracts scholars and professionals with specific research projects in mind. The new Spring Workshop will focus on the "nuts-and-bolts" of oral history interviewing, including project planning, interviewing techniques, transcription, recording equipment, and preservation. The workshop will include instruction from our seasoned oral historians but also plenty of hands-on practice exercises. Although space is strictly limited, everyone is welcome to attend the workshop, including community-based historians, teachers, genealogists, public historians, and students in college or grad school. The two-day workshop will be held on Friday March 13th and Saturday March 14th, 2015 on the UC Berkeley campus. The cost is $225, which includes a take-home oral history manual. Registration now open.

2014 Advanced Oral History Summer Institute a Resounding Success!

When I started with ROHO last year, one of my first assignments was to plan the 2014 Advanced Oral History Summer Institute. After months of planning, we welcomed over thirty-five participants from around the world to campus. We had an excellent group of participants with an interesting array of project topics. The week’s structure was organized through the lens of the “life cycle of the interview” and we covered topics like method, theory, legal and ethical issues, project planning, the art of the interview, project funding, and presentation.

Photo of Robin Nagle, ROHO 2014 Oral History Summer Institute
2014 Summer Institute
Keynote Speaker Robin Nagle
Robin Nagle, our keynote speaker from New York University, spoke about her work with the New York City Department of Sanitation Oral History Archive, which she founded in 2011. In addition to her keynote presentation – which we offered as a free evening public event – she participated on several panels, including Project Conceptualization and the Anatomy of an Interview. We invited Rina Benmayor, Robert Keith Collins, Mimi Lok, Louise Pubols, Isabel Ziegler, Sarah Jo Newbauer, and Quinn Dombrowski to be guest speakers; their varying perspectives and areas of expertise provided insight into using oral history interviews in multiple contexts for different purposes. Our Institute faculty – Neil Henry, Martin Meeker, Lisa Rubens, Paul Burnett, and myself, Shanna Farrell – engaged in deep conversations with participants about the role and transformative power of oral history through our panel sessions, individual presentations, and discussion groups. As each day of the week focused on a different aspect of the interview, our smart, insightful participants were able to think critically about their projects. We hope that the week helped them to advance their projects. Conversely, all of the Institute Faculty remarked about how helpful the conversations we had with our participants were for us; we feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to discuss our work and ideological positions in the larger context of oral history with such an engaged group of people.

We got some great feedback about the week and although there is always room for improvement, we consider the Institute this year to have been a success. I would like to thank our Institute faculty – Neil, Martin, Lisa, and Paul – for their hard work and dedication and our guest speakers for their excellent presentations. We look forward to 2015!

group photo of 2014 Oral History Summer Institute

— Shanna Farrell

 ROHO in Action—Summer 2014

ROHO to Become the Oral History Center of the Bancroft Library

In his quarterly newsletter column, Neil Henry announced that soon the Regional Oral History Office will be changing its name to the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library.

The name “Regional Oral History Office” carries with it a long and distinguished history and we are not letting go of it lightly. After all, ROHO is now sixty years old, making it the second-oldest oral history program in the country – and perhaps the world! In order to explain why we are jettisoning the “regional” in our name, we first need to explain why it was used to begin with. When the office was first established in 1954 the world was a very different place than it is today: travel and communications were expensive and often difficult to undertake. At a time when all oral history interviews took place in person, it meant that most interviews done by Berkeley scholars would be recorded regionally, if not locally. Moreover, the concept of “regional” was also quite different sixty years ago. In the 1860s, when Hubert Howe Bancroft first started collecting the materials that would form the basis of what is now known as The Bancroft Library (ROHO’s home), he defined his region, “the west,” as everything west of the Mississippi, south of Alaska, and north of the Isthmus of Panama. So our “regional” referred to both the local nature of the interviews but also to the larger region in which our interviewees lived, worked, and traveled, and where they influenced and witnessed history-in-the-making.

Over next several decades, however, the cultural understanding of our “regional” changed – shrinking, really, to become “just California” or “merely the San Francisco Bay Area.” At the same time, ROHO’s interviewing expanded both geographically and thematically. Although it was still understood that most interviews would be conducted locally, the topics covered in the interviews came to address much broader historical events and trends of regional, national, and even international importance. And so by the 1970s much of our work reached well beyond our region, even broadly defined: our mining project interviews include much discussion of mining in Canada and Latin America; our ARAMCO project explores the deep linkages between the US and Saudi Arabia; our federal debt and deficits project details a topic of great national political importance; our AIDS project and our series in biotech provide insight into transformations in medicine with a global impact; and the disability rights project shows the power of local activists to enact national and even international change. Quite simply, oral history at UC Berkeley long ago outgrew its “regional” moniker.

The other change, from “Office” to “Center,” is somewhat less noticeable, but is equally as important. When ROHO was established as a research office of The Bancroft Library, it was a small, inward-looking operation that really served as an adjunct to the main archival mission of a manuscripts collection—it conducted interviews that would illuminate the paper documents in the library. While retaining its original function, ROHO grew in subsequent decades into a bona-fide center of research, publication, teaching, and public engagement. Not only do ROHO historians and editors conduct and complete interviews, they serve as the university’s resident experts on oral history theory and methodology and are regularly called upon to consult and instruct; they host an advanced oral history institute every summer which draws budding oral historians from around the globe; and they publish award-winning books and articles that draw upon research conducted at what now is properly called a “center.”

Our new name – the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library – doesn’t roll off the tongue easily and doesn’t lend itself to a tidy acronym like ROHO. What it does do is reaffirm that oral history is at the very center of what we do, and that we are very proudly part of the Bancroft Library family at the University of California.

Although the new name already is official, we will be rolling it out over the coming year – we need time both to honor the history of ROHO in its 60th anniversary year and to make all of the changes necessary so that use of the new name is both clear and consistent. We have to change our letterhead and update our presence on social media; we need to get the word out to our friends and followers so that there is no confusion about who we are and why we have changed our name. And, importantly, we need to do redesign our website, which is the main way the public accesses our 4,000 interviews. We are thrilled to report that this redesign will result not only in a new “skin” (or look and feel) on the website, but it also will be a complete overhaul, including a new database-driven search engine so that our complete collection will be more easily accessible than ever before. This will all take a little time, so we ask your patience as we roll-out our new name, but please know that we will keep you, our friends, apprised of the changes as they begin to happen. We hope that you are as enthusiastic about our future as are we.

--Martin Meeker, Acting Associate Director

The Originals: A Celebration of Pioneering African American Faculty and Staff at Berkeley

“‘Who are you calling a first?’ When Dr. Blackwell came to UC Berkeley in 1954 after a decade at Howard University in Washington D.C., he became, we think, the first African American ladder rank faculty person system-wide. What does it mean to be ‘first,’ as David Blackwell was in so many arenas? As Dr. Blackwell himself says in his interview, ‘You have to be careful when you talk about firsts.’ This interview sheds some light on this much lauded but often mysterious experience.”

From Nadine Wilmot’s introduction to her 2003 interview with Dr. David Blackwell, (1919-2010), Professor Emeritus of Mathematics and Statistics 

On May 16 we celebrated the completion of our interview project with pioneering African American Faculty and Senior Staff at UC Berkeley. After many years of editing these interviews and then co-curating the “Originals” exhibit with Kathryn Neal, Alison Wannamaker, and Neil Henry, I was thrilled to be in the Morrison Room with the interviewees, family and friends, and faculty, staff, and students at Berkeley.

Professor Emeritus Russ Ellis spoke about the genesis of the project way back at the beginning of the 21st century, thanking Richard Candida Smith and the Chancellor’s Office for commitment to the project.  Patricia Williams, Professor of Law at Columbia University, gave the keynote address, noting that interviewee Harry Edwards (sociologist of sport and Professor of Sociology), was one of her son’s heroes. On the anniversary of the Brown v. Board decision, she spoke of how much the interviewees had accomplished and how much remained to be done to fulfill the hopes and hard work of pioneers in education, diversity, and access.

Some who were interviewed for this project were key administrators and staff during a time of great social change on campus. Mary Perry Smith, who attended the event with her family, was a math teacher at Oakland Tech when, in collaboration with Cal, she founded MESA (Math Engineering and Science Achievement). MESA, a recent winner of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation’s STEM Innovation Award, is still one of the most successful programs of its kind.

Soprano Candace Johnson cast a spell over all of us with her rendition of “There is a Need,” a composition by interviewee Olly Wilson, Professor Emeritus of Music. After the reception, guests went upstairs to see our exhibit. I remembered how the curatorial process began. How to create a visual exhibit out of transcripts of oral histories? Neil Henry and I read the long interviews, culling quotes. There were great stories, hard stories, a range of perspectives, and themes and events that appeared across the interviews. We met for brainstorming sessions with University Archivist Kathryn Neal and designer Alison Wannamaker. What could illustrate and enhance our excerpts from the interviews?

Everything in the exhibit had to come from our own libraries. It was a kind of scavenger hunt, thinking about what we might seek and find. How could we juxtapose items to illustrate the careers of great scholars, professors, and artists, the fight for civil rights, and the history of the Berkeley campus? We searched for books by the interviewees and photos of them. We sought documents and ephemera from Bancroft archives and materials about the Third World Strike and the creation of the African American Studies Department. And we found wonderful things in the treasure chest of the Bancroft Library and the other campus libraries.

Image from The Originals exhibit
Detail photograph from the exhibit, "The Originals," now on view in Berkeley's Doe Library.

After our reception, touring the exhibit, interviewees and guests were greatly moved to see what we had done. We are honored to have created something beautiful for all of them, and for all of you. Come see “The Originals” in the Rowell Cases of the Doe Library (on view until September 1), and let us know what you think. And go to our web site to learn more about the project and to read all of the interviews.

Berkeley News Center article and slideshow
ROHO project page, list of interviewees, links to transcripts

--Linda Norton, ROHO Senior Editor and co-curator of the Originals exhibit

 ROHO in Action—Spring 2014

The History of Craft Cocktails on the West Coast: A New Oral History Project

Photo of House-made bitters and tinctures used in craft cocktails at the East Bay Spice Company in Berkeley
House-made bitters and tinctures used in craft cocktails at the East Bay Spice Company in Berkeley

ROHO is developing a new project on the legacy of the West Coast craft cocktail. The cocktail has a long and storied history since it was defined in 1806 as a “stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” The popularity of cocktails has ebbed and flowed since the Prohibition Era and much information about cocktail culture--particularly who was doing what and when--went undocumented. As a result, myths have evolved about drink inventions, drinking habits, popular trends, and training methods, which have been perpetuated in recent years.

The cocktail has seen a resurgence in popularity over the past decade in which many bars have been privileging pre-prohibition, prohibition, and tiki-era (1930s-50s) recipes, incorporating historic techniques into their methods, and striving to use high quality ingredients; this has been come to be known as a craft cocktail because bartenders use artisanal, historic, and ingredient-driven elements into mixing a drink or creating a menu.

The West Coast is influential in craft cocktail culture and differs from the New York scene due in large part to geography: bartenders on the West Coast have better access to fresh and seasonal ingredients because of the climate. Bartenders began to frequent farmer’s markets with chefs in the 1990s and together they planned food and drink menus that complimented one another; this helped the West Coast develop a unique identity in the cocktail world.

ROHO’s project will document the legacy of the West Coast craft cocktail through a series of interviews with key bar owners, bartenders, craft distillers, and cocktail historians. Interviews will focus on themes of community, labor, myth-making, storytelling, the dissemination of information, geography, the role of California cuisine, gender, ethnicity, craft and artisanal culture, popular culture, bartender/customer relationships, and the perception of bartending as a respected profession.

We’ve begun a few short pilot interviews with several Bay-Area based female bartenders, including Jennifer Colliau of Small Hand Foods, Claire Sprouse of the United States Bartenders’ Guild, and Rhachel Shaw of Kin Khao restaurant. In concert with the project’s development we are launching a logo contest during the month of April, for which the winner will have their logo on all project-related material, our website, receive VIP guest invites to all project-related events, and win $100.

We are also in the process of fundraising for the larger project and will be launching a crowdfunding campaign through UC Berkeley to kickstart the project. The crowdfunding campaign is scheduled to launch early this summer, so check back soon for more exciting deveopments!

--Shanna Farrell (

Check out Shanna’s recent article on women and cocktails, published in Punch.


ROHO in Action—Winter 2013

Advanced Oral History Summer Institute: August 2014

ROHO is thrilled to announce our 2014 Advanced Oral History Summer Institute, which will be held at UC Berkeley from August 11-15. After taking a hiatus last summer, we have made some changes to our always sold-out program. This year, our focus will be on the “lifecycle of an interview” and each day will be organized around a different stage in the interview and project process. Daily themes include “Foundational Aspects of Oral History,” “Project Conceptualization and the Role of Oral History,” “The Interview,” “Analytic Strategies and Interpretation,” and “Reflections and Reconceptualization.” Sessions will include standard topics such as Oral History Theory, Legal/Ethical Issues, and Project Planning as well as new sessions including the Anatomy of an Interview, Analysis and Presentation, Digital Humanities, and Funding.

We are pleased to announce that Robin Nagle, who is the Director of New York University’s John W. Draper Interdisciplinary Master’s Program, will be our 2014 Keynote Speaker. Nagle, who is also the Anthropologist-in-Residence at the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY), recently published Picking Up: ON the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City, which has been featured in the New York Times and Mother Jones. Nagle’s work has also been featured on This American Life, The Believer, and in a recent TED talk she gave. She uses oral history as one of her research methods and founded the DSNY Oral History Archive, which is an expanding collection of interviews with Sanitation workers and those affiliated with DSNY (such as with Freshkills Park). The archive lives online where all of the interviews, which were conducted by NYU graduate students, are available. Nagle will be participating in panel sessions during the Institute and will be giving an evening presentation. We look forward to having her! Along with Nagle, our five Summer Institute faculty from the regular ROHO team are Neil Henry, Martin Meeker, Lisa Rubens, Paul Burnett, and Shanna Farrell. They will be leading sessions and facilitating discussions.

Applications will be available on our website in January, but stay tuned to our blog for updates about the Institute, including the week’s schedule, information about panel sessions, and guest presenters.

We look forward to seeing you this summer!

Photo of 2012 Summer Institute

Paul Burnett, ROHO’s New Historian of Science

I’m coming to ROHO from a career teaching and researching the history of science and technology. For the past three years, I was an Assistant Professor in the Science and Technology Studies Programme at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick, Canada. My doctorate is from the Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania. Although I have many research interests, they mostly boil down to the politics of expertise. I’m interested in how scientists and experts of all kinds establish their credibility, and how people choose between different kinds of expertise to try to solve complex social, political, scientific, and technical problems.

My dissertation research and published articles have been about the rise of a community of experts in agricultural economics and international development in the US during the Cold War. These economists brought business and government together to work out how the state support of agriculture could be engineered so as to minimize the impact on markets. As you can imagine, this was and is highly contested and political work, and so I am interested in how these social scientists used their knowledge to broker provisional peace between groups that did not see eye to eye. This research has led me in all sorts of directions – the history of agriculture, economics, business, gender and science, education reform, information technology, biotechnology, and the environmental sciences.

Between my time at U. Penn and St. Thomas, I spent a year in Philadelphia researching and producing museum exhibits for the American Philosophical Society. I got a strong sense there of the public appeal of historical research, and learned about how different techniques and media can be used to ignite the curiosity of new communities.

At ROHO, I’m taking on the Western Mining in the Twentieth Century project, and am researching new interviewees to take us into the twenty-first century. I’m also seeking to develop a new series on the history of Silicon Valley. Finally, I will be conducting smaller oral-history projects involving science and technology at UC Berkeley, in the Bay Area, and across the US. I’m really excited about working with my other ROHO colleagues to document important voices in the history of science and technology, and to produce historical material that will be relevant to researchers, students, film-makers and artists, and the general public. I’m also looking forward to active participation in the larger UC Berkeley community, especially the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine, & Society.


ROHO in Action—Spring 2013

ROHO Welcomes Shanna Farrell and Paul Burnett

Photo of Shanna Farrell and Paul Burnett

Paul Burnett is a historian of science with research interests in the history of agriculture, economics, gender and science, education reform, information technology, and environmental sciences. He received his PhD from the Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania. After a couple of years teaching at Penn and researching/ producing museum exhibits for the American Philosophical Society, Paul joined the faculty in the Science and Technology Studies Programme at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick, Canada as an Assistant Professor. This summer, he relocated to the Bay Area to be reunited with his wife Sujie, who works in the domain of education policy research. He is excited to begin a new chapter in his career, and looks forward to meeting folks in the Berkeley and oral history communities.

Shanna Farrell holds an MA in Oral History from Columbia University, an Interdisciplinary MA in Humanities and Social Thought from New York University, and a BA in Music from Northeastern University. Her studies focused on environmental justice issues in communities impacted by water pollution for which she used oral history as her primary research method. Her work includes a community history of the Hudson River, a documentary audio piece entitled “Hydraulic Fracturing: An Oral History” that explored the complexity of issues involved in drilling for natural gas, a study that examined the local politics of “Superfunding” the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, New York, and a landscape study of a changing neighborhood in South Brooklyn. She most recently worked for Michael Frisch at Randforce Associates as a Project Manager on an oral history project about a group of grain scoopers in Buffalo, New York.

Photo of Bay Bridge

ROHO’s Bay Bridge Oral History Project Completed— Generating a Huge Amount of Media Attention

Following a decade of planning and over a decade of construction, the new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opened to traffic this past Labor Day weekend. Not surprisingly, news coverage of the opening was constant, covering everything from engineering problems with the new span to the infamous steel troll who lives on the old eastern span (added by welders to “protect” the bridge after the 1989 earthquake).

Also swept up in the flurry of media attention was ROHO’s recently completed Bay Bridge Oral History Project, which was released to the public just days before the new span opened. ROHO’s associate director and project interviewer Martin Meeker along with former ROHO interviewer Sam Redman were invited to discuss the project and its findings on several Bay Area radio and television programs, from KALW and KGO radio to NBC and ABC local television affiliates to the San Francisco Chronicle and the Daily Cal.

While ROHO appreciates the attention, we recognize that media coverage is important primarily because it helps spread word of the oral histories we conduct to people – students, scholars, and the public at large – who can learn from the insights and expertise provided by our interviewees. Too often our in-depth interviews are recorded and quickly deposited in the library never to be seen again, thus failing to enlighten and enliven public discussion and scholarly discourse. We, at ROHO, have recently taken it upon ourselves to conduct outreach more consistently, to engage more broadly with the public, so that ROHO’s interviews – and our interviewees – might have the impact that they deserve.

Check here for a list of the media attention received by this project and here for the project’s interview transcripts.

Shanna Farrell, ROHO’s Newest Interviewer

I first became aware of ROHO during the time in which I was graduate student at Columbia University working towards my Master’s Degree in Oral History. I am interested in environmental history and environmental justice issues and I came across various interviews that Willa Baum had conducted with William R. Gianelli, Harvey Banks, and Thomas J. Graff on California Water Resources under the series in Natural Resources, Land Use, and Environment. Not only was I impressed by Baum’s interview style, but she also was one of the first people to investigate the environment in oral history. I used her work to guide my own project and feel fortunate to have been introduced to ROHO in such a way.

Before beginning at Columbia, I obtained a Master’s Degree in Humanities and Social Thought from New York University. I was studying the affects of water pollution in the upper Hudson River on the recreational fishing community. During my final semester at NYU I took my first oral history class and helped to pilot the New York City Department of Sanitation’s Oral History Archive with Professor Robin Nagle. I became very engaged with oral history methods and decided to continue my studies in oral history (and thesis project) at Columbia.

At Columbia, I conducted a community oral history of the Hudson River community with the intention of understanding how the local community was (or wasn’t) affected by water pollution. I interviewed eleven people in multiple sessions and presented my work as a multi-media exhibition at a public library in Westchester, New York. I also helped produce and edit an audio documentary about hydraulic fracturing in New York and Pennsylvania, about which I wrote an essay for the guide Oral History in the Digital Age. I have also worked on projects about the local politics of “Superfunding” the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, New York and a landscape study of South Brooklyn; I employed oral history for both of these projects. Most recently I have been working as a Project Manager for Michael Frisch at Randforce Associates on a project about grain scoopers in Buffalo, New York and putting my training to good use.

I am delighted to join the team at ROHO and look forward to contributing to a vast and diverse archive, one that I admire very much. During my time at ROHO I hope to help continue to collect and record oral histories that are timely but will be informative in the future on local, regional, and global scales. I would like to help make ROHO a leader in the digital age, cultivating community partnerships, engaging the public in new programming, and generating the same excitement that I feel about ROHO’s work in the larger community.


ROHO in Action—Spring 2013

Rosie the Riveter / World War II Home Front project interviewee
John Fong with his family at the "Oral History Class of 2013" reception

ROHO Celebrates the
"Oral History Class of 2013"

On the evening of May 1st, ROHO hosted over 200 guests for a very unique "graduation ceremony." Over the past year, several dozen individual interviews have been completed along with two major, multi-year projects. We invited everyone to participate in this convocation, which was half ceremony and half party. Videos drawn from our Rosie the Riveter / WW II Home Front and our Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream oral history projects were shown to a rapt audience, followed by special words from National Park Service Ranger Tom Leatherman and former Dreyer's owners (and Berkeley alums) Rick Cronk and Gary Rogers. Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau concluded the program by recognizing many of the distinguished Berkeley staff and faculty interviewed in recent years. We expect that this will be an annual event, so we hope to see everyone again in 2014!

On the Historian's Eye:
Yale's Matthew Frye Jacobson interviewed by Sam Redman

The following is an edited selection of a discussion between Matthew Frye Jacobson of Yale University and Samuel James Redman, formerly of ROHO (as of this September an assistant professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst). The exchange was part of ROHO’s 2012 Summer Oral History Institute and centered upon Jacobson’s experiences in establishing a unique new project called Historian’s Eye. Historian’s Eye is a digital initiative intended to archive the current political moment through photography and oral history while also developing pedagogical tools for helping students to think historically about the present. The project has expanded to a number of university campuses beyond Yale, including UC Berkeley, where students and faculty in American Studies have recently conducted dozens of interviews in consultation with ROHO.

Redman: How did the Historian’s Eye project come about?

Jacobson: Well, there were two, or three maybe, convergences. One was my own developing interest in doing something outside the registers of academic writing, wanting to do something in documentary work. Initially, I thought it would be film—wanting to do something that was intellectually connected to everything I had done before, but that wasn’t another academic book; learning the skills and having an interest in learning the skills that would go along with that. So that’s one stream. The second stream is—just my good fortune—I happened to be the chair of the American studies program at Yale when really, a student initiative, a very strong and smart one, came kind of bubbling up from below, wanting to put together a public humanities program. American Studies was the logical house for it, and since I was the person at the desk, all these great ideas were coming through my office. This is the same time as this other stuff was happening with my own interests. This is 2007, 2008. I’m already starting to look into documentary work; students are urging me to think about how our program could get outside the walls of the classroom and teach people skill sets like public history, community history, oral history, documentary practices, filmmaking, radio broadcast documentary. That program, actually, we have put together in the last five years. So being in the middle of that in my institutional life at the same time that my own interests were broadening, there was just a lot of energy created there. Then as I described this morning, that so kind of consciously-seized-upon and obsessed-over historical moment of the [2008] Obama election was just kind of the last ingredient.

Redman: One of the amazing strengths of this project, I think, is the diversity of voices we hear. Can you talk about how we go about finding people [to interview] in developing oral history projects? [Maybe] finding voices that maybe haven’t been heard and [providing] an opportunity to give them a voice?

Jacobson: Well, this one, in a way, is easy because there’s not a kind of bounded community that I’m going after; it’s anybody. It would make sense to talk to virtually anybody, under the rubric of this project. I’m always trying to broaden it. There are certain areas that I know are under-represented; but since it’s always just a thing in progress, I have patience with myself about that. A year ago, there was much more of Northern bias to it than there is now. I’ve been able to spend a lot of time in the South, so that’s corrected. There’s definitely an urban bias and I hope over time, I’ll correct that. There are pieces, really important pieces, that are still missing from the overall kind of collective social profile of the interviewees, that I hope to address over time. But the freedom to just seek people out—really, the only rule of thumb for me is I’m trying to find people to talk to who I believe, for one reason or another, will turn out to be really interesting. And interesting can mean a lot of different things.

Redman: What types of other sources do you encourage your students to look at, in conversation with these interviews?

Photo of Jacobson and Redman
Matthew Frye Jacobson [left] interviewed by Sam Redman

Jacobson: Well, so most of the teaching that I’ve done with this archive is in conjunction with my twentieth century US survey class. Here are the different ways I’ve used the material. One is I start every lecture, whether it’s on the great black migration in the teens or World War II, whatever it is, I start every lecture with some of the images that I’ve shot within the last year or two, and talk about that image in the context of the history that we’re now going to go back and talk about for an hour. That has been really successful, to get them to think about the relationship between past and present.

Redman: I have one final question for you this afternoon. On your website, you feature a really wonderful quote by the photographer Dorothea Lange, who says that the great thing about a camera is that it teaches you how to see, even without a camera. How has your work in oral history taught you how to listen, even without a tape recorder?

Jacobson: Oh, that’s really interesting. I think that there’s a direct parallel there. I really think that when you’ve had the experience of having surprisingly and utterly brilliant things said to you by a number of people, you’re just more alert and you pay more attention and you listen to what people are saying, and you maybe go out of your way to hear more people speaking. I think that’s really affected me. This is on the website, too and I’ve never pulled it down, because it has felt like such an important part of the story. In the little “about the author,” whatever it’s called, the “about” section on the website, I say that one of the elements that was important in the genesis of this work was that I had cancer. The reason that that’s important is because the episode of cancer kind of first of all, raised the question, if life is short, do you really want to go back to the archive and spend the rest of your life working on your sixth book? Is that really the most important thing? But the other thing is that these documentary practices that I’ve gotten really involved with are things that do keep you attuned to— Even as despairing as I am, as a historian, about the state of our country right now, photographing things, listening to people, talking to people are practices that tend to keep you very alive. They keep you attuned to beauty, they keep you attuned to brilliance. You receive the humor and resilience that we carry around with us every day. So it’s both humbling, but also really energizing to do this kind of work. I would say that that’s true of both the oral history part of it and the photography part of it.

Gene Patents Past and Present:
A Selection from ROHO’s Series on Genentech

In the recent, and unanimous, decision in Association of Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics (2013), the US Supreme Court decided that genes which occur naturally cannot be patented. The decision, and the media attention generated by it, reminded us of a similarly important decision by the Supreme Court in 1980 in which the court ruled that “man-made” microorganisms are patentable. The earlier decision, Diamond vs. Chakrabarty, was discussed in ROHO’s 2002 interview with Thomas Kiley, legal counsel and vice president for Genentech, 1976-1988. In a selection from that interview reprinted below, ROHO historian Sally Smith Hughes asks Kiley about gene patents and the prospects of the company’s initial public offering.

Hughes: Were you surprised at how fast the company moved to an IPO?

Kiley: I was. I joined the company full time in February of 1980, and it went public on October 14, 1980, and that was a very near thing. All sorts of things could have derailed that.

Hughes: Such as?

Kiley: Well, I mentioned earlier the Chakrabarty matter. The Patent Office, in its wisdom, had decided Congress never intended patents to issue on new forms of life. Its reasons for drawing that conclusion were technical. I won't go into them at length. But basically the Patent Office concluded that since Congress had passed special legislation to protect plant varieties, it must have done so because it perceived the protection of living things was not envisioned by existing patent law and so it had to layer onto existing law protection for plant varieties.

Others took, as we did, the position that the patent laws are written in broad terms, as a broad mandate or charter for innovation of all kinds. The Patent Office didn't buy it, and until that issue could be resolved, they suspended the examination of all patent applications claiming microorganisms or other living beasties, whether genetically engineered or not. That cast somewhat of a pall over the nascent [biotechnology] industry, and raised questions in the minds of potential investors whether the fruits of deep investment and research would be protected.

The matter went from the Patent Office to the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals [which later became the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals] where Genentech participated as a friend of the court. The company basically submitted a so-called amicus curiae brief, which I happened to author. The case then went up to the Supreme Court at the behest of the Patent Office. The Court granted certiorari, and the outcome was a matter of some concern because in an earlier decision, which I think was called Parker v. Flook, the Court had made some offhand comments presaging an adverse result in Chakrabarty, unless advocacy and clear thinking ruled the day.

Well, there were many friends of the court in the Chakrabarty matter, almost all of them favoring the grant of such patents. The principal opponent I recall was Mr. [Jeremy] Rifkin and his then front, called the People's Business Commission, which excoriated the notion that patents could issue on new life forms. We persuaded the Court. Indeed, it was Genentech's argument that the Court adopted in ruling that anything made by the hands of man was a fit subject for patent laws, and in particular that nothing in law prevented the grant of patents on new forms of life.

A dissent in the lower court [Court of Customs and Patent Appeals] had said if Congress intended to add so remarkable a thing [as patenting life forms] to the patent laws, it would have said so. Our point was had it intended to subtract so great a swath of science and so much potential for benefit, it would have said so. The dissent below had said that if a whole new area of technology is to be added to patent laws, only Congress has the refined ability to deal in depth with the sociological consequences of that. We stood the argument on its head and told the Supreme Court it was being asked by the Patent Office to legislate in Congress's stead; that if Congress wished to delete from the patent laws this great potential for benefit, only it was constituted to make the sociological judgments involved. We thus gave the Court an excuse to pass the buck on to Congress. It did.

By the time [the issue] got to Congress, the benefits [of biotechnology] were rolling in and one could say to Congress, “This goose is laying some golden eggs here. Don't mess with it.” And to their credit, to this day, they haven't. And eggs abound.

Kiley: Well, Mr. Dooley said, “The Supreme Court listens to the election returns.” There grew up a practice, for which Justice Brandeis got credit when he was an advocate before the Supreme Court, of filing what are called Brandeis briefs. These bring to the court's attention matters outside the written record of which they can take judicial notice to put, if you will, a penumbra of the human condition around the dry legal proposition a party may have brought to the court. The justices of the Supreme Court are, like all judges, human beings and the court operates on the human condition. Right? It doesn't operate exclusively on words on a page, but how they affect the human condition. And so to say to the Court, “You will affect the human condition well by upholding patents on technologies that bring new medicines to treat people who are desperately sick,” is a useful thing to do as an advocate. And how could the [justices] have done other than recognize the whole point of the patent system is to create things that are good for people or to incent the creation of those things? Now, it's also true that in the seventies, as I may have mentioned earlier, America was feeling a little sorry for itself because we suffered what President Carter called “economic malaise.” We were recovering from the dire effects of the Arab oil embargo. We certainly were not being swamped with initial public offerings of high-technology-based companies. American industry was being hollowed out by the rise of manufacturing capability in other countries with cheaper labor, and so on. And so it was a sensible thing to say to the Court, this is a time to encourage innovation and a potentially vibrant new industry.

Hughes: The media, as you well know, was full of that kind of talk.

Kiley: Well, it was full of talk on both sides of the question. It was also full of expressions of concern over potential biohazard. Certainly, Mr. [Jeremy] Rifkin and his Peoples Business Commission, who opposed the grant of patents to new life forms, were making as much hay of that as they could.

Hughes: Yet Paul Berg and the group which had originally expressed concern about recombinant DNA research were by 1980 less concerned about the biohazard issue. It had simmered down.

Kiley: Well, certainly it had by that time, but it was still a prairie fire of concern amongst the lay public who fear what they don't understand. They don't generally understand science well, particularly fast-breaking new science, and so a right for exploitation by patenting would feed their fears.

ROHO in Action—Spring 2013

“Oral History and California State Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk”

Little did I realize it at the time, but I conducted my first oral histories when I sat down with a tape-recorder and interviewed my paternal grandparents, Louis and Lillian.  They told me sometimes hilarious and sometimes sorrowful stories about their life and families in New York, how they met, and married, during the post-WWI years. Their stories filled me with images that dramatically paralleled those inspired by readings assigned during my early college years.

While working on my Ph.D. dissertation, a biography of California’s leading Progressive Era stateswoman, Katherine Philips Edson, UCLA’s Oral History Program funded and then published my interviews with Edson’s surviving children. Subsequently, with the support of Willa Baum, ROHO funded and archived my taped interview with path-breaking attorney and Democratic activist, Ruth Church Gupta. Somewhere along the line, I became acquainted with ROHO’s Malca Chall, and we have stayed in touch ever since. By the time I finished graduate school and the subsequent research for Justice Stanley Mosk: Life at the Center of California Politics and Justice (McFarland Pub. 2012) I could say with confidence that I conducted fifty to sixty oral histories/interviews, creating my own little archive of California movers and shakers.

Of course, my efforts pale in comparison to the exhaustive undertakings of ROHO’s exceptionally qualified interviewers, the breadth of their subjects and the contribution to California, and United States history. The works of Chall, Amelia Fry, Gabrielle Morris, and Germaine LaBerge broadened my knowledge base and enabled me to expand the scope of my research, providing much of the fundamental underpinnings of my published scholarship and my works-in-progress about California political figures. In particular, Florence (Susie) Clifton was a powerhouse campaign organizer who met Stanley Mosk early in his partisan career. I had interviewed Clifton years ago for my work on Elizabeth Snyder and Democratic politics in the Golden State. But, years later, her more broadly conceived oral history, and that of her husband’s Judge Robert Clifton, offered a unique window into how, although Mosk for the most part was riding a smooth path of a rising star, he did have a few bumps in the road along the way.

In fact, many of the oral histories in the “Women Political Leaders” series and the “Goodwin Knight - Edmund G. Brown, Sr., Gubernatorial Eras, 1953-1966” project were vital to the Mosk book and my previous research. One of the great advantages of interviewing subjects whose careers overlapped is to see their differing views on past events or their recollections about people with whom they served, and sometimes it’s intriguing to compare what is not said by some interviewees as well. Perhaps most important when writing a biography, and vividly so in the case of Stanley Mosk, is how the oral history is a tool to understand how the subject consciously or otherwise presents themselves to the interviewer, or to posterity. With Mosk, as I explored further, I found an unfolding story that strayed far beyond his own retelling of his long and illustrious life. The portrait became a more complex and multi-dimensional as Morey Stanley Mosk, for example, clearly simplified the facts of his educational background for more than expediency. I’m not suggesting that oral histories are not trustworthy, to be sure. The richness of the personal perspectives that document historic epochs is a unique and invaluable resource in countless ways. Certainly, paired with the archival papers housed at the Bancroft Library, for instance, the investigative journey can breed exhilaration as you piece tidbits from here and there together, revealing contradictions or consensus in your own evolving story you are constructing as you go.

As I review the scores of materials amassed by ROHO, I am overwhelmed by how much I did not get to, or should have looked at now that I know how important that person really was, or, “Gee, why didn’t I think their point of view might have been pertinent to this biography?” Perhaps I can get to it, along with all of those other sources I have to look at for my current endeavor. Or maybe, I can write an article about what wasn’t in the book; or…well, I can leave that to other scholars who peruse ROHO’s catalog, and who just maybe were inspired by not what we missed or edited out for whatever reason, but are enticed by the integration of these individual memoirs into the larger whole that made up the extraordinary life of Justice Stanley Mosk.

Jacqueline R. Braitman

Photo of Narsai David with Frog Hollow Farms pumpkins. Photo by Vic Geraci, 2012.
Narsai David with Frog Hollow Farms pumpkins
Photo by Vic Geraci, 2012

Narsai David: Food Impresario

One of the final interviews ROHO’s former associate director Vic Geraci conducted before his retirement last year was with Bay Area food and wine impresario Narsai David. This rollicking, wide-ranging interview will have your stomach growling and your palate craving a fine wine in no time. In this preview—amuse-bouche, if you will—David relates how family food and traditions provided a touchstone for his own contributions. The brief exchange presented here is followed by David’s recipe for his “Rack of Lamb, Assyrian.”

Geraci: I think what’s interesting, in talking about your favorite type of food is that we
go back to your mom and your culture.

David: Yeah. Childhood memories, comfort food.

Geraci: I think we don’t really realize that, until we start to get older and we’ve experienced more different food ways, how we always go back to comfort food.

David: In fact, it’s funny. Last night we had my mother’s Assyrian lamb stew. Or a
variant of it. I asked Veni the night before, if she had any thought of what she’d like to eat. She said, “Geez, we haven’t had lamb for a while. Is there any lamb?” In the freezer, I found the neck of the lamb that we barbecued—a whole lamb on a spit for Easter. So I hacked it up into some chunks and slowly braised it with these wonderful tomatoes!

Narsai’s Rack of Lamb, Assyrian
© 1994 by Narsai David
Serves 4 portions of 8 chops each

You will want 1-1/2 lamb racks, each with 8 or 9 ribs. Ask the butcher to remove the flap of meat and to French cut the rib bones.

Put into a blender and puree:

1 large onion
2-3 cloves garlic
1 tsp. basil leaves
½ tsp. pepper
½ tsp. salt
¼ cup red wine
½ cup pomegranate juice

Rub this marinade well into the rack and put the remaining marinade over the racks in a shallow glass or enameled pan. Set to marinate in refrigerator overnight, or at a cool room temperature for 6 to 8 hours. Wipe off excess marinade and roast in 450 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes for medium rare lamb, longer if you like the lamb done to a greater degree. Accompany with Cooper-Garrod Cabernet Franc.


Politics Behind the Scenes: Future Topics in Oral History

In ROHO’s previous newsletter, Neil Henry wrote about Gabriel Morris’s 1972 interview with Leone Baxter who, in partnership with Clem Whitaker in 1933, created one of the first and most influential political advertising and consultancy firms in the United States.  Over the next forty years consultants became an integral part of politics.

During that period, ROHO created a rich and diverse collection of interviews with political leaders in the state of California and the San Francisco Bay Area. Those focused on the city of San Francisco document the shift in the power structure of the city: from one based on conservative Republican Party politics and based on a balance of white ethnic groups, to one rooted in liberal Democratic Party politics, orchestrated by Phil Burton and responsive to the assertions of a wide range of interest groups –including representatives of diverse racial and ethnic groups. What has not been documented is the role of political consultants in running electoral campaigns and the question of if—and to what extent—these consultants may have actually shaped their candidates’ politics. In the future we plan to ask our narrators about these issues and to explore these questions in a proposed new project on political consultants.

In the following two clips, you will find two different reflections on the role of political consultants that have been pulled from soon-to-be released ROHO interviews.

In the first clip, journalist Warren Hinckle discusses the financial underpinning of one powerful consultant. In the second, businessman and philanthropist Warren Hellman discusses whether political consultants are trustworthy.

Lisa Rubens



ROHO in Action—Winter 2012

Inside ROHO’s Archives: One Reporter’s Experience

New Yorker Magazine staff writer Jill Lepore had long heard about the Bancroft Library’s Regional Oral History Office, as far back “at least” as her graduate school days in the 1990s in history and American Studies at Michigan and Yale. But it wasn’t until she decided to tackle an article about the history of political advertising that she got a chance to use ROHO’s archives, and what a revelation that experience was for her. “Historically,” she wrote in a blog post published the same September day her article, “The Lie Factory – How Politics Became a  Business,” appeared in the New Yorker,  “the state of California has had one of the best and most active oral-history projects in the nation.”

It was to ROHO’s more than 4,000 original interviews that Lepore turned to research her riveting article, including oral histories conducted of Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter, founders of one of the first and most influential political advertising and consultancy firms in America, Campaigns, Inc. The company got its start propagandizing against and plotting the defeat of the populist gubernatorial campaign of Upton Sinclair in 1934. Lepore discovered these interviews and others with notable figures including H. R. Haldeman and Carey McWilliams while searching online databases at the California State Archives.

This search led her to a key find, an oral history conducted by ROHO’s Gabrielle Morris in 1972 of the notoriously media shy Baxter. Discovering that the oral history wasn’t available online, she contacted the Bancroft’s “incredibly generous” staffer David Kessler, who “made a PDF of it for me.” This in turn led Lepore to find and interview Morris herself, an experience she described as “terrific” in an email, and together the interviews, plus another she discovered from the 1960s, provided Lepore with a revealing and ominously prescient kicker to her article. Lepore wrote in the New Yorker that an interviewer once asked Baxter, “Does political public relations actually transfer political power into the hands of those who exercise it?”

“It certainly could and has in some instances,” she said, carefully. “In this profession of leading men’s minds, this is the reason I feel it must be in the hands of the most ethical, principled people—people with real concern for the world around them, for people around them—or else it will erode into the hands of people who have no regard for the world around them. It could be a very, very destructive thing.” 

Each year, scores of scholars, researchers, journalists, and others access ROHO’s archives in search of evidence to support their work on a wide range of subjects, their writing often published in magazines, academic journals, books, newspapers, and magazines around the world. Each search offers a fascinating story unto itself, and Lepore’s is just one.

-- Neil Henry

Risk, Biotech, and California in the 1970s: ROHO historian Sally Smith Hughes tells the story of Genentech

Image of book cover of Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech

Before the term “venture capitalist” came into widespread use, those who invested in new enterprises engaged in what they then called “risk investing.” In her engaging recent book on the origins of the biotechnology industry, ROHO’s science historian Sally Smith Hughes shows that never was that term so befitting than when used to describe those who invested money and time into the pioneering firm Genentech.

When Genentech initially launched public stock offerings on the NASDAQ exchange in October 1980 it was the first biotech company to “go public.” Due to media frenzy around the company in advance of the IPO, public demand for the stock was extraordinary. The stock opened at $35 a share but leapt to $80 within twenty minutes of the opening bell. At the end of the first day of trading the company was valued at $532 million, which signaled huge profit for the founders and early investors.

Four years earlier, however, when the company was founded and the first investors signed on, there was no guarantee of any pay-off at all. Not only was the technology of recombinant DNA still itself in development, but also it was clear that marketable, FDA-approved products were many years off. The fact that investors continued to pour money into what was, in essence, a theory was something new and wholly remarkable in the interrelated worlds of science and business. This collective audacity of scientists and investors who firmly believed in the outlandish potential of new ideas sheds light on the unique California-born culture of entrepreneurship that gave birth to companies such as Intel, Apple, Oracle, Genentech, and dozens more.

This fascinating story of remarkable scientific achievement and bold investor risk is told by Hughes in Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech (University of Chicago Press, 2011). Dr. Hughes’s work on Genentech began in 1992 and continued for much of the following two decades. She interviewed most of the early players in Genentech’s history—and in the broader history of biotech—including Genentech founders Herb Boyer and Robert Swanson and Nobel laureates Paul Berg and Arthur Kornberg.

 The complete set of biotech interviews can be found on ROHO’s website. Moreover, Hughes, along with her partners in the Bancroft Library curatorial group, including David Farrell, collected the archival records of many of the key players in this story, from Donald Glaser and Daniel Koshland, Jr. through the historic papers of Genentech itself.

 The well-regarded blog “New Books in Science, Technology, and Society” recently interviewed Dr. Hughes about her research. The full interview is available streaming here.

-- Martin Meeker

Rebels with a Cause: Saving Marin and Sonoma's Open Space

ROHO interviews will be featured in the forthcoming television documentary, "Rebels With A Cause." The film, currently in production with KRCB TV, Channel 22, the PBS affiliate for Sonoma, Napa, and Marin Counties, sets to chronicle the extraordinary efforts of the ordinary people who saved the lands of the Point Reyes National Seashore and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area from development.



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