This past Saturday, I jumped in my car and headed to Berkeley to attend the annual meeting of the Friends of the Bancroft Library. I love this University of California campus and especially U.C. Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, which houses some of the most precious and rare manuscripts of the American West. That day, I met other people — historians, authors, and avid readers – who are also devoted to preserving and supporting the library’s treasures. It was a gathering of fellow “archive rats.”
I worked in the Bancroft while researching both of my books. For The House of Mondavi, I found a wonderful resource in the Bancroft’s Regional Oral History Office, which conducted a series of oral histories with California’s leading winemakers, including Robert and Peter Mondavi, as well as Miljenko (Mike) Grgich, Jack Davies, and Warren Winiarski.
For Lost Kingdom, I found materials related to both Hawaii’s royal family and to San Francisco’s colorful Spreckels family, including an 1890 pamphlet describing a secret society that Hawaii’s King David Kalākaua was involved with, (the Hale Nauā society, also known as the Temple of Science”)
Over the weekend, I was one of nine people elected to join a distinguished group: the Council of the Friends of the Bancroft Library, which helps support this great public institution. The library was founded in 1905 when the University of California acquired historian Hubert Howe Bancroft’s personal collection, which included priceless documents, such as those of General Mariano Guadelupe Vallejo, a Californio military leader.
Today, it includes the Mark Twain Papers and Project, the Regional Oral History Office, the University of California Archives, the History of Science and Technology Program, the Pictorial Collection, and the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life. It has become one of the largest — and busiest — special collections in the United States. Elaine C. Tennant oversees it all as the library’s director.
The current projects at the Bancroft include everything from a new series of oral histories with pioneering African-American faculty at U.C. Berkeley titled “The Originals,” to a new exhibition, “Saved by the Bay: The Intellectual Migration from Fascist Europe to UC Berkeley” at The Magnes Collection. Just closing is a marvelous exhibit on “Comics, Cartoons, and Funny Papers” – based, in part, on the Rube Goldberg papers housed at the Bancroft.
It was a special treat to meet one of the recipients of this year’s Hubert Howe Bancroft award – Rose Marie Beebe, who received it for her work on early California history with her husband and colleague at Santa Clara University, Robert M. Senkewicz. They teach Spanish and history and are now involved in a mammoth project to translate Vallejo’s five-volume memoir from Spanish into English.
“Vallejo is finally going to have his voice,” said Beebe, after accepting the award from the Bancroft’s highly respected outgoing head of public service, Susan Snyder. “He’s my man!” Beebe also fulsomely praised Snyder, whom she’s worked with for many years: “I call her the Goddess,” she said.
I identified with how Beebe described herself and her husband, who have spent countless hours with the Bancroft’s collection for their books Lands of Promise and Despair: Chronicles of Early California, 1535-1846, Testimonios: Early California through the Eyes of Women, 1815-1848 and the Guide to Manuscripts Concerning Baja California in the Collections of the Bancroft Library which they edited.
As Beebe said at the ceremony, “We love primary sources,” she said. “We’re archive rats!”