The Bancroft Survey Project began in February 2008. Funded by grants from the Andrew W. Mellon and the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundations, the survey project is intended to be a simultaneously broad and in-depth survey of all manuscript holdings of the Bancroft Library, which has been collecting for over a century. Four archivists were hired to scour the collections for a three year term, during which they will review the vast myriad of manuscript materials and use a survey instrument designed to gather data on collection scope, subject categories, and physical condition. The survey archivists are Marjorie Bryer, Amy Croft, Dana Miller, and Elia Van Lith, and they are also the authors of this blog.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A message of peace for the holidays

Several months ago I was surveying the Paul Seabury papers, Banc MSS 91/115, currently an unprocessed collection. I came across something unique among the papers in the collection and extraordinary in itself. Although I am still not quite sure it was authored by Seabury, a few clues do point in that direction.

"And the Shrimps Eat Mud" is a sort of primitive graphic novel, like a picture book for adults, mostly revolving around themes of power inequity and war. It tells the story of a mythical Charles Darwin, fretting over the ways that powerful men oppress their less powerful fellows, and how the oppressed are often forced into war.

It is dozens of pages long, and I found the cartoon drawings very touching, especially in the way the faces of downtrodden or underdog characters are portrayed on many pages.

In the story, eventually the downtrodden peasants revolt and refuse to engage in the rich men's war, and Darwin is no longer plagued by sleepless nights.

The estimated dates for "And the Shrimps Eat Mud" are not consistent with the bulk of the collection-- the paper it's drawn on, the style of drawing, and the outfits of the military figures all suggest the cartoon was created after the first World War but before the second. Yet Seabury was born in 1923, too late to experience the effects of World War I firsthand, and he as far as I can tell he did not come to teach at Cal until the 1950s (I think)-- and the bulk of his papers date from the 1950s-1980s.

However, Seabury's calisphere entry notes that while he was often labeled a reactionary, he was also a harsh critic of the powerful whether in politics or religion, which is the central point of "And the Shrimps Eat Mud." He is also characterized as whimsical, which the cartoon definitely is.

Whomever the author, this piece has captivated my attention. It is one of those rare gems in the archives with the immediacy to connect us to the humanity beyond the stacks. Items like this one make every day of the survey worth its weight in gold.

Happy Holidays everyone!
- D. Miller, 12/21/2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

Motto: Be Merry

Surveying account books and ledgers is never very exciting. However today when I was surveying the Mokelumne Hill Canal and Mining Company account books I was surprised to come across some drawings!

I can only guess that these were done by a child of someone who worked at the mining company or who kept these books before they were acquired by the Bancroft.

Later on in the volume there are some rules and a list of officers for a club.

The rules read:
Come to every meeting you can.
Don't be silly.
Obey orders.
Keep the Promise.


Motto: Be Merry

Now depending on what the promise is (they were smart enough not to write it down) this sounds like a fun club to be a part of!

Banc mss C-G 280, Mokelumne Hill Canal and Mining Company account books, 1854-1907

-A. Croft

Thursday, September 24, 2009

History, now playing on an ipod near you

While surveying part of the Charles Collins Teague Papers today, I opened a box marked St. Francis Dam Disaster. I had never heard of the disaster in an historical or scholarly context before, but I did know the story through a pop culture reference- a 2001 song of the same name by Frank Black and the Catholics (penned by Frank Black of Pixies fame).

Southern California Edison Company construction camp near Los Angeles- Ventura County lines, where 145 men lost their lives.
The St. Francis Dam Disaster occurred a few minutes before midnight on March 12, 1928, when a concrete dam located 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles broke violently apart and the resulting tidal waves of water rushing to the ocean ruined towns and took hundreds of lives. Charles Teague was deeply involved with the development of agriculture in Southern California, and served as president for various companies and associations connected with the citrus industry. At the time of the St. Francis Dam Failure, Teague was Chief of the Santa Clara Water Conservation District, where the disaster took place.

View looking North on South 4th St. Santa Paula, California
According to Wikipedia, the St. Francis Dam flood killed 600 people and ranks among the worst civil engineering disasters in American history, effectively ending the career of its chief engineer, William Mulholland.

This document from the Teague papers estimates the death toll at 385 (penciled in at bottom) rather than 600.

Above are some images and a document from Teague's files on the St. Francis Dam failure, while the lyrics of the Frank Black song follow below. A google map search for the town of Piru enables one to see all of the towns mentioned in Black's lyrics; the "water master man" Black refers to is clearly Mulholland; "powerhouse #2" may refer to the Edison camp pictured in the top photo.

St. Francis Dam Disaster

Frank Black and the Catholics

There was a well known water master man

He was the king

He could do anything

The Saint Francis Dam disaster man

Thought she was all right

Until around midnight

Because that water seeks her own

She had a desire to flow

She was looking for somewhere to go

She was a slave to the great metropolis

She was feeling choked

She pushed the wall till it broke

When they heard

The great apocalypse

At power house number two

Well there was nothing they could do

Because that water seeks her own

Five and one half hours she would flow

She had fifty-three miles to go

A cascade down to Santa Clara way

Near sixty feet high

Now she's a mile wide

It was clear she was going far away

And whole towns were too

A few got lucky in Piru

Because that water seeks her own

But four more hours she would flow

She had twenty-nine miles to go

She carried in her every kind of thing

House, trees, and telegraph pole

Some say a thousand souls

At three A.M. she gave Santa Paula a ring

She was still twenty-five feet high

Under a peaceful sky

Because that water seeks her own

But two more hours she would flow

She had nineteen miles more to go

It was a real bad night in little Saticoy

El Rio then Montalvo

How many no one really knows

Ventura Beach was very scary boy

Humanity a pile

She went her final mile

Because that water seeks her own

Into the sea the water flowed

And now for forever she would go

In an interview for Blogcritics, Black quipped that he had the song for a number of years before putting lyrics to it at the urging of his bandmates, "It was a grey and windy day... lyrics are, you know, about stuff. " Black may in fact have had a grudge against Mulholland. He also penned a song in 1994 called Olé Mulholland. I may find myself perusing my Frank Black CD collection tonight when I get home to look for more historical commentary.

Charles Collins Teague papers, BANC MSS C-B 760, Box 4.
See also and

---D. Miller

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Label Humor

Some creative container labeling has happened at The Bancroft, as these three labels from the 1960s and 1970s clearly show. But before we go further, let me dispel any worries about labeling standards at Bancroft by saying that all the containers had appropriate labels as well. Whew!

The first two labels come from the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown papers (BANC MSS 68/90 c), a 1,029 carton behemoth of a collection of the papers of Pat Brown who served as Governor of California from 1959 to 1967. Despite the interesting material and the importance of the collection, while we were surveying the collection I sometimes felt we would never see the end and I imagine the archivist tasked with creating all the carton labels felt the same way, possibly typing these two labels to alleviate the monotony.
The first label is funny on its own, but makes more sense when you realize that there are nearly 100 cartons of Senate and Assembly bills in the Brown collection. After 80 or 90 cartons of legislative bills, wouldn't you want them to rest in peace too?

I can't remember exactly where the second label was found so it will just have to speak for itself.

And now the best for last. This third label was found stuck on a carton in the Papers on European and American printers (BANC MSS 74/150 c). I'm not sure if the person typing the label was commenting on their feelings about the subject matter of the collection or possibly aspects of the archival profession, but I'm sure all archivists can relate.

--E. Van Lith

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Kaiser: Beauty in Business, part 1

Many Californians will recognize the name Kaiser (or Kaiser-Permanente) and associate it with the health care industry giant it has become. But historically the Kaiser empire, started in 1912 by Henry J. Kaiser, was into much more than hospitals, and included a road-paving business, large-scale construction projects, shipbuilding and shipyard operation, Kaiser-Frazer automobile plants, steel mills, aluminum, chemical and cement companies, low-income housing projects, and real estate development in Hawaii.

Over the past couple months, Marjorie and I have surveyed two large collections under the Kaiser name: the papers of Henry J. Kaiser (Banc MSS 83/42; 329 cartons, 194 volumes), and those of his son Edgar F. Kaiser (Banc MSS 85/61; 500 cartons and 32 volumes).

While I tend to consider many corporate records less than thrilling, there were some surprisingly colorful finds inside these collections, if one looked deep enough.

The following images are from the Edgar F. Kaiser papers (Banc MSS 85/61, volume 25) and show a 1957 marketing proposal booklet for their automobile line that highlights potential uses of colorized aluminum for the interiors and exteriors of cars. Earlier in the 1940s and early 1950s Kaiser had teamed up with Frazer and Darrin to produce a handful of car models, stylish classics that can still occasionally be found today (look around for the Kaiser "Virginian," "Manhattan," the "Special", and my personal favorite, the "Dragon" hardtop convertible!). These cars were never made, aluminum being a questionable choice of material for this purpose-- is anyone else thinking, "What about dents?!"-- and Kaiser had ceased production in earnest around 1955.

Still, if you love mid-century modern design like I do, you'll get a kick of out some of these car designs. Note how the car models are named after different California cities and landmarks. How lovely to be driving around town in a "Piedmont..."

This is a page of sample colors and textures that could be put on the interior of the car, in such places as doors, dash, foot panel, etc.

Personally, the pink swirls and the turquoise beehive would go great with, well, nothing in my own utilitarian car, but hey a girl can dream.

Behold, the "Golden Gate," a station wagon with lots and lots of window...

The "Del Mar," roomy and zoomy- check out the space-age trunk of this metal behemoth!

And finally, the "Merced." Looks like a fun ride to me!

(Other models can be seen in this volume of the collection. The artist was not noted anywhere in the document. Part 2 to come in July.)

--D. Miller

Monday, June 22, 2009

Good News for Elephants

We have come across many cartons of unsorted newspaper clippings during the survey so far. Unfortunately, this is not a rare sight:

Normally I wouldn't look too closely at them and would just make note in our database that there were loose and bundled clippings in this carton. However, these are clippings that Hubert Howe Bancroft collected and there was one bundle in particular that caught my eye:
[labeled "Useful Items"]

I was intrigued to say the least. I decided to spend some extra time to look at this small bundle and see what Hubert Howe Bancroft thought was useful in the late 1800s. The topics ranged from new patents, scientific discoveries, and funny items. My favorite clipping is one that describes the use of the meat of potatoes as a substitute for ivory - which, as the author points out, is excellent news for elephants!

I also enjoyed reading about a trio of traveling rats....

...and I learned about the beneficial effects of wearing flannel (actually pretty relevant for the surveyors given our chilly work environment!)

Here are some others that I liked:

From Banc MSS B-C 14: Bancroft miscellaneous newspaper clippings, 1860-1890.

--A. Croft

Friday, June 19, 2009

Oh, Bancroft, brave Bancroft!

Hubert Howe Bancroft Middle School in Los Angeles, Calif., the "home of the cougars," was named after our very own founding father, H.H.B. And the school honors its namesake in its school song, the lyrics for which Amy and I came across when surveying the Hubert Howe Bancroft family papers, BANC MSS, 73/64. Just how the lyrics came to the Bancroft family we'll never know, but we can all be thankful they did.

It's a toss-up for my favorite lines.
After all, what archivist could resist the following lyric?:

"He collected many manuscripts and worked without delay.
To preserve for posterity.
To preserve for posterity."

But the chorus does tug at my heartstrings:

"Oh, Bancroft, brave Bancroft,
'Twas a name known to fame in days of yore;

May it ever be glorious

Till the sun shall climb in the heavens no more."

A note at the bottom of the sheet says the song should be sung to the tune of "Lord Jeffrey Amherst" the fight song of Amherst College. In case you have the irrepressible urge to honor H.H.B. in song, you can get the tune by listening to "Lord Jeffrey" at Just click on the button on the left for "Lord Jeffrey."


--E. Van Lith

Friday, June 12, 2009

Marx for Cranston

In 1968, Alan Cranston was elected to his first term as Senator from California. While surveying his papers (BANC MSS 88/214), we came across this humorous exchange between Groucho Marx and the new Senator.

November 7, 1968

Dear Senator: I was one of your strongest supporters and one who believed in your integrity - perhaps even manhood. I sent you a check for $25.00 so you could defeat that profane schoolteacher.

Inasmuch as you are now safely ensconced in office and Paulson has dropped out of the race, I think you would be doing a handsome deed by returning my $25.00. However, if you insist upon running again at some future date, just send me the money and I will hold it in escrow until I find out definitely what your plans are for the future. Incidentally, while you're in Washington, see if you can't incapacitate Senator Murphy.

Groucho Marx

P.S. This is a pretty lousy letter and, incidentally, the check I sent you wasn't too much either.

January 30, 1969

Dear Groucho:

I was relieved to learn that you believe in my integrity and my manhood, just as you will be relieved to learn that your $25.00 check, which I promptly cashed, was good.

So much for my integrity, my manhood and your twenty-five bucks.

Alan Cranston

--M. Bryer

Monday, June 8, 2009

Archival Toilet Paper

Here is a quickie, but it's an amusing one.

Today we were surveying the papers of the Crown Zellerbach Corporation, a very large paper company operating in the Pacific Northwest that was a parent company to 184 other paper companies.

The company even had its own Crown Zellerbach History Committee, recognizing the importance of its own history in a new executive policy order as early as 1954. They obviously took their charge seriously and saved a lot of materials.

We saw the records of dozens of paper, pulp, lumber, transportation, and mill companies, but were a bit surprised by what we found in carton 43, pictured here:

The finding aid described it as: "Roll of 'Spring Notch Toilet Tissue' recovered from a wall of the Sequoia Hotel, Fresno, California. ca.1920s"

Thus, we were looking at what is soon to be a 100 year old roll of toilet paper! And it's only Monday...

(See Crown Zellerbach Corporation records, BANC MSS 88/215 cp)

--D. Miller

Friday, May 15, 2009

For Your Teducation

Jazz musician and poet Ted Joans was born Ted Jones on July 4, 1928 in Cairo, Illinois. He changed his surname to distinguish it from the familiar spelling and, some say, to honor a woman named Joan. At the time of his death in May 2003, Joans’ career was enjoying a resurgence due, in part, to the publication of his poetry anthology “Teducation” (1999).

Joans earned his B.F.A. from Indiana University and moved to Greenwich Village in 1951. According to historian Robin D.G. Kelley, he "was one of the original Beat poets, though you wouldn't know it from most Beat anthologies. He was the author of over 30 books of poetry, prose, and collage, including Black Pow-Wow, Beat Funk Jazz Poems, Afrodisia, Jazz Is Our Religion, Double Trouble, Wow and Teducation." Kelley calls Joans the "grandaddy of bringing jazz and 'spoken word' together on the bandstand." In the early 1960s, Joans made Timbuktu his home base and traveled the world doing poetry readings and creating "happenings." He also lived in Tangiers, Morocco and Paris, France.

Joans was also a surrealist. Kelley writes, “Joans’ mantra was ‘Jazz is my religion and surrealism is my point of view.’” He describes Joans' “Black Flower” (1968) statement, as “a surrealist manifesto that envisioned a movement of black people in the U.S. bringing down American imperialism from within with the weapon of poetic imagery, ‘black flowers’ sprouting all over the land.” Kelley adds that “all his writing, like his life, was a relentless revolt."

Joans and his companion, artist Laura Corsiglia, moved to Vancouver in 2001, after the acquittal of the New York City police officers who fatally shot Amadou Diallo; he vowed never to live in the United States again. Joans died in Vancouver in May 2003. When jazz great Charlie Parker, his former roommate, died in 1955, Joans wrote “Bird Lives!” on the streets of Lower Manhattan.” Kelley reports that “A few poets in the know have already left chalked salutes in the streets. Let the Village know: ‘Ted Lives!’
-- M. Bryer

Quotes were taken from Robin D.G. Kelley's obituary for Ted Joans, which appeared in The Village Voice, May 20, 2003. Kelley (my favorite historian) is Professor of History, American Studies and Ethnicity at USC. His many books include Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression and Race Rebels: Culture Politics and the Black Working Class. His biography of jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk will be published in Fall 2009.

Photos: Top Row, Left: Reading in Amsterdam Artist Club, photo and copyright, Nico van der Stam; Top Row, Right: "Hipster Book Signing"; Second Row, Left: "Compromised Character of Colored Contemporary Co-Op Amateur Artist, Southern Indiana Branch"; Second Row, right: Joans, with Ruth Kligman ("The Liz Taylor of Bohemia") and William de Kooning; Third Row, Left: Joans and poet Don L. Lee, "An automatic poet-chant, 'We Have Come Back, First Pan African Cultural Festival in Algeria, performed with indigenous Algerians"; Third Row, Right: "Avec J.P. Sartre"; Bottom: Stokely Carmichael, Princess Sierra Leone. All captions were written by Ted Joans.

The Ted Joans papers (BANC MSS 99/244) contain manuscript material, including many unpublished poems, and personal and professional correspondence with friends and colleagues, including Amiri Baraka, Stokely Carmichael, Diane di Prima, Bob Kaufmann, Ishmael Reed, Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. There are also -- as seen above -- some fabulous photographs. (For more photos, see the Ted Jones photograph albums -- BANC PIC 1999.097)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Foul Tip: One inmate's take on Folsom Prison life in 1895

The Folsom Prison Magazine collection (BANC MSS C-H 6) gives a colorful and satirical inside look at inmate life at the prison in 1895.

Opened in 1880, Folsom Prison is California's second oldest state prison after San Quentin and one of the earliest maximum security prisons built in the United States. Inmates housed there in the 1890s would have spent most of their time in the dark, locked inside a 4x8' stone cell with a 6" eye slot in the solid boilerplate door.

Despite, and definitely inspired by, this bleak life, one inmate created a magazine of poems, cartoons, and satirical articles concerning life at the prison with subjects ranging from an inmate baseball team and domesticated rats, to a touring ballet revue title Black Crook.

One dark poem, located on page 5, reads:
With iron hand he rules the waiters,
And sleight of hand forbids,
He feeds the Cons on stewed potatoes,
And tries to mash the kids.
--M.T. Stomach

--E. Van Lith

Thursday, April 2, 2009

BART - What Could Have Been

In 1997, on the 25th anniversary of its inaugural service, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers International (ASME) recognized the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART) as a Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark. According to ASME, BART's development “was revolutionary, embodying a futuristic spirit that produced historic innovations." ASME called BART “the prototype for most modern rail transit systems.”

Bill Stokes, BART's first general manager, credits Adrien J. Falk, BART's first Board President, for fostering the creative atmosphere that prevailed on the project. He called Falk "a catalyst for spirited, imaginative approaches to engineering challenges. He created a dynamic environment in which creative energy could soar. People could look for quantum leaps in innovation.” Most of the innovations cited by ASME, such as the engineering details in the transbay tube, were not readily visible to the public. However, people did notice the sleek trains. The Adrien Joseph Falk papers (72/39 c) included a "Photographic Record of Progress on Prototype Model for BART."

These photos illustrate what those BART cars could have looked like and show some proud engineers/boosters showing off a BART modelprototype of a BART train.

Quotes taken from “National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark,”, 1997. Falk became director and first board president of BART in 1957, when he was 73 years old. According to the biography in the finding aid for his papers, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors recognized Falk's strong sense of civic responsibility when they proclaimed January 17, 1970, “Adrien J. Falk Day" to honor is contributions to civic life and community welfare.

-- M. Bryer