Oral History Center
New Release: Rick Laubscher – San Francisco Journalist, PR Executive, and Founder of Market Street Railway
Today we are excited to release the oral history interview of Rick Laubscher. Born in 1949, Rick came of age amid the bustle of Market Street at the family’s business, Laubschers’ Delicatessen. It was in these early years that he developed a fascination in transportation, and a special love of streetcars; the “iron monsters” that rumbled through the streets of San Francisco and past the family’s delicatessen. He spent countless hours as a child drawing city maps (to scale) for his collection of Matchbox trams and buses. And during the age of lava lamps and flower power, his dorm room walls at U.C. Santa Cruz were adorned with transportation maps. Indeed, Rick had what he called “the transportation bug,” a condition that would only grow in time.
On the campus of U.C. Santa Cruz, however, Rick also developed an interest in journalism. He created the University’s first radio station, albeit unregistered with the FCC, and upon graduation headed to New York to study at the Columbia School of Journalism, where he was awarded the Pulitzer Fellowship. Returning to California, he started his career as a broadcast journalist with KGTV in San Diego. Here he helped pioneer live reporting in the Southern California market, and won two “Golden Mike” awards for his work. In 1977, Rick returned home to San Francisco as a reporter for KRON-TV. If Herb Caen was the voice of San Francisco, Rick Laubscher was certainly seen by some as the dandy of the city’s television news. Immaculately dressed in a three-piece suit, Rick reported on a number of historic events, most notably the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. Rick knew both the victims and the killer, and his coverage of the tragedy won him an Emmy Award.
In 1980, Rick left broadcast journalism to embark on a new career as a public-relations executive with the Bechtel Group in San Francisco. Over the next two decades, he worked around the world on behalf of Bechtel, crafting communication programs for both the company and their international clients. In the process, he helped mend relations between San Francisco and its business community, fostering a network of associates that would open the door for a dual career in civic service.
Rick’s affinity for streetcars is matched only by his love for San Francisco. And for nearly forty years, while working for Bechtel and later in private practice, he undertook numerous projects to give back to the City by the Bay. He served on the executive boards of the Chamber of Commerce, SPUR, and the JASON Foundation for Education, and was the founding Chairman of the City Club of San Francisco, one of the first fully open business and civic organizations in the City’s financial district. Above all, he revamped Market Street Railway, the nonprofit that brought vintage streetcars back to San Francisco. What started with an idea among likeminded enthusiasts—Rick calls it a “Mickey Rooney / Julie Garland Moment” of “Why don’t we get the kids together and put on a show”—finally took root in the summer of 1983 with San Francisco’s Historic Trolley Festival. Its popularity and international acclaim quickly made the festival an annual event. And by 1995, streetcars once again became permanent fixtures on the City streets. As President and CEO of Market Street Railway, Rick guided this effort with unrelenting energy. He assembled a diverse cast of supporters, searched around the world to secure additional streetcars, and skillfully navigated the city bureaucracy to make his vision of permanent streetcar lines to San Francisco a reality. For the fourth-generation San Franciscan who excitedly watched the “iron monsters” rumble down Market Street as a kid, it was simply a labor of love.
This oral history offers a look at San Francisco through the eyes of one of its remarkable residents. From journalism to business and an astonishing array of civic endeavors, Rick Laubscher helped shape the city he called home.
In partnership with independent interviewer Basya Petnick, the Oral History Center is pleased to make available her interview with renowned Cantor Roslyn Jhunever Barak. By way of introduction to this remarkable interview, we have reprinted excerpts from Ms. Petnick’s interview history below.
An interview history is a little piece of meta-historiography—a history of a history—intended to help the reader understand the interviews more completely. Typically, this piece discloses the purpose of the interviews, the relationship between the participants, and any special circumstances that developed during the interviewing, transcription, and editing processes.
Twenty-five years ago I came to the field of oral history from the worlds of literature, journalism, and creative writing, along with a lifelong interest in religious and spiritual matters. No doubt these interests affected the questions I asked and did not ask in the interviews. Mostly, however, my attention was focused on the task that oral history does so well, and that is to add to the existing record of a subject area, either through topical interviews with a number of people, or through the lens of one person’s full-life history…
Like an ethnographer, the oral historian “occupies a position of structural location and observes with a particular angle of vision.” Age, gender, race, insider/outsider position, social status, and other factors are well known to affect the conduct and outcomes of oral history interviews.
Prior to the start of this project, I knew Cantor Barak only in a formal way, as “my cantor,” the senior cantor of Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, where I had been a member for twenty years.
We had at once no prior relationship and yet at the same time an extremely important relationship. Hers was the voice that called me to prayer on Shabbat morning and evening and on the High Days. Hers was the voice that chanted the Kaddish for my family members on their yahrzeit year after year; hers was the voice by the bed and gravesides of ill and grief-stricken friends. Hers was the voice on my anshei mitzvah (adult bat mitzvah) study tapes from which I learned the prayers and blessings and, of course, my Torah portion: I knew well Cantor Barak’s every breath and phrasing of our basic Reform Jewish liturgy, which I had learned not just for my ansheit mitzvah but for a lifetime. Her prayers literally had become my prayers and, without specifically intending it, we had entered into a unique relationship that only a cantor/teacher and congregant/student may have: that of praying the liturgy together syllable-by-syllable, breath-by-breath. I was in awe of her vocal ability and had great respect for her as a senior member of the Emanu-El clergy, but because of her congenial personality I felt at home and comfortable with her during the interviews and enjoyed talking together in our profession roles of oral historian and cantor.
Over the years, I had attended many services led by Cantor Barak, and while seated in one or another of Emanu-El’s three sanctuaries, I watched the world around her change. As the decades passed, the popularity of organs, choirs, complex music, and a cantor-dominated service declined, while the contemporary, guitar-led, arms-around-my-neighbor, clapping and communal singing of all the prayers by everyone gained popularity and momentum. In time it became clear that camp-style participatory singing was a fait accompli. Naturally I did what all oral historians must do: take digital recorder in hand, research and write questions, and begin to document significant change.
In the spring of 2013, I invited Cantor to discuss the prospect of recording her oral history. During our luncheon, I talked with her about why I thought her oral history would be valuable to researchers, congregants, Jewish music enthusiasts, and other cantors now and in the years to come. She seemed comfortable with the idea of being interviewed extensively; she asked key questions and attentively listened to responses.
To interview Cantor Barak repeatedly is to be included in the soft whirl of friendly chaos that gently surrounds her life. In her world, there is always someone coming in or going out, someone calling on the house phone or cell phone, or someone at the door. There may be an old New York friend or a temple in Texas calling, but regardless, all Barak household activities are punctuated by barking, or by someone telling the dog to please stop barking. And there are always dogs. In the course of about a year—the time it took to complete the twelve interviews—Figaro, a disturbed Jack Russell terrier mix, and a psycho poodle named Elmo came and went, until finally, Schatzy, a little schnauzer, came to stay.
There was a continual stream of repairs and repairmen that joined our quiet time together. First it was a serious water leak, and then something that involved the garage, and then a crew with chain saws arrived to limb the trees right outside her house. At some point, jackhammers became included in the interviews, as well as tree branches of varying sizes, and pieces of the neighbors’ concrete that had to be removed in an enormous truck with the loudest backup warning sounds I have ever heard. During the interviews, there were instructions to be given, cautions to be issued, and dog walkers and friends to be greeted. There were potential renters and their agents to see the house before Cantor’s impending temporary move to Dallas. There were doorbells ringing and someone stopping by for just a minute. There was often something lost … often something that is “here … someplace.” There was David Olick, her partner, a lawyer working at home. There were iPads and iPhones and a 50” TV screen and laughter and apologies for all of it, and generous offerings of fruit and tea and other lovely gifts. If all this were happening in my quiet, almost monastic life, I might go nuts, but at Cantor’s, I enjoyed it. To her it was normal, and it became normal to me, too. I especially enjoyed her dogs and missed them when they were returned to the dog rescue because they were quirky and refused to be trained.
A curious thing about the interviews I conducted in her home is that she didn’t face me. During the recording sessions, she would sit in her leather recliner, stare into space and talk, while I sat on a nearby couch to the side of her. This meant that no nonverbal clues were possible: I couldn’t see her face and she couldn’t see mine. I couldn’t see her eyes to know the effects of my questions or learn if there were any disconnects between her facial expression and her verbal responses. Further, to redirect the flow of her narrative from that position required that I make a serious verbal incursion into the swift tide of thoughts and memories that formed her responses. I did not try to change this arrangement, however, because she seemed so utterly comfortable with it, and I deeply knew that the interviews would be more fruitful if she were completely comfortable. I report this simply as a description of “what the body did” during the interviews; it goes to the somatic side of the story, the part the reader cannot see.
To continue recounting factors that influenced the interviews: we are both Jews, and therefore, an important influence in our interviews was the prohibition in Jewish life against lashon hara, which might be understood as harmful speech. More than just avoiding gossip, this practice requires not speaking in a harmful way on any occasion. But talking and not talking about people is tricky, because from the start, one’s life is full of people—we cannot even live without being connected to people—but, when mindful of lashon hara, there is often little that can be said about others, as much as we might like to say more. It’s similar to how we use or do not use humor: one wants to tell a joke because it expresses a truth and seems funny, but it might be hurtful to in-laws or the elderly or a certain ethnic group, so we don’t do it: on a good day we resist the impulse.
Another inhibition that slightly constrained the interviews was the “gag order” that had been imposed on Emanu-El clergy by their board of directors during the days when Rabbi Robert Kirschner was stepping down from his position as senior rabbi. While Cantor Barak was deeply affected by his demise, she spoke cautiously about that incident, and I did not probe for more.
Also missing from the interviews are questions about what is like to be a female cantor. Not many women like to be asked what it is like to be a female this or a female that. The question can be unintentionally diminishing, and I could not bring myself to ask it. I had learned at the outset of my research that soon after Cantor Barak began her training at Hebrew Union College, the program filled with female cantorial candidates. As it has been said, “Female cantors are so ubiquitous now that some people are even surprised to see males in the role!” I also knew that during her many years at Emanu-El, she had served on a staff of clergy that included several female rabbis, a female lay cantorial singer, and strong women on the board of a temple where women are notably powerful and gender not a major issue. Of course, it was not always this way. Long before women were invested as cantors, Julie Rosewald, a lay cantorial soloist with a beautiful, classically trained voice, led the prayers and directed the music at Congregation Emanu-El for nine years. Sadly, she has been left out of important histories written about Emanu-El and is not included in the photo history posted on the wall outside of two of the three sanctuaries. From the start, Cantor Barak reminded me to be sure to include Julie Rosewald in this oral history; subsequently, we discussed Rosewald’s contribution in the interviews below.
What I wanted to know and could not find out through either my interviews or research is: what is the effect on the hearer of the female voice as opposed to the male voice? What is the difference in the impact of the sound of the liturgy sung by a female in the soprano/alto range from the impact of the liturgy sung in the male tenor/baritone range? This question is difficult both to formulate and to answer.
The Bill Clemens / UCMP oral history project has been several years in the making. Historian Sam Redman first proposed to do a history of members of the University of California Museum of Paleontology in 2011, specifically to interview Dr. William Clemens and a number of his graduate students. The concept behind the project was novel and important: to document with long-form oral history of successive cohorts of students who were advised by a single scholar, while at the same time interviewing the scholar in depth about the evolution of his field, as well as the key transformations in the institutions in which he played significant roles.
UCMP Associate Director Mark Goodwin was the fulcrum in organizing the project, from fundraising to arranging for interviews with Bill’s students from all over the world. My first session with Bill was December 18, 2014, and my last was March 10, 2016. One of the factors contributing to the length of time spanning these sessions was the fact that Bill was caring for his wife Dorothy “Dot” Clemens while she battled cancer. There was some hope that she would live to see the project completed, but she ultimately passed before its completion. After a time, Bill resumed the project, in tribute not only to UCMP, his colleagues, and students, but also to her memory, as Dorothy Clemens was deeply committed to ensuring that Bill’s oral history was documented for the ages.
Several themes are explored in his interview. There is a longstanding concern in the history of science with the ways in which scientists establish and maintain their credibility within and beyond their communities. By the 1950s, the queen of the sciences was physics, and the public was consumed by the promise and peril of high technology, from the splitting of the atom to the electronic consumer items in the shops. In the public mind, paleontology perhaps had more in common with the 19th-century field sciences than with the burgeoning domains of digital computing or molecular biology.
When Bill Clemens started his undergraduate work UC Berkeley Department of Paleontology at the beginning of the 1950s, the modern evolutionary synthesis in biology, which linked laboratory research in genetics to field studies, statistical analysis, paleontology, and a revitalized Darwinian theory of evolution, had only just been worked out before the war. The helical structure of DNA was announced in Bill’s junior year. In other words, Bill began his career at the beginning of a new common cause in science — a better understanding of relationships between genetic variation and distribution in changing environments over geologic time — with cascades of new questions to follow in the decades to come.
This project allows us to look at how the synthesis unfolds in the 20th century in terms of relationships among and across disciplines, the deployment of new techniques and technologies, and in terms of the social and historical context of scientific knowledge production.
The drama of paleontology is often heightened by the public and romantic interest in the gigantic specimens. Owing in part to the Evolutionary Synthesis, the paleontologists of Bill’s cohort were interested, not just in the structures of fossil specimens themselves, but in where and how they lived in relation to one another. To get at some of these ecological questions, these students turned for example to the very small microvertebrates which could be found with a new technique of screenwashing, basically sifting for tiny fossils. What they found in the Lance Formation in Wyoming in one season equaled the number of fossils of their kind ever discovered up to that point. The field branched away from the romance of the big dinosaurs and toward a more detailed understanding of evolutionary relationships among specimens and of the developmental characteristics that might tell the scientists something about how the creatures lived.
There is a lot of research in the history of science devoted to what historian of science Rob Kohler called the lab/field border. The basic question is this: given the growing disparity in prestige and resources between the field sciences and the bench sciences in the early 20th century, how did field scientists struggle for recognition, authority, and scarce resources, when the best scientific practice was increasingly defined as the controlled laboratory experiment?
Field scientists brought techniques and instrumentation into the field to increase the precision and quantity of data collected; and they also brought back from the field new questions to lab scientists and theorists about the complexity, messiness, and porosity of the data. This project shows that this process is part of the ongoing fulfillment of the evolutionary synthesis: a harmonization of the basic questions across the life sciences, with the kind of cross-fertilization that we saw in Charles Darwin’s education and work practice. We see new hybrids of paleontology and other life sciences emerging, such that some practitioners could be viewed from a distance as statisticians, or labcoat-wearing experimentalists working with the vast collections of specimens collected by Bill and others. The other piece of the lab/field border concept is that the field is also a complex social and political place. This is one of many of Bill’s soft skills that students talk about over and again in the history. How does one maintain good relationships with the property owners who are stewards of the places in which the paleontologists work?
For all of these reasons and more, place is important in the field sciences. But in few sciences is the precise meaning of place as important as paleontology, where a few feet of geological strata contain millions of years of data. Here is Bill Clemens on the trickiness of pinning down a fossil to a place, and therefore a time.
It’s important not to understate the importance of this scale and extent of fossil collection. The organized work of Clemens’ generation and the one that followed made possible newer types of data-intensive computerized research on paleontology, evolutionary biology, and climate change.
Here is Marisol Montellano on the importance of Bill’s efforts in fossil collection and characterization.
In fact, it is not uncommon for doctoral students today to conduct their research entirely with collected specimens in a laboratory, although Bill might not recommend this exclusive a course of study.
Here is Bill’s last student, Greg Wilson, on what Bill was like as teacher and a mentor.
Bill Clemens’ Students
It is here that we come to a really special aspect of this history, the second volume of this project: the thirteen interviews with Bill’s graduate students and the current Curator and leader of the UC Museum of Paleontology, Charles Marshall. Bill and his students are witnesses to the changes in the field of paleontology, the increasing use of computing to process large quantities of data, and the field’s increasing involvement in the most pressing questions of the last four decades: the resilience of species, the interdependence of organisms, and the consequences of a changing climate on the abilities of organisms to adapt to both sudden and gradual changes. Here is Bill’s former student Jessica Theodor on Reconciling Molecular and Morphological Data.
These questions are also a reflection of my initial theme about credibility in science. Through these interviews, we see how paleontology has adapted itself to a changing scientific climate, contending with the introduction of new species of ideas such as the asteroid-impact hypothesis for the extinction of most dinosaur species at the end of the Cretaceous, or through the adoption of sophisticated mathematical analyses of the surface structure of mammalian teeth to answer questions about the evolution of a particular species’ diet millions of years ago.
Here is Lowell Dingus on how he dealt with the approach of physicists Walter and Luis Alvarez to the question of the extinction of many species at the end of the Cretaceous Period.
Scientists struggle for credibility, and one way of doing so is to hybridize their research techniques and programs with the dominant sciences of the day, such as molecular and structural biology. The Department of Paleontology’s integration with the Department of Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley was part of a larger effort to cross-fertilize ideas and techniques from related disciplines that focus on evolutionary processes. “Interdisciplinarity” had an early home here at Berkeley and especially at UCMP, long before Integrative Biology was founded in the 1990s. One result of this integration is that the UC Museum of Paleontology has once again assumed a worldwide leadership role in the conduct of cutting-edge research, though it has long led the field of mammalian paleontology.
On a more human level, you will find in these pages, that the engines of research and innovation are fueled by human virtues as much as intellect. Bill and Dot’s patience and empathy for Bill’s students as they navigated the challenges of graduate school and the dust and heat of the field is well documented, as is Bill’s curiosity, meticulousness, patience and care with which he draws his scientific conclusions. It is surely a mark of his influence that his students have taken up the charge by using new techniques evidence, carefully tested, to gradually move their respective fields forward increment by increment.
Berkeley, CA, 2017
Today we release a very special oral history interview: Edward Howden, a pioneering advocate for civil rights and social justice in community-based organizations and early governmental civil rights institutions. Howden, who attended UC Berkeley from 1936 to 1940, was 98 years when we completed his interview earlier this year. To introduce this oral history, we’ve reprinted the interview’s “Foreword” by San Francisco State University Professor Emeritus of History Bob Cherny:
“Today San Francisco and, perhaps with some exceptions, California have reputations for diversity and for inclusion without regard to ethnicity, religion, or gender. California was the first state to elect women to both of its U.S. Senate seats. Currently, the speaker of the state Assembly and the president pro tempore of the Senate are both Latinos. The Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court is a Filipina American. The last six mayors of San Francisco have included a woman, an African American (in a city where African Americans make up less than eight percent of the population), and a Chinese American. Many similar examples could be cited.
One might be tempted to conclude that this level of political inclusion has arisen naturally from a diverse population, but there are other parts of the country where diversity has not automatically brought inclusion. A study by sociologists in 1970 suggested that San Francisco had a “culture of civility” based on tolerance for what they called, in the sociological jargon of that time, “deviants.” However, their explanation for this tolerance is unconvincing, focusing on an alleged “Latin heritage,” a “libertarian and politically sophisticated” working class, and a high proportion of unmarried adults.
Such an analysis leaves out a great deal, both in understanding the development of widespread tolerance of difference, and such tolerance does not automatically lead to inclusion into the social, economic, or political mainstream. There is a difference between tolerating difference and celebrating diversity, and neither itself produces inclusion. Inclusion of diverse groups and individuals into the mainstream has resulted from long-term struggles against both outright racism and more subtle forms of discrimination. In recent decades, historical scholarship has often focused on the ways that various groups have organized themselves to seek equality and inclusion.
The history of efforts to create a more inclusive society involves more than the efforts of excluded groups to organize themselves and demand inclusion. Equally important have been the historical battles that reformers—not themselves members of a discriminated against group— have waged against outright racism and more subtle forms of discrimination and in favor of inclusion. This oral history provides essential documentation to this aspect of the history of California. Throughout his professional lifetime, Ed Howden promoted such goals by campaigning for what he prefers to call human rights: first, in advocating that San Franciscans become more inclusive, then in using the authority of the State of California to bring greater inclusion in employment, and finally as a mediator, seeking to resolve community problems over rights.
I first met Ed at Alma Via, an assisted-living facility where my mother was a resident. Ed often sat at her table during breakfast, and we got to know each other over that breakfast table. I had known a bit about Ed’s work through my research and writing about California history and politics in the mid- to late 20th century. Meeting him in person over breakfast jogged my memory about some parts of his history and reading this oral history has told me a great deal more.
As you will discover from this account, Ed was involved throughout his long career in the struggle for what he defines as human rights. In the pages that follow, he relates how some of his experiences as a student at the University of California, Berkeley, in the 1930s and in the army during World War II led him in 1946 to accept the position of director of the Council for Civic Unity (CCU). Prominent members of San Francisco’s Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, and African American communities had established the CCU, and, as director, Ed worked to develop an awareness of discrimination and to advocate solutions. He utilized public meetings at the Commonwealth Club, radio and later television programs, the city’s four daily newspapers, presentations to the Board of Supervisors, and individual contact with the city’s movers and shakers. He was centrally involved behind the scenes in 1957 in the resolution of the imbroglio over the attempt by Willie Mays, a star player on the recently arrived San Francisco Giants, to buy a house in an all-white neighborhood. Ed also took the lead in writing and publishing A Civil Rights Inventory of San Francisco (1958) that detailed discriminatory employment and housing practices.
In 1959, Ed moved from what would today be called an advocacy organization, the CCU, to a governmental position. The year before, in 1958, Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, who had been the California Attorney General and before that the San Francisco District Attorney, was elected governor. As governor, Brown worked with the Democratic leadership in the legislature to create the state Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC). Brown appointed Ed as the first director of that agency, and Ed remained in that position for more than seven years, until Ronald Reagan became governor. After leaving the FEPC, in early 1967, he joined the Community Relations Service, a federal agency established within the Department of Justice under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He began western regional director and then became a Senior Conciliation Specialist. He retired in 1986. In that agency, he sought to mediate community problems involving human rights. Much of his work in that agency is covered in a separate oral history, done in 1999, but in this oral history Ed reflects on his central involvement in bringing a peaceful resolution to the 1973 stand-off at Wounded Knee between the FBI and American Indian Movement activists.
Ed’s story is that of one who has worked tirelessly, sometimes prominently but often behind the scenes, to eliminate practices that discriminated on the basis of race and thereby to promote inclusion. At the center of his work stands his belief that respect for human rights is the basis for decent relations among all the groups that make up a diverse society.”
New Release: Wayne Feinstein, Former Executive Director, Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties, 1991-2000
The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library is pleased to announce the release of a new life history interview with Wayne Feinstein, who served as Executive Director of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties from 1991 to 2000.
Wayne Feinstein was born Albany, New York, in 1952 and raised largely in Columbus, Ohio. He was active in his local Jewish congregation as a teenager and seriously considered the idea of attending seminary. He took an undergraduate degree from Colgate College and after graduation went to work for a series of Jewish community nonprofits, including: the United Jewish Appeal, the Jewish Welfare Federation in San Francisco, and the Council of Jewish Federations in New York. His first leadership role was as executive director of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, which was followed by years heading up the Los Angeles Jewish Federation and the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation, where he was executive director from 1991 to 2000. In 2000, he switched careers, going into the private sector, eventually becoming a vice president at the Capital Group. In this interview, Feinstein discusses his childhood, education, and experiences formative in the development of his decision to serve the Jewish community for roughly three decades. He surveys the landscape of Jewish communal organizations and describes how the roles played by those organizations changed over the last quarter of the 20th century. Feinstein details, in particular, the three federations for which he served as staff executive, focusing on the fundraising and service functions of those organizations.
Mr. Feinstein’s interview adds yet another voice to our long-running interest in documenting Jewish philanthropy and community life in the San Francisco Bay Area, particularly through our “Jewish Community Leaders” oral history project. Other significant interviews from that project include: Annette Dobbs; Peter Haas, Samuel Ladar; William Lowenberg; Brian Lurie; Roselyn Swig; and many more.
We are thrilled to continue to offer our expanded educational programs through our one-day introductory workshop. On February 25, 2017, the OHC hosted our third annual Spring Workshop at the MLK Student Union. Designed for anyone interested in learning more about how to bring oral history to their work, the workshop provides participants with the tools to plan their own oral history projects, conduct and record interviews and preserve and share their interviews. This year, our Spring Workshop participants included independent researchers, journalists, representatives from the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, undergraduate and graduate students, genealogists, and professors from across the United States.
The OHC staff led the day’s various sessions, which mirrored the cycle of an oral history project. Martin Meeker started the day with an overview of oral history and was followed by Paul Burnett on project planning and Shanna Farrell’s incisive dissection of the interview process. The day also included a session by David Dunham on recording techniques and a new presentation by Todd Holmes and Cristina Kim on the various ways to share oral history interviews with a wider audience. The OHC staff was, as always, excited to share their skills to expand the field of oral history practitioners and to learn about the innovative projects workshop participants proposed.
The OHC is committed to the University of California’s teaching mission and as such, we are always striving to improve our workshop. Each year we provide our participants with evaluations, which we take very seriously. This year we are happy to report that all of our participants stated that they felt ready to start conducting their own oral history interviews upon completing the workshop. As one participant triumphantly wrote in her evaluation, “I feel like I have much more clarity on my project, know what questions to ask myself and how to proceed.”
The OHC staff is already looking forward to next year’s Spring Workshop. However, until then, we are keeping busy and already deep in the throes of planning the Advanced Oral History Summer Institute.
Although we currently have a waiting list for the 2017 Summer Institute, it is never too late to ask yourself: Did you miss us this past February and want to learn more about oral history? Do you want to workshop your project with other oral history scholars? Do you have a research project that could benefit from the application of oral history methods?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, think about adding your name to the waitlist for the 2017 Advanced Oral History Summer Institute, or set a reminder to apply for the 2018 Summer Institute! For more information on our week-long oral history intensive course visit our website. Applications are online and available here. We hope to see you this summer!
Director’s Column March 2017: “History as a Retreat”
The year 2017 is certainly off to a tumultuous start with the words uncertainty, acrimony, and conflict in regular circulation throughout the body politic. As such, there is good reason that so many of us are glued to our news feeds, anxiously awaiting what sensation story might come next. But there is also good reason, I think, to step back from the flurry of ‘the now’ and retreat a bit into the past. I’ve never been one to accept the notion that by studying history we can inoculate ourselves from repeating the mistakes of the past. I think that the present is not only a different time, but also a different place, so we would be asking too much of history to play such a preventative role. Still, as a historian, I am convinced that knowledge of the past can help us better understand the present and perhaps suggest a range of options for how we might respond (or not) to the contemporary scene. I recently finished reading Chernow’s tour-de-force biography of Alexander Hamilton. If there is one point to glean from this remarkable book it is that “uncertainty, acrimony, and conflict” have been hallmarks of our nation’s political life from its inception, resulting even in that infamous duel in which a Vice President mowed down a Treasury Secretary in a bloody duel! Yet, the union persisted, lived another day to provide a home for men and women to attempt to improve the lives of their fellow citizens.
In recent months, I have found myself engrossed in many of the excellent interviews conducted by the Oral History Center over the past 63 years in an effort to gain insight into the challenges of the past and how people — often people whose names would have been forgotten if not included in our collection — responded to and rose above those challenges. See, for example, the post in this newsletter about our “Slaying the Dragon of Debt” oral history project, which provides great insight into federal budget battles of decades past, including an account of how the two parties managed to compromise and thus bring about budget surpluses by the end of the 1990s. This compromise, please recall, happened amidst bitter political fighting and a salacious presidential sex scandal. Also check out our recent podcast season, produced and written by OHC historians Todd Holmes, Shanna Farrell, and Cristina Kim, that traced the evolution of women’s participation in politics from the battle for suffrage to the “Year of the Woman” in 1992. This series puts our most recent election into necessary context and, perhaps, provides some ideas for how to move forward and guarantee full political equality for women. And, finally, in the coming days (on April 10th to be precise), keep your eyes peeled for the release of our brand new project documenting the movement that won the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in the United States. The 100 hours of interviews of this project basically propose a blueprint for social change in this era in which extremes win and positions seem ever more calcified. I think you’ll be surprised to learn all that happened behind the scenes and just how a quick and profound change in public opinion took place.
History, then, can be a place of retreat. Not retreat as in “escape” or “surrender” but in the sense of a place to go to rest and to be nourished and to prepare oneself for the challenges — and opportunities — that surely will rise before us.
Charles B. Faulhaber Director
Oral History Center
Slaying the Dragon of Debt: OHC’s Look into Federal Budgets from the 1960s into the 2000s.
Debt and deficits, budget reconciliation, CBO scoring. These arcana have again appeared at the forefront of social media feeds and on the front pages of newspapers as Congress and the White House attempt to pass the new President’s agenda while figuring out how to pay for it.
Back in 2010, OHC director Martin Meeker and then-postdoc scholar Patrick Sharma embarked on a brief but intensive oral history project — that we called “Slaying the Dragon of Debt” — exploring the recent history of federal debt and deficits. The central question asked at the beginning of the project went something like this: how was it that after running deficits for over 25 years, the federal government was able to produce a budget surplus in 1998 and every year until 2001, when we returned to deficits? As the project progressed, plenty of other questions were asked as well: Can the surpluses be attributable to President Clinton’s fiscal policies? To the belt-tightening mandated by Congressional Republicans? To the monetary policies of Alan Greenspan’s Fed? To broader economic trends, such as the dot.com boom? To something else entirely? To all of the above?
As we enter into a new fiscal regime, we think it is useful to return to our project on debt and deficits and attempt to seek insights into the complex workings of federal fiscal and monetary policy and how those policies are influenced by profound political shifts , warring parties, and memorable characters. As the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is now brought under criticism by the White House Office of Management and Budget, we want to know how have those offices worked together — or against one another — in the past. Has the work of CBO always been politicized and if so, how? Is the kind of rhetoric we hear today something entirely new or is it just another chapter in the decade’s long battles around government spending?
This project featured interviews with several former directors of the CBO, including Douglas Holtz-Eakin, June O’Neill, Rudolph Penner, Robert Reischauer, and Alice Rivlin. The project also includes interviews with a handful of former OMB directors, including: James McIntyre, Jim Miller, and, again, Alice Rivlin. Perhaps among the most revealing interviews are those with key staffers who worked behind the scenes, crafting legislation, and making policy. We recommend reading through the oral histories with Bill Hoagland, who served as staff director for the Senate Budget Committee from 1986 to 2003, and Joseph Minarik, who was the chief economist at the OMB throughout Clinton’s two terms. Let us know what you think!
It’s with great pleasure that we announce the publication of Cliff Dochterman’s oral history; “Cliff Dochterman: A Rotarian’s Pursuit of Happiness through Service.” A former Rotary International President (1992-1993), Dochterman is best known for jumpstarting the PolioPlus program that immunized over 2.5 billion children around the world and his ability to raise millions of dollars for refugees during the Yugoslav Wars. Dochterman is credited as for helping Rotary International realize its potential as a global philanthropic and service organization. His decades-long dedication to Rotary International, Boy Scouts of America, higher education administration both here at the University of California and at the University of the Pacific demonstrate his gift for fundraising and his unwavering commitment to service.
Given everything Dochterman has done for the Rotary world, it’s hard to believe that Dochterman was initially rejected from the Berkeley Rotary Club. A young University of California administrator and assistant to UC President Clark Kerr, Dochterman finally gained acceptance into the Berkeley Rotary Club after a third nomination. Shortly after joining the club, he became Berkeley’s Club President and then the local District Governor and member of various international committees. Of course, his meteoric rise comes as no surprise to those that know Cliff Dochterman personally.
As the current Rotary International President, John Germ, aptly notes in the introduction to Dochterman’s oral history, “Cliff is an individual who is a role model for individuals who desire to create a better world. As a Rotarian, Scout leader and a dedicated American, he has led by example always putting others above himself. His joyful disposition has brought great success in motivating others to community service. We are all better because we have had the opportunity to serve with him and to know him.”
Cliff Dochterman’s oral history is part of the OHC’s larger Philanthropy collection. We highly encourage all those interested in learning more about the dynamic history of Rotary International to read “Cliff Dochterman: A Rotarian’s Pursuit of Happiness through Service.”