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Former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove, a Pulitzer Prize winner, fills Morrison Library with poetry

U.S. Poet Laureate winner Rita Dove
U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Rita Dove reads from a selection of her work at Lunch Poems, Morrison Library’s poetry reading series, on Dec. 7, 2017. (Photo by Cade Johnson for the University Library)

“It does the heart good to be among books and people who love them,” former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove said to a packed Morrison Library audience.

As part of the Lunch Poems series, Dove read from a diverse selection of her work Thursday afternoon — recent poems and ones from further back in her extensive catalog, which includes Thomas and Beulah, winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in poetry.

“It is so wonderful to see this room so full of people who love poetry,” Chancellor Carol Christ said during her opening remarks to a standing-room-only crowd of about 250 people. Christ, fittingly, began her academic career in the English Department, teaching poetry. “I have never been to an event here where there are people literally hanging from the balcony, so that says a lot about Rita Dove and says a lot about this community’s love for poetry.”

Dove was not only the first African American to be elected U.S. Poet Laureate — at 40 years old, she was the youngest, too. She now teaches at the University of Virginia.

The work Dove read Thursday included poems about family; an homage to the library near where she grew up, in Akron, Ohio; and the creatively alliterative Ode to My Right Knee (which opens, “Oh, obstreperous one, ornery outside of ordinary”).

Among those in attendance was Chelsea Muir, a public policy graduate student. She popped in for part of the reading after seeing a flyer.

“I liked the creativity and the playfulness,” she said, citing, in particular, a flowing prose poem Dove read. Muir said she was impressed by the reading and was inspired to read more of Dove’s work. She also enjoyed Morrison Library, which she was visiting for the first time.

Dove expressed a similar sentiment: “It just feels good in here,” she said.


Lunch Poems is a noontime poetry reading on the first Thursday of the month. Admission to the Morrison Library event is free. Check out the spring semester schedule. Watch videos of past readings. Support for this series is provided by Dr. and Mrs. Tom Colby, the Library, The Morrison Library Fund, the Dean’s office of the College of Letters and Sciences, and the Townsend Center for the Humanities. These events are also partially supported by Poets & Writers Inc., through a grant it has received from The James Irvine Foundation.

‘Llama love’ makes its way to Memorial Glade at UC Berkeley, outside Doe Library

It might be the start of Dead Week, but Memorial Glade was more alive than usual Monday afternoon, thanks to four special guests.

Their names? Quinoa, Ollantaytambo, Amigo, and Wykee.

For about four years, llamas have been descending on campus, offering students a much-needed respite from their studies — and soft coats to pet.

Monday’s event, called Return of the Llamas — sponsored by the ASUC’s Office of the Academic Affairs Vice President — drew large crowds of students, who came to pet the llamas and take pictures with them, with some onlookers climbing on each other’s shoulders to get a better vantage point.

“They are an institution,” said George Caldwell, or Geo, who has brought his fluffy friends from Sonora, more than two hours away in Tuolumne County, to the UC Berkeley campus for various events and activities, including events raising awareness about wellness and suicide prevention.

Caldwell teaches classes in Oakland about the ungulates. Afterward, he said, he comes to campus with the creatures “to share the llama love.”

“My whole goal is to have llamas here 365 (days of the year),” he said. “It would be a great thing for people who have stress to go see the llamas.”

Ana Mancia, department head of the Office of the AAVP for the ASUC, has been instrumental in bringing the llamas to campus for the past year and a half — which equates to three rounds of llamas.

“I really hope (students) get the chance to … ease the pressure before finals,” said Mancia, a third-year business major. The llamas, she said, could help students “put things in perspective.”

So how are students reacting to the creatures?

“They’re crazy and fun,” said Wei Zhou, an economics major who was there with her friend Nancy Zhu, an applied math major.

“It’s a good way to de-stress,” Zhu added.

Students pet llamas
Students pet a llama named Quinoa during the ASUC-sponsored Return of the Llamas event outside of Doe Library on Dec. 4, 2107. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)

So long, Twitter and Facebook: UC Berkeley students take a timeout from social media

students turn in their phones
Cheyenne Canizares, left, and Isabella Blanco turn in their smartphones during the Blackout Challenge at Moffitt Library on Dec. 4, 2017. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)

Forgoing Facebook? Taking a timeout from Twitter? The prospect of a social media sabbatical may seem unthinkable to some millennials.

But on the fourth floor of Moffitt Library on Monday morning, a throng of students were lined up to surrender their smartphones — voluntarily — for a social media blackout.

A collaboration between the REST Zones Project and the Office of the Academic Affairs Vice President, the Blackout Challenge encourages students to fork over their phones in exchange for prizes, depending on how long they participate. One hour will get you a sleep mask. Two hours, and you’ll get a stuffed bear. Three hours will earn you a pillow. And if you last four hours, you’ll get a blanket. While supplies last, of course.

“We hope to enhance the productivity of students during Dead Week,” said Genevieve Slosberg, an intern for the Office of the AAVP, who was working the event Monday morning. “We also hope to be a part of creating a culture where social media is not as prevalent.”

How do UC Berkeley students feel about giving up social media?

“It’s probably going to make me study more,” said Cameron Chee, a sophomore majoring in chemistry.

“I cannot last longer than three hours,” said Anna Mazur, who is studying Environmental Economics and Policy, citing a review session she was attending later.

Some students were in it for the long haul. Joseph Sahyoun, a grad student studying mechanical engineering, said he was aiming to participate for the full four hours — at least.

“I support it,” he said of the effort to unplug from social media. Plus, he said, “I love sleep gear.”

Turnout Monday morning was “extremely high,” Slosberg said. About 25 minutes in, 30 people had surrendered their phones — a rate of more than one phone per minute.

How did so many students find out about the event?

“Facebook,” said Chee, echoing other students’ replies. “Which is kind of ironic.”

The Blackout Challenge started at 10 a.m. at Moffitt Library and lasts until 10 p.m.

student phones
Coordinators accept student smartphones during the Blackout Challenge at Moffitt Library on Dec. 4, 2017. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)

Movies @ Moffitt: American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs

Movies @ Moffitt

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017
Doors @ 6:30pm, show @ 7:00pm
405 Moffitt Library
Free; open to UCB students only (UCB student ID required)

What does it mean to be an American revolutionary today? Grace Lee Boggs is a 98-year-old Chinese American writer, activist, and philosopher in Detroit. Rooted for more than 70 years in the African American movement, she has devoted her life to an evolving revolution that encompasses the contradictions of America’s past and its potentially radical future. [This documentary presents] Boggs’s lifetime of vital thinking and action, traversing the major U.S. social movements of the last century; from labor to civil rights, to Black Power, feminism, the Asian American and environmental justice movements and beyond.

Check out the website and view the trailer.

Net neutrality, Trump’s tweets, and the rise of wireless culture: UC Berkeley professor’s new book illuminates modern issues by exploring the past

Tom McEnaney
Tom McEnaney, an assistant professor in the Comparative Literature and Spanish and Portuguese departments, teaches a class in the Valley Life Sciences Building on Nov. 20, 2017. This year, he released a book, called “Acoustic Properties: Radio, Narrative, and the New Neighborhood of the Americas.” (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)

“Sound is really important in the history of literature, technology, and culture,” Tom McEnaney said. “It’s not merely a metaphor.”

And McEnaney knows a thing or two about sound.

The UC Berkeley professor, who earned his Ph.D. from Berkeley in 2011 and returned this year to teach in the Comparative Literature and Spanish and Portuguese departments after six years at Cornell University, has researched and written extensively on the subject.

He has a forthcoming piece about how This American Life has set a new standard for voices on the radio. (The vocal fry and uptalk you hear on NPR? That wasn’t always so common.)

And he has taught classes on punk rock, co-curated an exhibit about punk history, and has made noise in many punk bands over the past 20 years.

So it’s fitting that sound factors heavily into McEnaney’s new book, Acoustic Properties: Radio, Narrative, and the New Neighborhood of the Americas.

On Dec. 4, Morrison Library is hosting an event — a conversation with McEnaney, Emory University’s José Quiroga, and UC Riverside’s Freya Schiwy (“two really wonderful scholars whose work I admire,” he said) — that celebrates the book.

McEnaney’s book explores the “coevolution” of the radio and the novel amid influential movements in populist politics in three countries in the mid-20th century: the New Deal in America; Peronism in Argentina, and the Cuban Revolution. The book illustrates how governments, activists, and artists have struggled for control to represent the voice of the people within a changing media landscape.

“This is really the intersection of a turn to populism on the left” — liberalism in the United States, socialism in Argentina, and communism in Cuba — “with wireless (technologies) that open the possibility, not always actualized, of giving power to the people,” McEnaney said.

His book talk will shine a light on the “unknown and unrecognized history of the hand-in-hand development of two strong media of public discourse” — radio and the novel — during pivotal moments for these three countries, said Liladhar Pendse, a librarian who is helping organize the event, along with Natalia Brizuela, a professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

McEnaney wears many hats. In addition to his research and teaching, he founded the Latin American Journals Project, established through a grant he received while at Cornell, which, in part, aims to provide scholars and the general public with free and open access to Latin American journals, many of which are otherwise be difficult to find.

McEnaney’s work on Acoustic Properties was bookended by two major political groundswells in the United States. He started the book, which evolved from his dissertation, in 2008, the year that Barack Obama was elected to his first term as president. The book came out in 2017, the year Donald Trump took office.

McEnaney’s book is timely, given today’s climate, and provides context for the current discussion about net neutrality. “The debates of how to regulate radio are the same debates we’re having with the internet,” he said.

“It’s about many things,” McEnaney said of his book. “It’s attempting to understand our present moment through histories of technology, literature, and politics.”

The book covers Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “fireside chats,” which saw the president embracing the relatively new platform of radio to convey his message. It’s not unlike the way Trump has embraced Twitter — setting aside the differences in tone.

“(It’s) a different type of politics but very much connected to the way the president of the United States uses wireless technology to create the illusion he’s speaking directly to the people,” he said.

While Trump is known for his shoot-from-the-hip candor, Roosevelt’s style was intimate and controlled. (Roosevelt and his advisers were so concerned with the president’s tone, as the book notes, that they had him use a dental bridge to close a gap in his teeth to prevent the whistle in his voice during his radio addresses.)

With his knowledge of populist movements of the past, did McEnaney foresee the upswell that ultimately catapulted Trump into the White House?

“Did I predict it? No,” he said. “It’s a new, troubling twist in the story.”

The book talk, called “Sound, Media, and Literature in the Americas,” will be held in Morrison Library on Dec. 4, and it starts at 5 p.m.

For Thanksgiving, we tried 3 historical pie recipes. How do they hold up today?

Thanksgiving is almost upon us. And you know what that means.

That’s right: It’s pie season. After all, mustering up the mental fortitude to feast alongside that obnoxious out-of-town uncle you see once a year should be rewarded with a decadent dessert, right?

We think so.

So we turned the clock back — way back — by baking and taste-testing three historical pie recipes from our collections to see if they would satisfy the modern palate.

The three recipes we chose come from books published in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries — well before Pinterest and the advent of the celebrity chef. That’s right — you won’t find Rachael Ray’s or, heavens forbid, Paula Deen’s names on any of these recipes.

Instead you’ll find three distinct, delectable desserts, each one holding its own historical significance — and each giving you a taste of the Library’s offerings and even, perhaps, baking inspiration for Thanksgiving.

A holiday classic

We started with the grandaddy of them all: pompkin pie. That’s no typo — “pompkin,” it turns out, is an old-timey way of saying “pumpkin.” And no Thanksgiving would be complete without this holiday favorite.

The recipe comes from The Bancroft Library’s second edition copy of American Cookery — one of about 900 cookbooks in Bancroft’s collection. It’s a modest-looking volume, published in 1796, that came to Bancroft within the past decade or so.

“It came in, and no one realized the significance of it,” said David Faulds, curator of rare books and literary manuscripts at Bancroft.

The book packs historical significance: It is the first known cookbook written by an American. “It was the standard American cookbook,” he notes.

It’s also incredibly rare.

Just how rare is it? Well, Bancroft’s copy is believed to be one of five or six copies in the world. After living a quiet life at the Northern Regional Library Facility in Richmond, it now is kept in Bancroft’s vault and was recently featured in New Favorites, an exhibit highlighting recent additions to Bancroft’s major collections.

Pumpkin is cut for a pie recipe from a book held by the University Library. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)
No canned stuff here: We cut whole pumpkins to make a “pompkin” (pumpkin) pie from a recipe in “American Cookery,” the first known cookbook written by an American. (Photos by Jami Smith for the University Library)

But let’s cut to the chase: How does this pompkin pie actually taste?

To find that out, we put the pie in front of a tasting panel including Faulds and four students (full disclosure: All are avowed pie fans) whose majors — and opinions — ran the gamut. All in the name of research, of course.

“It doesn’t taste quite modern,” one taster said, noting the lack of cloying sweetness.

It does, however, contain many of the hallmark pumpkin pie spices — nutmeg and ginger, among them — which have become ubiquitous in recent years. (Pumpkin pie spice potato chips, anyone?)

Perhaps the most notable difference is the lattice crust on top, which is absent in commonly used pumpkin pie recipes today.

But would the pie hold its own alongside more modern fare?

That’s a resounding yes, according to our panel.

Another classic — with a twist

Next up is another holiday staple: Sweet Potato Pie.

Like the pompkin pie, this one tastes familiar. But it also has an unexpected, zippy twist.

“I like the tang it has to it,” a taster said. “I’ve never had that in a pie.”

One panelist said it tasted like pumpkin and orange, while another swore it was carrot and lemon. (The “citrus-y” taste they noticed actually comes from orange juice and zest.)

The recipe traces back to What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, from 1881 — copies of which are held at both Bancroft and the Bioscience & Natural Resources Library.

Written by a former slave and plantation cook who moved from Mobile, Alabama, to San Francisco, it is thought to be one of the first cookbooks written by an African American. (It was believed to be the first known cookbook written by an African American until the rediscovery of Malinda Russell’s Domestic Cook Book, published in 1866.)

Students taste pie.
Students Lena Gavenas, left, and Trevor Hazen were among the brave tasters who tried pie made from old recipes found in the UC Berkeley Library’s collections.

And it was award-winning, too: At the San Francisco Mechanics’ Institute Fair in 1880, it won awards for best pickles and sauces as well as best assortment of jellies and preserves. (The author ran a pickle business.)

According to a later edition of the book, the namesake Mrs. Fisher — Abby Fisher — didn’t know how to read or write. Instead, she dictated the recipes to a group of prominent San Francisco and Oakland residents.

Of all the recipes, the terminology in this one had us scratching our heads the most. We felt that we could safely assume that a “cullender” was a colander. And “yelks,” it seemed, clearly referred to “yolks.”

But what is a “gill” of milk?

It turns out, it’s an antiquated measurement equaling half a cup — and does not, as one taster guessed, involve filling a fish with milk.

Presidential treatment

Then there’s the Quince Pie.

This one comes from the family cookbook of our very first first lady, Martha Washington. That’s right — move over, Melania Trump.

A quince, if you’re not familiar, is a yellow fruit that looks like a pear but tastes like a “woody apple,” as one taster put it.

A note: We’re using the word “pie” loosely here, because, although it looked beautiful in the pie tin, our attempts to cut it turned it into a crumble. That combined with the reddish tint of the cooked quinces seemed to confuse our tasters — and the resulting presentation looked almost gorey.

“It looks like body horror,” as one taster subtly (yet accurately) put it.

Other responses included that it looked like rhubarb, grapefruit, papaya, or even sashimi.

Though the texture was firm, the tasters agreed the pie was better than it looked, with at least one panelist declaring it the best of the bunch.

The recipe comes from 1940’s The Martha Washington Cook Book, adapted from Washington’s family cookbook. It’s one of the more than 5,000 cookbooks housed at the Bioscience & Natural Resources Library.

Notably, it’s the only recipe we tried that includes exact measurements. According to Faulds, the old practice of omitting measurements was actually quite common.

“That was the standard,” he said. “They assumed we knew what we were doing. They weren’t thinking about 200 or 300 years later.”

The recipe is straightforward enough, with the filling calling for just three simple ingredients: sugar, water, and quinces.

The pie, once ready, can be topped with whipped cream, but, as the recipe sternly notes, “Martha Washington did not do this.”

But this is not the time for holding back. Go ahead and pile on some whipped topping, and enjoy. After all, Thanksgiving happens only once a year.

Martha Washington would understand.

We made three pies from our Library's collections. Shown clockwise from top left: Crust is pressed into a pie tin; the "pompkin" pie recipe from the Library’s copy of "American Cookery" from 1796; a quince pie was made from “The Martha Washington Cook Book“; and the sweet potato pie recipe from the Library's copy of “What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking“ from 1881. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)
Shown clockwise from top left: Crust is pressed into a pie tin; the “pompkin” pie recipe from the Library’s copy of “American Cookery” from 1796; a quince pie was made from “The Martha Washington Cook Book“; and a sweet potato pie recipe from the Library’s copy of “What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking” from 1881. (Photos by Ho Young Won and Jami Smith for the University Library)



Note: We used recipe No. 1. This recipe refers to other recipes that can be found in the digitized version of “American Cookery,” found here.

No. 1. One quart stewed and strained, 3 pints cream, 9 beaten eggs, sugar, mace, nutmeg and ginger, laid into paste No. 7 or 3, and with a dough spur, cross and chequer it, and baked in dishes three quarters of an hour.
No. 2. One quart of milk, 1 pint pompkin, 4 eggs, molasses, allspice and ginger in a crust, bake 1 hour.

From: American Cookery, 1796

Back to reading

Sweet Potato Pie

Two pounds of potatoes will make two pies. Boil the potatoes soft; peel and mash fine through a cullender while hot; one tablespoon of butter to be mashed in with the potato. Take five eggs and beat the yelks and whites separate and add one gill of milk; sweeten to taste; squeeze the juice of one orange, and grate one-half of the peel into the liquid. One half teaspoonful of salt in the potatoes. Have only one crust and that at the bottom of the plate. Bake quickly.

From: What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking, 1881

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Quince Pie

8 quinces
1 ¼ cup sugar
1 ½ cups water

Wash the quinces. Cut in quarters, remove cores, and peel. Put in a pan together with one cup sugar and water, and let stew very slowly until tender. Turn fruit often. Line a pie plate with pastry and arrange the quinces in it in a neat design. Pour on the syrup and sprinkle with remaining one-fourth cup sugar. Lay criss-cross pieces of pastry on top and bake until a golden brown. The top pastry may be omitted and the pie covered with whipped cream before serving. Martha Washington did not do this.

From: The Martha Washington Cook Book, 1940

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Life, gene editing, and rock ’n’ roll: 5 things we learned from Jennifer Doudna’s talk

Jennifer Doudna, left, professor and co-inventor of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing, speaks with Susan Koskinen, head of the Life and Health Sciences Library Division, at the Bioscience & Natural Resources Library on Nov. 14, 2017. (Photo by J. Pierre Carrillo for the University Library)
Jennifer Doudna, left, professor and co-inventor of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing, speaks with Susan Koskinen, head of the Life and Health Sciences Library Division, at the Bioscience & Natural Resources Library on Nov. 14, 2017. (Photo by J. Pierre Carrillo for the University Library)

When Jennifer Doudna was in high school, a guidance counselor called her into his office to talk to her about her career.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Doudna recalls him asking.

“I want to be a scientist,” Doudna said.

“Girls don’t do science,” she remembers him saying.

She has been proving him wrong ever since.

For one, the UC Berkeley professor co-invented CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing, hailed as the biggest biological breakthrough since the discovery of DNA’s molecular structure in the 1950s. The technology comes with the possibility of curing devastating diseases and improving lives but also raises ethical questions.

“If you have a tool that allowed precision changes to DNA to be made,” she said, “that provides a way that, in principle, one could alter human evolution by making changes that could become inherited by future generations.”

In the years that followed, Doudna has become instrumental in raising awareness and broadening understanding — within the scientific community and beyond — about the technology. It’s a duty Doudna doesn’t take lightly. “It’s something I feel deeply passionate about,” she said.

Doudna sat down in front of an audience Tuesday in the Bioscience & Natural Resources Library for a chat about her book (“A Crack in Creation” is out this year), her life, and her scientific breakthrough.

Here are five things we learned.

1. Her upbringing in Hawaii influenced her career path.

Growing up, Doudna lived in Hilo, a “small, rural town,” on the big island of Hawaii. It was living in Hawaii, surrounded by diverse wildlife (“blind cave spiders and all kinds of interesting plants,” she said) that sparked her lifelong love of science.

“When I think back on how I got interested in science and biology and chemistry,” she said, “it really, I think, stems from growing up in that island environment and wondering about how organisms can evolve to live in a setting like that.”

And in 10th grade, Doudna’s interest in science deepend, thanks to a chemistry teacher, Miss Wong, who “taught us kids that science was about solving puzzles — it was about asking questions and figuring out how to answer them.”

“I absolutely loved it,” she said. “It was fun, and I started imagining that it would be really great to grow up and have someone pay me to do what I thought was just kind of fun — playing around in a lab.”

2. Even bioscientists get the blues.

In her 40s — and well into her second decade of running her lab — she started to question whether her work was going to have an impact.

“I really almost had sort of a midlife crisis,” she said.

She took a leave of absence at Berkeley for an opportunity at a company — which, in retrospect, was the wrong move.

Although it was a great company, she began to realize, “It was just the wrong fit for me,” she said. “I felt it in my gut. This is not where I’m meant to be.”

“I realized that I just loved working with students. I loved being at a public university,” she said. “I really believed in that mission of having education available to anyone who can come and wants to learn and wants to work at this wonderful place that we have here.”

She asked her former colleagues at UC Berkeley if she could return.

“They took me back,” she said.

3. She didn’t like the name of her book at first.

Neither Doudna nor co-author Samuel Sternberg liked the title “A Crack in Creation,” which their editor suggested.

“It sounded very ominous, somehow,” she said.

Neither could think of a better title, and they were eventually won over.

“It does sort of convey this idea that … we’re sort of at a fork in the road, in a way, and it really does feel kind of profound at times to me.

“We’re at a point where now we as a species have a tool that will allow us to control … who we are.”

4. She has a complicated relationship with the spotlight.

“People have called me the public face of CRISPR, and I’m sort of shocked by it,” she said.

But with glare of the spotlight comes the opportunity to raise awareness and educate the public.

“I feel sort of a sense of honor that I’ve been sort of thrust into this position of being a spokesperson for science, and it’s something that I feel deeply passionate about,” she said.

5. She had a brush with rock royalty.

With her profile having reached new heights come opportunities that she had never previously imagined.

“I was at a thing in London not long ago, and I turned around, and behind me was (rock guitarist) Jimmy Page,” she said. “We just struck up a conversation. We started talking about science, and about guitars, and Led Zeppelin.

“And I said to him, ‘I’m such a fangirl. I mean, I listened to your music growing up. Would you mind if I took a picture with you?’

“And (now) I have a picture with Jimmy Page.”

Beyond Día de los Muertos: Curator comes full circle with exhibit on Mexican celebrations

The walls are splashed with vibrant, multicolored hues. A centuries-old map of Mexico City, stretching 7 ½ feet wide and 5 feet tall, graces the back wall.

The Bancroft Library Gallery has transformed for a new exhibit, featuring materials from Bancroft’s Latin Americana Collection dating as far back as the 16th century. The show, called ¡Viva la Fiesta!: Mexican Traditions of Celebration, explores the cycle of traditional religious and patriotic celebrations that have been woven into Mexican culture for generations.

“I thought it would be fun to show a lighter (side) of Mexico we’re not getting because of the news,” said José Adrián Barragán-Álvarez, who curated the exhibit.

Student Marina Henriquez, left, looks over the opening of the "Viva La Fiesta" exhibit, along with other visitors, in Bancroft Library on Oct. 12, 2017. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)
Student Marina Henriquez, left, and others attend the opening of ¡Viva la Fiesta! at The Bancroft Library on Oct. 12. (Photos by Jami Smith for the University Library)

‘Let’s go to Bancroft’

Although he started here just last year as curator for Latin Americana, Barragán-Álvarez is very much at home at Bancroft.

He was introduced to Bancroft when he was an undergrad at UC Berkeley, double majoring in Spanish and Latin American studies.

William B. Taylor taught José Adrián Barragán-Álvarez in a few Latin American history classes, and Barragán-Álvarez considers Taylor a mentor. (Courtesy of Jim Block)
William B. Taylor taught José Adrián Barragán-Álvarez in a few Latin American history classes, and Barragán-Álvarez considers Taylor a mentor. (Courtesy of Jim Block)

He remembers professor William B. Taylor, who taught him in a few Latin American history classes, encouraging students to take advantage of the library’s vast collections. “Let’s go to Bancroft and do some research,” he recalls the professor saying.

Barragán-Álvarez took him up on the offer.

“I remember several sessions at the round table in the old reading room watching him learn to read the script from different periods and make sense of what he was reading,” Taylor recalls.

Barragán-Álvarez, who considers Taylor a mentor, remembers it fondly: “It was really fun for me as a 19-, 20-year-old to be able to play with a (primary) document,” he said.

Decoding the manuscripts was “like a little puzzle,” he said. “And who doesn’t like that?”

A visitor looks at the collection during the Bancroft Library opening of the "Viva La Fiesta" exhibit on Oct. 12, 2017. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)
A visitor looks at the collection at the ¡Viva la Fiesta! exhibit.

‘Where all this began’

¡Viva la Fiesta! — the first exhibit that lists Barragán-Álvarez as the sole curator since he started — takes a multifaceted approach, exploring patriotic celebrations, Christmastime rituals, and the festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe — among other traditions.

The exhibit highlights Día de los Muertos, which, contrary to popular perceptions, is not like Halloween, Barragán-Álvarez said.

“Halloween is about dressing up as ghouls and witches and ghosts,” he said. “Día de los Muertos is sort of the opposite of that. It’s about remembrance.”

An altar, complete with books, papier-mache food, and flowers, illustrates how families honor the dead. The altar represents the ones families set up in their homes, which, Barragán-Álvarez said, provide a “pathway” for departed loved ones to return to visit.

Left to right: Kenny Grove, Peter Hanff, and Bo Wreden chat at the opening of the "Viva La Fiesta" exhibit in Bancroft Library on Oct. 12, 2017. (Photo by Jami Smith for the University Library)
From left, Kenny Grove; Bancroft Deputy Director Peter Hanff; and Bo Wreden chat near the altar at the opening of the exhibit, in The Bancroft Library Gallery.

In keeping with the spirit of the holiday, visitors are encouraged to interact with the exhibit by writing down and displaying the name of their lost loved ones on paper tags, which become part of the exhibit and, ultimately, part of the Library’s collections.

As for the huge map? Made in 1807, the hand-colored artifact has long been a treasure of the collection at Bancroft, but it was too fragile to handle.

“Large sections of the map were literally in tatters,” said Elaine Tennant, director of The Bancroft Library. Starting in 2015, the map was faithfully restored by Karen Zukor and her team at Zukor Art Conservation in Oakland in an extensive process that took more than a year.

Visitors near a map
Visitors look at photographs near an 1807 map of Mexico City on Oct. 27.

Other notable materials on display in the exhibit include early baptismal records and, sprinkled throughout the gallery, vivid broadsides by artist José Guadalupe Posada, who went on to influence famed painter Diego Rivera.

That Barragán-Álvarez is curating this particular exhibit seems “especially fitting,” Taylor notes.

Barragán-Álvarez grew up in a small ranching community in the Mexican state of Michoacán for the first years of his life. Of the celebrations explored in the exhibit, the one he remembers the most vividly from his upbringing is Las Posadas, a Christmastime tradition where a group travels from house to house, reenacting the biblical story of Mary and Joseph’s search for an inn. Participants are turned away until they reach the designated house that lets them inside. “Then there would be a big celebration at the house,” Barragán-Álvarez said.

“He is more than a student of these traditions,” his mentor said. “They are deeply rooted in his life.”

Barragán-Álvarez agrees: “I think I’m attached to just about everything (in the exhibit).”

A ‘great feeling’

What has it been like working on this exhibit?

Barragán-Álvarez said it deepened his familiarity with the Latin Americana collection, which is Bancroft’s second-largest.

José Adrián Barragán-Álvarez, curator of Latin Americana for Bancroft Library, poses for a portrait in October 2017.
José Adrián Barragán-Álvarez curated the ¡Viva la Fiesta! exhibit.

“It’s rewarding, but, more importantly,” he said, “it gave me a better sense of what we have.”

“Each (Bancroft Gallery show) is a selected sample of Bancroft materials organized around a theme,” Tennant said. “As it tells its particular story, the exhibition attempts to signal the breadth and depth of the Bancroft collections and to encourage visitors to come back and ask us to show them more!”

“I hope this exhibition, focused on Mexican celebrations, reminds visitors that Bancroft documents the many cultures and communities of the American West,” she said.

Although Barragán-Álvarez’s path has diverged from that of his mentor — with Taylor retiring as a professor in 2008 and moving to Maine, and his former student graduating from Berkeley in 2000 and going on to participate in the Ph.D. program in Latin American history at the University of Texas at Austin — Barragán-Álvarez “has stayed in touch all these years, now as a colleague, friend, and curator in the library where all this began,” Taylor said.

How does it feel for Barragán-Álvarez to be back at Berkeley — this time as a curator?

“There will always be this great feeling,” he said. “I’m at a real place, and we have a great collection.”

¡Viva la Fiesta! is on display in The Bancroft Library Gallery through February 2018. The gallery is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

EZproxy is here!

As of today, EZproxy is available for off-campus access to licensed online resources. EZproxy allows users to connect to resources via CalNet sign-in or with their PIN / Cal 1 card number and without any configuration in a browser or device. No longer having to configure or install anything means that online resources are available from any computer anywhere.

EZproxy replaces our current home-grown Library proxy service. However, the home-grown proxy will be around until Summer 2018.

To learn more about EZproxy see our guide at guides.lib.berkeley.edu/ezproxy.

Summer reading: Design, When Everybody Designs

Design, When Everybody Designs

Design, When Everybody Designs: An Introduction to Design for Social Innovation
Ezio Manzini
Cambridge: MIT Press, 2015

A book that challenges people to use design methods and to work together to solve complex social issues. It includes case studies, like a collaborative housing program and community-supported agriculture (CSA).

That’s it for 2017 Summer Reading posts! See you next summer!

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