New Book from Professor Gregory Levine: “Long Strange Journey: On Modern Zen, Zen Art, and Other Predicaments”
Congratulations to History of Art Department Professor Gregory Levine on his new publication, Long Strange Journey: On Modern Zen, Zen Art, and Other Predicaments, with the University of Hawaii Press.
From the publisher website:
“Long Strange Journey presents the first critical analysis of visual objects and discourses that animate Zen art modernism and its legacies, with particular emphasis on the postwar “Zen boom.” Since the late nineteenth century, Zen and Zen art have emerged as globally familiar terms associated with a spectrum of practices, beliefs, works of visual art, aesthetic concepts, commercial products, and modes of self-fashioning. They have also been at the center of fiery public disputes that have erupted along national, denominational, racial-ethnic, class, and intellectual lines. Neither stable nor strictly a matter of euphoric religious or intercultural exchange, Zen and Zen art are best approached as productive predicaments in the study of religion, spirituality, art, and consumer culture, especially within the frame of Buddhist modernism.
Long Strange Journey’s modern-contemporary emphasis sets it off from most writing on Zen art, which focuses on masterworks by premodern Chinese and Japanese artists, gushes over “timeless” visual qualities as indicative of metaphysical states, or promotes with ahistorical, trend-spotting flair Zen art’s design appeal and therapeutic values. In contrast, the present work plots a methodological through line distinguished by “discourse analysis,” moving from the first contacts between Europe and Japanese Zen in the sixteenth century to late nineteenth–early twentieth-century transnational exchanges driven by Japanese Buddhists and intellectuals and the formation of a Zen art canon; to postwar Zen transformations of practice and avant-garde expressions; to popular embodiments of our “Zenny zeitgeist,” such as Zen cartoons. The book presents an alternative history of modern-contemporary Zen and Zen art that emphasizes their unruly and polythetic-prototypical natures, taking into consideration serious religious practice and spiritual and creative discovery as well as conflicts over Zen’s value amid the convolutions of global modernity, squabbles over authenticity, resistance against the notion of “Zen influence,” and competing claims to speak for Zen art made by monastics, lay advocates, artists, and others.”
The library certainly has no shortage of copies of the bard’s plays, but there is something to be said for seeing Shakespeare’s work as it was meant to be seen—performed. Alas, performances of Shakespeare tend to be difficult to attend on a regular basis. However, the UC Berkeley Libraries just gained access to the entirety of the BBC Television Shakespeare Streaming Series. The series includes performances of 37 separate plays, originally adapted for television and broadcast between 1978 and 1985 in the UK. Now, you can access them from the comfort of your couch. Whether you’re a casual fan or a lifelong scholar of Shakespeare, you’ll be grateful for your library proxy as you settle in to watch actors such as John Cleese and Helen Mirren work their—and Shakespeare’s—magic. Get started here.
Access to this resource was made possible through English department faculty Ida Mae and William J. Eggers Chair in English, Professor Jeffrey Knapp and James D. Hart Chair in English, Professor James Turner. Thank you!
Grab your notes, your copy of the play, or maybe just some popcorn and enjoy some of the greatest work in the English language.
Remembering Gene Brucker (1924-2017) and the Department of History Oral History Project
We note with sorrow the passing in July of Professor Emeritus Gene Brucker, historian of Renaissance Florence, one of our esteemed oral history narrators, and the instigator and longtime supporter of our oral history series on the Department of History at Berkeley.
The oral history series had its beginning in 1995, when Gene was designated as the Faculty Research Lecturer. Instead of focusing his lecture on Renaissance Florence, he turned his historian’s eye on Berkeley, on his own department, where he had arrived in 1954 in time to participate in its postwar flowering into one of the most distinguished history programs in the US. In his research he found few remaining written records; surprisingly, the department had discarded a great deal of its own history. He turned to informal interviews with his colleagues to develop his lecture. Later discussion with his friend Carroll Brentano, historian of the University of California and wife of Gene’s colleague, Robert Brentano, led to the idea for an oral history project under the auspices of the Regional Oral History Office, predecessor to OHC. I was fortunate to work with them as the project director and interviewer. For over a decade Gene and Carroll served as project advisors. They convinced their colleagues to themselves become subjects of historical research, and they facilitated the funding that made the project possible.
Among our wealth of oral histories on the University of California, OHC’s series on the Department of History at Berkeley stands out. With lengthy biographical oral histories of nineteen professors of European, American, and Asian history, and one faculty wife, all of whom came to Berkeley in the late 1940s to the early 1970s, it the most extensive of our several series on university departments. And thanks in great part to the vision of Gene Brucker, the interviews are extensive in scope as well: along with a deep dive into the personal background, education, and scholarly trajectories of each narrator, they discuss postwar departmental history in some detail, including governance, key hiring and promotion decisions, curriculum and teaching. And they examine Berkeley’s academic culture, the informal and formal associations and interactions that invariably affect scholarship. They also explore the involvement, often intense in this postwar generation, in broader campus governance and major campus controversies from the loyalty oath, free speech, and antiwar protests to the belated hiring of women faculty in the 1970s.
Having contributed so much to the project, Gene Brucker, a man who really did not like to talk about himself, finally agreed, reluctantly, to record an oral history in 2002. I met with him for eleven sessions, documenting his journey from farm boy in Cropsey, Illinois—via the University of Illinois, Oxford, Princeton, and the Florentine archives—to a career as a distinguished historian of Florence and preeminent citizen of the Berkeley campus. Like others in the series, it is replete with insights into academic culture, the historians’ craft, and the postwar years of growth and tumult on the Berkeley campus. Gene’s oral history and others in the Department of History project. See also “In Memoriam: Gene Adam Brucker”
Ann Lage, interviewer emeritus, October 24, 2017.
UC Berkeley alumna Ruth Petersson Bancroft, founder of The Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek and well-known expert in dry gardening, passed away at the age of 109 on Nov. 26. Her oral history, The Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, California: Creation in 1971 and Conservation, conducted in 1991 and 1992, is described by interviewer Suzanne B. Riess as “…the amazing chronicle of the growth of a passionate gardener, from her childhood recollections of spring wildflowers on the hills of an earlier, bucolic Berkeley, to her current triumphs, and the tribulations of stewardship of a garden more or less in the public trust.”
The daughter of first-generation Swedish immigrants, Ruth Petersson was born in Massachusetts, but moved to Berkeley, California when her father landed a professorship at UC Berkeley. Of her childhood, she said, “I spent a lot of time wandering around and also over into Wildcat Canyon, just looking at the wildflowers and I think that’s what started me in the interest of wildflowers…” Although Ruth originally studied architecture as one of the only women in the program at UC Berkeley, the Great Depression hit and so for the sake of job security, she switched her career to education. It was during her time as a teacher of home economics in Merced that she met Philip Bancroft, Jr., the grandson of Hubert Howe Bancroft, whose 60,000-volume book collection began the Bancroft Library. After they married, the couple moved onto the Bancroft Farm in the East Bay. The Bancroft family sold much of their land to the city of Walnut Creek as it expanded over the years. Later, in 1971, Philip Bancroft, Jr. gave the last 3-acre plot of walnut orchards to his wife in order to house her extensive collection of succulents.
Though The Ruth Bancroft Garden now boasts a beautiful display of water-conserving plants, the garden was not without its hardships at the beginning. Just a few months after Bancroft began her garden, a severe freeze in December killed nearly all that she had planted. Still, she persevered. “Well, I started again the next year… I figured it doesn’t happen that often, and you can’t just not replant those same things, because they might have another twenty years before they’d be killed again. So I’m just replanting. Have to start over again.” To this, Riess queried, “You didn’t think in some way you had been given a message?” Bancroft laughed and replied, “No.”
A long-time friend of Bancroft and former manager at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, Wayne Roderick said, “I would classify Ruth as a genuine dirt gardener. She’s out there doing things with her bare hands. She would be out in the garden by seven at the latest, and for the first hour she was weeding the path of the little spotted spurge, hand-weeding those paths until her knees would get so sore from the rocks, the gravel. That’s what I mean by a genuine dirt gardener.” In addition to Bancroft’s hands-on style of working, she also kept meticulous records as she created her garden. An invaluable addition to her oral history is the transcription of the entirety of her handwritten notes on the garden’s first year, cataloguing every trial and triumph. Riess urges in her introduction to the oral history, “Any gardener will do well to read that year of Ruth’s journal, to see the value of a journal, as well as the work involved in realizing a dream, and the necessity of being willing to weed!”
Over the years, Bancroft also had many helpers that contributed to the development of her impressive creation, such as Lester Hawkins, who created the original design of the garden, and her husband Philip. Roderick recalls, “Phil Bancroft just adored Ruth, and he wanted her to have anything she wanted. He did everything he could to help her. I don’t think Phil thought about the garden continuing, but he certainly was there to make sure she got what she wanted for the place. He was a farmer-type, but he enjoyed seeing the garden, and he was willing to get in and help.” Later, her garden would inspire fellow gardener Francis Cabot to create the Garden Conservancy, of which the Ruth Bancroft Garden became the first of many private gardens to be preserved for the public.
Still, through all of the international recognition and acclaim she received, Bancroft maintained a simple and genuine love for gardening: “You never know just what’s going to bloom when, during the summer. And a lot of the bloom just lasts a day, or possibly two days. It’s interesting to see what there is, and catch it before it’s gone.” When asked whether she had had a mission for the garden, she replied, “I just started it for the fun of it, and the enjoyment of it. I had no idea that people would be looking at it, no idea at all.“
Oral History Center Student Assistant
The world of firefighting is much more than masked people in uniforms running into burning buildings and rescuing scared cats from trees. While the bravery of firefighters can’t be overestimated, they also work in a complex system that requires constant training and education, a cohesive partnership with local government, extensive procedures and protocols, managerial oversight, effective communication within departments and to the public, acute familiarity with the local and regional environment, and a whole lot of administrative work. The San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) is a shining example of how people make a civil service operation run and keep people safe. All of these elements, as well as the historic and cultural aspects of the department, are why we chose it as our focus for our California Fire Departments Oral History Project.
The project was originally conceived by Sarah Wheelock, an independent researcher. She wanted to explore several major thematic areas of firefighting in California and she worked with the Oral History Center to do just that. With great sadness we learned that Sarah passed away in 2014 and thus she was unable to see the project through to completion. Taking over the project in 2016, I wanted to honor her original plan and cover the themes that she had outlined. So, I decided to embark on interviews within one department – the SFFD – to document the ways in which they have handled urban fire, climate change, diversity, technological change, and changing demographics.
The SFFD was founded in 1849 and was run by volunteers. It became a paid department, officially integrated into city government, in 1866. The 150th anniversary of the paid department was in 2016, when I was conducting interviews. Given my budget for the project, I was able to interview six people who worked with the SFFD in different capacities. I wanted to include multiple perspectives to understand the organizational, cultural, geographic, economic, and political systems of one of the oldest departments in the country.
The individuals who I interviewed were able to illustrate many of the themes that I wanted to document, and much more. Among the six people I interviewed were Chief Robert Demmons (the first and only African American chief of the SFFD who instrumental in integrating more more women and people of color into the SFFD), Bill Koenig (longtime firefighter and co-founder of Guardians of the City and the SFFD Museum), Jim Lee (also a longtime firefighter and co-founder of Guardians of the City and the SFFD Museum), Steve Nakajo (member of the SFFD Fire Commission), Lt. Anne Young (one of the first females hired), and Jonathan Baxter (longtime paramedic and current Public Information Officer).
These interviews work in concert to illustrate day-to-day operations in the stations, administrative duties, how the city of San Francisco and the department work together, the relationship between paramedics and the department, training, equipment, fire science school, the role of unions, the challenges and triumphs of integrating the departments, the public perception of the department, the role of innovation and changing technology, cultural changes in the department, challenges in fire safety particular to the geography of San Francisco, and the hopes for the future of the SFFD.
It is with great excitement that we present the California / San Francisco Fire Departments Oral History Project. I want to give a special thanks to all of the narrators for sharing their stories with me and helping me to document one of the most historically significant fire departments in our country.
This project is dedicated to the memory of Sarah Wheelock. Her California Firefighter oral histories from the 2000s will be released in early 2018.
For an office that does not offer catalog-listed courses, the Oral History Center is still deeply invested in — and engaged with — the teaching mission of the university.
For over 15 years, our signature educational program has been our annual Advanced Oral History Summer Institute. Started by OHC interviewer emeritus Lisa Rubens in 2002 and now headed up by staff historian Shanna Farrell, this week-long seminar attracts about 40 scholars every year. Past attendees have come from most states in the union and internationally too — from Ireland and South Korea, Argentina and Japan, Australia and Finland. The Summer Institute, applications for which are now being accepted, follows the life cycle of the interview, with individual days devoted to topics such as “Project Planning” and “Analysis and Interpretation.”
In 2015 we launched the Introduction to Oral History Workshop, which was created with the novice oral historian in mind, or individuals who simply wanted to learn a bit more about the methodology but didn’t necessarily have a big project to undertake. Since then, a diverse group of undergraduate students, attorneys, authors, psychologists, genealogists, park rangers, and more have attended the annual workshop. This year’s workshop will be held on Saturday February 3rd and registration is now open.
In addition to these formal, regularly scheduled events, OHC historians and staff often speak to community organizations, local historical societies, student groups, and undergraduate and graduate research seminars. If you’d like to learn more about what we do at the Center and about oral history in general, please drop us a note!
In recent years we have had the opportunity to work closely with a small group of Berkeley undergrads: our student employees. Although the Center has employed students for many decades, only in the past few years have they come to play such an integral role in and make such important contributions to our core activities. Students assist with the production of transcripts, including entering narrator corrections and writing tables of contents; they work alongside David Dunham, our lead technologist, in creating metadata for interviews and editing oral history audio and video; and they partner with interviewers to conduct background research into our narrators and the topics we interview them about. With these contributions, students have helped the Center in very real, measurable ways, most importantly by enabling an increase in productivity: the past few years have been some of the most productive in terms of hours of interviews conducted in the Center’s history. We also like to think that by providing students with intellectually challenging, real-world assignments, we are contributing to their overall educational experience too.
As 2017 draws to a close, I join my Oral History Center colleagues Paul Burnett, David Dunham, Shanna Farrell, and Todd Holmes in thanking our amazing student employees: Aamna Haq, Carla Palassian, Hailie O’Bryan, Maggie Deng (who wrote her first contribution to our newsletter this issue), Nidah Khalid, Pilar Montenegro, Vincent Tran, and Marisa Uribe!
Martin Meeker, Charles B. Faulhaber Director of the Oral History Center
After consultation with students, faculty, and staff from across campus, the University Library confirms the decision to merge the Sheldon Margen Public Health Library and the Marian Koshland Bioscience & Natural Resources Library at UC Berkeley. The reconfiguration of these two important libraries in the Life & Health Sciences Division of the University Library will better address current campus and research needs.
The Library staff and the collection from the Public Health Library will be relocated to the Valley Life Sciences Building and integrated with the vision and operations of the campus library there. The Library will continue to memorialize Sheldon Margen’s contributions to the school, the university, and the field.
To reach this decision, the Library received feedback from individuals from a number of departments and key campus stakeholders after a call for comment was issued in September.
Read the complete announcement for details on services and the timeline ahead.
The Bancroft’s Fellowships and Awards page has been updated to include The Donald Sidney-Fryer Fellowship. Submission deadlines for awards and fellowships vary, but for those listed below, apply by 5 PM on Monday, February 5th, 2018.
- The Bancroft Library Meylan Study Award assists advanced graduate students from any recognized institution of higher education in the United States or abroad, and is funded by the Edward F. and Marianne E. Meylan Fellowship Fund. Not offered every academic year.
- The Bancroft Library Summer Study Award assists advanced graduate students from any University of California campus and is funded by the Friends of the Bancroft Library.
- The Arthur J. Quinn Memorial Fellowship, established in memory of Professor of Rhetoric Arthur Quinn (1942-1997), supports research by doctoral candidates in the history of California.
- The Gunther Barth Fellowship supports undergraduate or graduate students researching the 19th-century history of the North American West. $2500
- The Reese Fellowship, available to qualified researchers, supports work relating to either systematic bibliography of any part of the Western Hemisphere, or any investigation of the history of the book in the Americas. $2500
- The Robert E. Levinson Fellowship, available to qualified researchers, supports original research relating to the depth and breadth of the Jewish experience in California from 1848 to 1915. $1000
- The Donald Sidney-Fryer Fellowship, available to qualified researchers, supports research relating to the Clark Ashton Smith’s literary circle. $2500
- The Meyers-Putnam Family Bancroft Library Fellowship supports research at The Bancroft Library by undergraduates enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley. $1000
- The Hill-Shumate Book Collecting Prize was established by Kenneth E. Hill and Albert Shumate to encourage Berkeley undergraduate students to collect books.
- The Gunther Barth Fellowship supports undergraduate or graduate students researching the 19th-century history of the North American West. $2500
To apply, please see the Fellowships and Awards page for application instructions.
Reduced intersession hours begin Monday, December 18. Be sure to check the hours before planning a visit! In addition, libraries will be closed on Friday, December 22.
Most libraries reopen on Tuesday, January 2 and continue with reduced hours until spring semester begins on Tuesday, January 16.
Longing for Berkeley’s hallowed halls? Morrison Library is adorned with winter decor to give students some seasonal cheer during finals season. Watch this special space light up.