Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Libraries Lead: Showcasing the North Baker Research Library’s collections

The role of the research library in a special collections archive often poses a problem: how do we support access to our collections when we are open limited days, and when, in order to protect and preserve our often fragile materials, collections cannot leave our reading room?

Here at the California Historical Society, we know that to succeed in our mission of making our State’s history part of the lives of contemporary Californians, we needed to make our collections accessible in ways that went beyond the traditional reference library. By including our unique materials in exhibitions and public programs, in publications and on social media, we are able to provide people far greater, and more varied, opportunities to interact with the wonderful photographs, manuscripts, maps, and rare books that make up our collections.

Here is a glimpse into some of the projects staff are working on currently:

Thursday, March 1, 2018

#onthisday 50 years ago, the East L.A. Walkouts Began

#Onthisday 50 years ago, the influential East L.A. School Walkouts (Blowouts) began, transforming the Chicano movement in Los Angeles. 

Over two weeks, tens of thousands of young Latino students took to the streets to protest conditions in their schools on the East Los Angeles. In many ways, the walkouts (primarily at Wilson, Roosevelt, Garfield, Belmont and Lincoln high schools) were the first public display of an urban Chicano rights movement that had begun among California farm workers in the previous several years. The walkouts were the first mass mobilization of Mexican-Americans in Southern California. 

The East L.A. Walkouts and their impact are being remembered through over the next couple of weeks in a range of ways, from conferences to news articles. See some of these efforts below
















Thursday, February 8, 2018

Who Tells Your Story? California Historical Society Extends Exhibitions about Colonial Histories on the East and West Coasts

The California Historical Society (CHS) has announced that it will extend its current exhibitions--- bringing the complex story of Alexander Hamilton to San Francisco as part of an initiative showcasing two versions of the United States’ colonial history: English and Spanish---through March 18th!

The cornerstone of this historical presentation are two simultaneous exhibitions, Alexander Hamilton: Treasures from the New-York Historical Society, which examines the life and prolific career of now-popular American statesman Alexander Hamilton (c. 1755–1804) and his lasting influence on shaping the foundation of the modern United States, and Meanwhile Out West: Colonizing California, 17691821, which explores Spanish Colonial California during the period of Hamilton’s life. 

Together, these two exhibitions present, side-by-side, two versions of the United States’ colonial history, British and Spanish. Realigning the frame of American history beyond the revolutionary thirteen colonies, symbolized by the story of Alexander Hamilton, we include the complicated Spanish colonial and Native Californian world along the Pacific Coast. In doing so, the exhibitions implicitly ask the questions: Who tells the story of the United States? Who tells the story of California?

The exhibitions are on view through March 18, 2018 at the California Historical Society, 678 Mission Street, San Francisco, .

Friday, December 8, 2017

The First Red Scare

The first red scare occurred not in the 1950s but two centuries earlier.  In the midst of the Seven Years’ War, Spain faced a new and unexpected threat from the Pacific Northwest: The Russians.  “The Muscovites in California?” asked one Franciscan, with mock incredulity.  “Yes. The very same.”[1]  The Russian menace, he argued, was no joke. 

The scare originated in news of Russian expansion into Alaska.  Russian fur trappers, known as promyshlenniki, had recently crossed the Bering Strait in search of sea otter pelts and were now somewhere in America – but where exactly?   Spain’s knowledge of the Pacific Northwest was so poor that no one could be sure exactly how close the Russians were to the heart of New Spain and its capital, Mexico City.  

The alarm of Spanish officials was made worse by their stubborn belief that a river as large as the Mississippi must empty into the Pacific somewhere along the California coast.  Whichever European power possessed it would be able to seize control of the American West and, eventually, of northern New Spain.  In 1760, Mikhail Lomonosov, described by one scholar as a Russian da Vinci who could do everything but paint, captured the spirit of the times:

Russian Columbuses, scorning sullen Fate,
Through the ice will open a new way to the East,
And our power will reach as far as America.

A few years later, Pedro Calderón y Henríquez, a high-ranking judge who had served for many years in the Philippines, illustrated the Russian menace on a map, which he forwarded to one of the king’s most powerful ministers.  This marvelous product of geographic ignorance and imperial anxiety now sits in the collections of the California Historical Society. 

Even by the standards of the time, the map was wildly inaccurate and uninformed. “Tartary of the Muscovites,” or Kamchatka, hangs menacingly over the Pacific Ocean and appears as large as the entire North American coast from the tip of Baja California up to the Russian discoveries.  The details are even more bizarre.  Calderón plotted the Aleutians in a straight line between Kamchatka and Mendocino, California.  He labeled the easternmost island “Tukoskoi” (confusing it with Siberia’s Chukchi Peninsula) and placed it a mere seventy-five miles from Cape Mendocino.  As a result, the Russians appeared to have stepping stones leading directly from Kamchatka to Spanish California.  Arriving in the vicinity of Mendocino, he wrote, they would find a “very copious river.”  “By this river,” he warned, “they can have access to New Mexico or the lakes along the course of the St. Lawrence River, both of which are of the greatest importance.”

In the age of Google Maps, European ignorance of American geography seems comical, yet it had serious consequences for the two hundred thousand people who lived along the West Coast at the time.  Spurred by the red scare, Spain pushed into California, establishing a string of presidios from San Diego (1769) up to San Francisco (1776) and setting in motion an invasion of missionaries, soldiers, livestock, and viruses that devastated indigenous communities and reduced individuals to starvation.

Though California’s Spanish period is well-documented, Patriots and Red Coats on the East Coast still predominate in narratives of American history. California history tells a different story from that of the hard-fought but triumphal march to independence – one of interdependence.  Calderón’s map opens a window onto the foreign nations and distant state administrators, global trade, and macro and microbiota that remade the lives of Californians in the eighteenth century.  In the age of climate change, globalization, and invasive species, it is a history that has never seemed more relevant.

by Claudio Saunt
Author of West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776


Claudio Saunt at CHS!

As part of its special end-of-year bookstore programming, Dr. Claudio Saunt will be at CHS on December 21 discussing his book, West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776.

To register for this event, click HERE.

[1] Giuseppe Torrubia, I Moscoviti nella California (Rome, 1759), 31-32.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Images of the California Gold Rush on exhibit at the San Francisco Opera

On November 21st, the San Francisco Opera presented the world premiere of Girls of the Golden West, by composer John Adams and director and librettist Peter Sellars. (The opera runs through December 10th.) Sellars’ libretto was inspired by primary sources, including the celebrated Gold Rush letters of Louise Clappe, which were published in 1854-55 under the pseudonym Dame Shirley. To many, the Shirley letters represent the pinnacle of Gold Rush literature.

Sadly, there is no known photograph of Dame Shirley extant. The California Historical Society Collection, however, includes stunning daguerreotype photographs documenting the cities, towns, and people of the California Gold Rush. Reproductions of some of these photographs are now on exhibit at the Opera House lobby—along with artifacts from the Collections of Levi Stauss & Co., the Museum of Performance + Design, and the Society of California Pioneers—through December 10th. Selections are presented below. 

Rosalía Vallejo de Leese, after 1847, photographer unknown, daguerreotype, courtesy, California Historical Society
Pictured in this exquisite tinted daguerreotype is a young Rosalía Vallejo de Leese, sister of Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo. Rosalía married the American trader Jacob Leese in 1837, making her one of the earliest non-Native residents of the pueblo of Yerba Buena, now San Francisco. Like many Native and Californio women, Rosalia lived through a period of traumatic change, beginning with the California Gold Rush. Leese later deserted Rosalía and her children, and, in an 1874 interview, Rosalía expressed her unrelenting hatred for the Anglo American intruders who first humiliated her family during the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846.

Women were not only the subjects of early California daguerreotype portraits, they were also photographers. According to photography historian Peter Palmquist, Rosalía’s niece Epifania "Fannie" de Guadalupe Vallejo may have been California's first photographer, acquiring a daguerreotype camera around 1847.  

San Francisco panorama [fifth panel], spring 1851, photographer unknown, daguerreotype, courtesy, California Historical Society
The invention of the daguerreotype was announced in Paris in 1839, only nine years before the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill. This new photographic process—which enjoyed a relatively short heyday between 1845 and 1860—coincided with the spectacular and disruptive boom that transformed San Francisco from a small Mexican pueblo into a modern metropolis.

Although photographers flocked to California during the Gold Rush, the California Historical Society’s seven-plate panorama is one of only six surviving daguerreotype panoramas of San Francisco. Standing on sand dunes now at the corner of First and Howard Streets, the unknown photographer captured a vivid urban tableau, from the clapboard houses of Happy Valley to the shipbuilding works at Rincon Point. A washerwoman can be spied in the fifth panel (shown above), sitting in the doorway of her shack as laundry flutters in the spring breeze.

Group of miners, circa 1850s, photographer unknown, daguerreotype, courtesy, California Historical Society
This full-plate portrait of a group of Gold Rush miners is one of the most spectacular and moving daguerreotypes in the California Historical Society Collection. Nine miners, perhaps forming a company, pose together in various attitudes of affection, insouciance, and camaraderie. Four of the men proudly display the tools of their trade, a shovel, pick, sluice box, and claim. 

Diamond Springs, El Dorado County, 1854, photographer unknown, daguerreotype, courtesy, California Historical Society
This daguerreotype of a street scene in Diamond Springs captures the look and feel of a young Gold Rush town. In addition to the offices of the Advocate newspaper and Wells Fargo & Co., many charming details are visible, including a broadside for a theatrical performance by the Bateman children. Eleven figures paused to pose for the shot; only one (to the left, leaning against a post) failed to remove his hat.

Marie Silva, Archivist & Manuscripts Librarian

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

#Onthisday in 1967, the first issue of Rolling Stone was published

With a publication date of November 9, 1967, the first issue of Rolling Stone hit the streets of San Francisco and beyond exactly 50 years ago. The world of rock music and cultural journalism as well as the counterculture would never be the same after the publication of the first issue. Under the leadership of youthful editor Jann Wenner, and guidance from music critic Ralph Gleason, Rolling Stone would soon become a media force that would transform the music and media industries and help catalyze an American youth culture as a distinct and powerful cohort with its own mores, interests, language and priorities. 

Published a month after the 'Summer of Love' unofficially ended in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, Wenner's publication's bold mission stated that the publication was "not just about music, but also about the things and attitudes that the music embraces."  With offices in an industrial building in San Francisco's SoMa District, Rolling Stone would remain a California-based publication until Wenner moved the magazine's offices to New York in 1977.

Jann Wenner in the original Rolling Stone office
Coinciding with the 50th Anniversary of the publication, a new biography on Wenner and documentary on Rolling Stone have focused attention on many aspects of the publication (and its editor) and its influence on American culture.  Of particular note, the new book on Wenner brings attention to the magazine's own history and how it was inspired by two California publications that get less attention than Wenner's magazine: Mojo Naviagtor R&R News, the West Coast's first rock and roll publication, and Ramparts, an aggressively political magazine published in Berkeley.

MoJo Naviagtor R&R News, CHS Collection

The debate on the legacy of Rolling Stone will surely continue on in the weeks, months and years to come, especially since the publication has been put up for sale.  What is undeniable is that the publication brilliantly captured a particular moment in California culture and history, and its distribution helped shape American popular culture starting in the late 1960s and 1970s. In some ways, it remains one of the most influential California exports over the past 50 years, and stands as yet another example of the Golden State's transformative influence on the culture of the United States.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Who Tells Your Story: Native American Heritage Month at CHS

Yesterday was the start of Native American Heritage Month, an annual time to honor Native culture and history in California and the country.  The California Historical Society's current exhibition, Meanwhile Out West: Colonizing California, 1769–1821 (one of two exhibitions at CHS's San Francisco headquarters) looks, in part, at the fate of California Indians under Spanish rule. 

Two programs this month will explore these issues further. Click the program titles to learn more and reserve tickets!

1) California History Through an Indigenous Lens - Telling Creation Stories - 

Join the California Historical Society (CHS) and Heyday Books for a night of indigenous storytelling that explores how California’s history has been told for generations. Our speakers are Greg Sarris, Chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria and author of the new book, How a Mountain was Made, and William Bauer, professor of American Indian Studies at University of Nevada, Las Vegas and author of California Through Native Eyes: Reclaiming History. The event will close with a short performance from Word for Word Performance Company, who will be performing one of the creation stories from Chairman Sarris’ new book.

2) Telling the Hard Stories of Native American Life - 1760s-1860s 

Join the California Historical Society for a night that explores the darkest parts of California's history from 1760-1860 relating to California's native population. Hear from three authors (Benjamin Madley, Michelle Lorimer, Andres Resendez as they present on topics including the Mission era, Indian slavery and genocide, and then participate in a q&a session. Books by all three authors will be sold.

Please join us for both events!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Who Tells Your Story? Alexander Hamilton’s 230-year-old Federalist Papers: A Story for Our Time

The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, written in Favour of the New Constitution

Courtesy baumanrarebooks.com

“Who Tells Your Story?” is a central theme in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway blockbuster Hamilton: An American Musical, currently touring in California. It also thematically links CHS’s current exhibitions Alexander Hamilton: Treasures from the New-York Historical Society and Meanwhile Out West: Colonizing California, 1769–1821two colonial stories, eastern and western, that provide perspectives beyond unbiased and objective historical records.

Two hundred thirty years ago today, on October 27, 1787, a story with considerable impact on our new nation began, not in the halls of entertainment but in the theatre of political writing and discourse. It was a passionate story of support for the newly conceived United States Constitution—a document proposing a unique though unexpected way to govern our newborn union.

The story opens with the publication of the first of eighty-five articles in The Federalist (later The Federalist Papers), which promoted the ratification of the Constitution. Authored by Founding Fathers Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison under the pseudonym Publius (Latin for “public”), The Federalist was written over ten months, between October 1787 and May 1788, to influence the ratification debate primarily in New York.

Title page, Publius, The Federalist, vol. 1, 1788

Rare Books and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

Alexander Hamilton (c. 1755–1804) wrote a majority of the articles, including the General Introduction, in which he urged his fellow New Yorkers and countrymen to adopt the Constitution: “I am convinced that this is the safest course for your liberty, your dignity, and your happiness.” Ratification, he wrote, “speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world.” He further explained: “For nothing can be more evident, to those who are able to take an enlarged view of the subject than the alternative of an adoption of the new Constitution or a dismemberment of the Union.”

John Trumbull (American artist), Alexander Hamilton, after 1804
New-York Historical Society, Gift of Thomas Jefferson Bryan, 1867.305

The Constitution's sole signatory from New York, Hamilton had returned to the state from the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia facing strong opposition from Governor George Clinton, his widespread anti-Constitution followers, and his threatening political machine. Undeterred, Hamilton engaged Madison and Jay in the herculean effort ahead of him.

Signatures of the United States Constitution, detail of page 4

Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration
Despite The Federalist’s high-brow approach, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay achieved their goal three weeks after their last paper was published, when on July 26, 1788, in the Poughkeepsie Court House, the State of New York ratified the Constitution and became the eleventh state of the Union.

Even before New York’s ratification, Hamilton was honored during the city’s July 23, 1788, Federal Procession, a celebration following the Constitution’s ratification by New Hampshire. His image, as reported in a history of the city, “was carried aloft on banners in every part of the procession, the Constitution in his right hand and the Confederation in his left. He had to all appearances turned the scale for the Union, and fame was indeed crowning him with well-earned and enduring laurels.” The procession’s centerpiece, the Federal ship Hamilton, fired 13-gun salutes, one for each state, from its position on a platform drawn by ten horses. The ship anchored at the Bowling Green, “amidst the acclamations of thousands,” remaining on view until June 30, 1789.

Unknown artist, The Federal Ship Hamilton, c. 1877

Courtesy https://www.nyhistory.org
As biographer Ron Chernow has written, “Americans often wonder how this moment could have spawned such extraordinary men as Hamilton and Madison. Part of the answer is that the Revolution produced an insatiable need for thinkers who could generate ideas and wordsmiths who could lucidly expound them.” Indeed, Hamilton served as General George Washington’s aide during the Revolutionary War, the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury under President Washington, and New York State assemblyman; he was founder of the Bank of New York, a designer of the two-party system, and a proponent of ending the legality of the international slave trade.

The impact of The Federalist was immediate. Not only did it influence ratification, the publication’s title became the name of the pro-Constitution movement and, later, Hamilton’s political party (1789–1824). To this day, The Federalist Papers is considered a masterpiece of political thought, renowned, Chernow points out, “as the foremost exposition of the Constitution.”

Two Bay Area students look at the Federalist papers in the current California Historical Society exhibition,  Alexander Hamilton: Treasures from the New-York Historical Society 
In today’s volatile political climate, when we weigh what seems like multiple interpretations of our nation’s rules of law, we might think of the story of The Federalist as one of indefatigable patriotism. But politics aside, we are, Chernow reminds us, “indisputably the heirs to Hamilton’s America, and to repudiate his legacy is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world.”

Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager
Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton (New York: Penguin Books, 2004)
Martha J. Lamb, History of the City of New York: Its Origin, Rise and Progress, vol. II (New York: A.S. Barnes & Co., 1877; reprint 1921 by Valentine’s Manual, Inc.); books.google.com
Nation at the Crossroads: The Great New York Debate over the Constitution, 1787–88; https://www.nyhistory.org/web/crossroads/gallery/celebrations/federal_ship_hamilton.html
The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Federalist Papers, by Alexander Hamilton and John Jay and James Madison; http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/18/pg18-images.html

HAMILTON: A Life in Documents: http://libex.nyhistory.org/hamilton-a-life-in-documents/