Monday, August 08, 2005

A Look To The Past

I’ve been in hibernation for much of the past week, a combination of child sickness and a push to finish some research at one of the best archives in the state, the California Historical Society. The organization has archives that reflect the history of California, from Gold Rush diaries to letters from those who died in Jonestown to priceless photographs, like the ones by Eadweard Muybridge now on display in the society’s lobby.

The California Historical Society is a step back in time in a modern world. Even its building reflects its backward/forward outlook. The Society is located in an historic, two-story building on Mission Street in San Francisco, right around the corner from the Museum of Modern Art and Yerba Buena Gardens. To raise money, the society sold its air rights to a developer, who erected a 30-story building next door that completely dwarfs the place. Modern/historic once again.

I’ve been reading through old letter books, which is the way businessmen used to keep track of their correspondence. They are books of business stationary with carbon inserts, so businessmen could keep copies of the letters they sent.

These carbons tear easily and ink, after 135 years, tends to blur, making these letters difficult to decipher. I spent Thursday and Friday reading the letter books, and I only covered the years 1881-1884. I have about 40 more years of letters to review. This is the nuts and bolts of historical research; it’s not for everyone, but I love it.

I’m off to Tahoe for a few days to drop in on the Squaw Valley Community of Writers writing conference.

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