Friday, March 05, 2010

Bancroft Library celebrates its 150th birthday

Attention history lovers! The Bancroft Library at the UC Berkeley is 150 years old and is throwing itself a party.

The party won’t be centered around cake and candles (although there will be a reception on Friday night). Instead, it will feature scholarship, which is only fitting for one of the world’s most distinguished libraries.

Historians from around the country will present papers on March 5 and 6 on different aspects of California history. The symposium starts with a look at the period when California belonged to Mexico, examines Native-American life in the 19th century, looks at the life of Hubert How Bancroft and his contribution to documenting the development of the state, and more.

The talks have titles like “More than Hide and Tallow: America's California Commerce before the Gold Rush,” and “The Ghost Dance and the Crisis of Gilded Age Nevada.”

Some of the library’s most interesting photographs and documents will also be on display. One exhibit will highlight materials from the early days of the Bancroft Library and another will look at Hubert Howe Bancroft, the bookseller turned publisher turned historian.

Few realize that Bancroft, who moved to California in 1852 to set up an east coast annex of his cousin’s bookstore, collected the core of the current library’s collection. In addition to selling books, Bancroft collected manuscripts, maps, and letters about California, Oregon, Washington, the Rocky Mountain states, Alaska, British Columbia, Mexico, and Central America.

By 1870, Bancroft had amassed 16,000 volumes, and the number continued to grow every year. During the latter part of th3 19th century, he sent out a team of interviewers to talk to many of the early settlers of the state. These handwritten interviews can still be found in the archives of the Bancroft.

In 1905, Bancroft, who had established a library in San Francisco, sold it to the University of California. It was a providential transaction, for the collection was transferred to Berkeley before the 1906 earthquake and fire.

In 2008, the Bancroft renovated its building facing the Campanile, and researchers can now look at the archives in a light-filled reading room on the top floor of the building. If you like history, consider becoming a fan of the  Bancroft on Facebook. The library sends posts a historic photograph every day.


danf said...

Dear Frances,

My Dad, Gerald Flamm, who you apparently know and have written about, passed away today (Monday). Can you please get in touch with me ASAP.

I believe this may be public- I think this blog may send my email to you privately. Otherwise my contact via linkedin. Thanks. Dan F.

please delete this after reading.

Kathryn Doyle said...

Hi Frances,
I'm doing a bit of research about (and at) the Bancroft and in fact the transfer in 1906 was after the earthquake and fire.

"The fortuitous location of Bancroft’s library placed it just outside the fire zone--and it was the only major library in the city to escape severe damage or complete destruction."

Source: Building the Bancroft.