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UC Berkeley Press Release

Bancroft Library celebrates its centennial with exhibit

– The University of California, Berkeley's Bancroft Library is celebrating its centennial by offering a public peek at more than 350 seldom-exhibited objects from its extensive collection of Western Americana during "The Bancroft Library at 100," an exhibit opening this Saturday (Feb. 11) at the Berkeley Art Museum.

The exhibit comes as The Bancroft celebrates its progress since surviving the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire at its first location on Valencia Street in San Francisco. It has grown from 60,000 items, collected by the late publisher and historian Hubert Howe Bancroft, to more than 60 million objects in one of the nation's most widely used special research libraries.

On a rotating display will be journals, letters and books covering 3,000 years of history, along with maps, oral histories, paintings, prints, photos and other objects that reflect topics including Spanish colonial settlement, California politics and literature, environmentalism, exploration and natural history, and science and technology.

"Visitors will see some of the most important documents of the past and current history of California and the West, as well as other rarities," said Jack von Euw, exhibit curator and The Bancroft's pictorial curator. "Some of these are spectacular, and some appear to be more ordinary, but all of them are compelling and historically significant."

He said he hopes people viewing the exhibit also get a sense of the extreme importance of preserving these kinds of materials and of the historical evidentiary chain.

A few items on exhibit through Dec. 10 include:

  • The Codex Fernandez Leal, a 16th-century Aztec, double-sided and pictographic scroll nearly 10 feet long that describes culture in what is now the Mexican state of Oaxaca

  • Manuscripts written in the Native American language of Nahautl, documenting indigenous communities' rights to traditional lands

  • A letter from President Thomas Jefferson revealing the reasoning behind choosing Meriweather Lewis to head the expedition in search of a Westward Passage

  • Unpublished notebooks of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, best known as Mark Twain

  • The less than one-inch-by-one inch Wimmer Nugget, which helped spark the Gold Rush and development of California after its discovery at Sutter's Mill along the American River in 1848

  • Land grant maps that early Californios used to prove their ownership of property claimed in court by squatters

  • Dorothea Lange's photo documentation for the War Relocation Authority of the evacuation of Japanese and Japanese Americans from the West Coast during World War II

  • Drawings by cartoonist and UC Berkeley alumnus Rube Goldberg

  • Photos of ongoing construction of the eastern span of the Bay Bridge that focus more on workers than on engineering

  • Papers, manuscripts and photos relating to Bay Area literary luminaries such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure and Maxine Hong Kingston, a UC Berkeley lecturer emeritus.

As much as possible, the materials are presented in their original forms, von Euw said.

For example, Lange's powerful photos of forced Japanese evacuation and internment are presented simply, without fancy matting, as 5-by-7-inch prints, rather than as the dramatically magnified images often displayed in magazines or other exhibits, such as the Whitney Museum's "Executive Order 9066" exhibit in 1972.

The collection remains publicly shadowed by Lange's famed Dust Bowl photos, but have an incredible impact on viewers, von Euw said.

Kicking off the exhibit is a symposium starting tomorrow (Friday, Feb. 10), with Kevin Starr, the state librarian emeritus and a University of Southern California history professor, addressing The Bancroft's contributions to promoting an understanding of California and the West.

Anthony Bliss, curator of The Bancroft's rare books and literary manuscript collection - it turns 50 this year - will talk at noon on Saturday.

Expert panels also will address such topics as Mexico, 20th-century California, Mark Twain, the environmental movement, biotechnology and discoveries from ancient papyri recovered from the defunct Egyptian village of Tebtunis.

A Saturday discussion of the Beat era will feature poet Michael McClure talking about "poetry rescue" and Robert Hass, a poet laureate emeritus of the United States and a UC Berkeley English professor, looking at Beat favorites such as the hungry i night club, City Lights bookstore and Coexistence Bagel Shop.

Another Saturday panel, featuring Stephen Tobriner, a UC Berkeley professor of architecture and author of "What Really Happened in the San Francisco Earthquake," and Philip Fradkin, author of "The Politics of Natural Disasters," will discuss San Francisco's '06 quake.

The free symposium will be open to the public from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. each day, in the museum's theater at 2625 Durant Ave.

When the '06 quake struck San Francisco, The Bancroft was the only library of note not destroyed by the subsequent fires. But the disaster spurred University of California officials to soon ferry the library's valuable contents -- which it had purchased a year earlier -- to their new home on the Berkeley campus.

For more exhibit details, visit: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/events/ or http://www.bampfa.berkeley.edu/.