Bancroft and the West

Vibrant new program in Western Americana expands access to and support for The Bancroft Library’s most heavily used collection


The Bancroft Library is the primary special collections library at UC Berkeley. (Photo by Jami Smith for the UC Berkeley Library)

For more than a century, The Bancroft Library has preserved the history of the West. Today, these Western Americana materials make up Bancroft’s most heavily used collection, offering an unparalleled opportunity to explore this remarkable region through primary and secondary sources, both historical and modern. With $4 million in leadership gifts towards an $8 million goal, The Bancroft Library has launched Bancroft and the West, a new initiative that aims to connect these treasures to the diverse communities the collection represents — and to provide even greater access to the stories that make the West, the West. “One of the most important purposes of this program is to reflect the lives of communities over time,” said Theresa Salazar, curator of the Western Americana collection at The Bancroft Library. “This includes families; ethnic, religious, or gender groups; competing nations; and groups defined in the myriad other ways that we understand community.” Read the news release.



Photographer David Johnson, right, with Bancroft curator Jack von Euw. (Photo by Jami Smith for the UC Berkeley Library)

David Johnson’s phenomenal journey

“That was just a photograph waiting for me to take it — an image that was saying to me, ‘Come over here, come over here!’” David Johnson recalls. Made in 1963 — at the height of the civil rights movement — the photo shows an African American boy, under soft natural light, holding an American flag in the lap of the Abraham Lincoln statue outside of City Hall during an NAACP-sponsored demonstration in downtown San Francisco. The photograph, called Boy and Lincoln, is one of Johnson’s most iconic works. “I think this is one of the best pictures of civil rights that I’ve ever seen,” says Jack von Euw, curator of the pictorial collection at The Bancroft Library. Von Euw sat down with Johnson for an on-camera conversation about his work, his life, and the stories behind some of his most memorable photographs. Explore the collection.


Paul Burnett is a historian at the Oral History Center at The Bancroft Library. (Photo by Jami Smith for the UC Berkeley Library)

Oral History Center mines archive for podcast on AIDS epidemic

When putting together the third season of the Oral History Center’s podcast, Paul Burnett would read interview excerpts out loud with an editing partner. “There were passages I couldn’t even finish,” said Burnett, who hosted, wrote, and produced the podcast’s latest installment. “It was emotionally laden.” In the 1990s, Sally Smith Hughes — then historian of science at The Bancroft Library’s Regional Oral History Office, which became the Oral History Center — conducted 35 interviews with people involved in the response to the AIDS epidemic, including nurses, physicians, and public health officials. The stories that emerged from the in-depth project were multifaceted, fascinating, and often tragic. Now, two decades later, Burnett — Hughes’ successor at the OHC — has incorporated Hughes’ interviews for the OHC’s podcast latest season. The result is a compelling account of how San Francisco battled the AIDS epidemic in the early ’80s, through the voices of some of the men and women on the front lines of the fight. Read more.


Bancroft manuscripts cataloguer Kenna Fisher speaks on campus. (Photo by Cade Johnson for the UC Berkeley Library)

Secrets to processing rare material

At a lunchtime roundtable, manuscripts cataloger Kenna Fisher took audience members behind the scenes of the fifth floor of Bancroft, where rare materials are investigated and their secrets unturned. During the talk, called “Solving Mysteries At the Bancroft Library: The Fifth (Floor) Dimension,” Fisher discussed a journal that tells the story of a passenger aboard one of the earliest ships to sail for California during the Gold Rush, arriving in San Francisco in July 1849. The journal is full of ornate drawings of large ships and harbors, along with song lyrics by other passengers. And, on top of all that, a mystery. Read more.


The Bancroft Library’s Randal Brandt discusses mystery novels. (Photo by Cade Johnson for the UC Berkeley Library)

Mystery, murder, mayhem

Crime doesn’t pay. But for Randal Brandt, it does. For the past few years, in addition to Brandt’s primary job as the head of cataloging at The Bancroft Library, he has curated Bancroft’s California Detective Fiction Collection, numbering about 3,000 mystery novels set in the Golden State or written by California authors. Of those, nearly 1,700 are Bay Area mysteries. A particularly significant item? A first-edition copy of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. Although the book, which inspired the 1941 movie of the same name, starring Humphrey Bogart, doesn’t have its original dust jacket, “the title page is beautiful,” Brandt said. “That’s definitely one of our collection highlights.” Read more.

Dig deeper … Stranger than fiction? Berkeley alum Willie Gordon’s life story comes quite close.


Items from The Gift to Sing exhibit at The Bancroft Library. (Photo by Alejandro Serrano for the UC Berkeley Library)

A tour of African American history and culture

Over six decades of continued collecting later — informed by his celebrated scholarship in African American history and culture — legendary Berkeley professor Leon Litwack’s library is considered one of the best in private hands. Treasures from his extraordinary collection were on display at The Bancroft Library in The Gift to Sing, an exhibit that offered viewers a chance to revisit milestones in the long journey of African Americans in this country towards full equality, freedom, and cultural expression. On display in the exhibit were Harlem Renaissance first editions in strikingly illustrated dust jackets; Bobby Seale’s copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which Litwack had the good fortune to pick up for $5 at Moe’s Bookstore near campus; a copy of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave inscribed by famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison; and Ida B. Wells’ rare and important pamphlet on lynching, The Red Record. Read more.



To learn more, contact the Library Development Office at 510-642-9377 or