Poster for new exhibit at The Bancroft Library

Attention history lovers! The Bancroft Library at 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 Howe 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. He opened his own business in 1860.

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 2009, the Bancroft reopened after a $64 million renovation of its building facing the Campanile, and researchers can now look at the archives in a light-filled reading room on the top floor. If you like history, consider becoming a fan of the  Bancroft on Facebook. The library sends posts a historic photograph every day.

Frances Dinkelspiel

Frances Dinkelspiel (co-founder) is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California,...

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