University of California at Berkeley

They Came, They Saw, They Tilled

An NEH Grant Will Help Identify, and Eventually May Preserve, Berkeley Records of the State's Agricultural and Rural Life

"The spring is beautiful in California. Valleys in which the fruit blossoms are fragrant pink and white waters in a shallow sea. Then the first tendrils of the grapes swelling from the old, gnarled vines cascade down to cover the trunks," wrote John Steinbeck in "The Grapes of Wrath" in 1939.

In fact, the state's politics, economy, culture, society, environment and technology are inextricably linked to agriculture. Soil, climate and the technological ingenuity to bring water to an arid and semiarid region attracted an overwhelming number of different groups here.

Now an $850,000 grant from the national Endowment for the Humanities will help the library and eight other land-grant university libraries identify and preserve the historical literature of California's agricultural development and rural life.

The records trace agriculture as it evolved from a home and family-based way of life to the business enterprises of today.

The focus will be on rural life, along with agricultural disciplines important in California: ecology and viticulture, conservation and sustainable development, biological control, forestry and natural resources, and plant and soil science.

The literature of the California Native Americans and the groups of settlers who came to the state, bringing their agricultural heritage with them -- Spanish missionaries, followed by Mexicans, Japanese, Chinese and Russians and those from other parts of the United States -- will be an important component.

"California holds a vast wealth of information which is important to such an undertaking," said Norma Kobzina, librarian at the Bioscience and Natural Resources Library, who will head the venture at Berkeley.

The project is an integral part of the National Agricultural Preservation Program for Agricultural Literature developed in 1993 by the National Agricultural Library and the U.S. Agricultural Information Network.

Initial work funded for the first year, which began in July, will identify the state-level literature documenting the history of agricultural development and rural life from 1820 through 1945.

Historical literature for each of the nine states will be identified and then evaluated by a panel of scholars.

Four of the nine land-grant libraries will have funds to preserve the most valuable titles; Berkeley's library is among the other five, which will identify and rank titles but not preserve volumes -- until additional funding is received.

Much of the literature is material from the original College of Agriculture (now the College of Natural Resources) established in 1868, the first land-grant college in California.

The college has a myriad of primary research resources and published documents, including settlers' diaries and letters; bulletins, reports and other publications of the university; land-grant publications, and publications from groups such as the State Agricultural Society, the State Board of Viticultural Commissioners, the State Fish and Game Commission and the California State Grange.

Many of the California land-grant agricultural publications have been preserved through a previous microfilming project.

In the current project at Berkeley, the staff, led by Kobzina, will improve access to approximately 864 titles in 2,160 volumes of the most important 17 percent of the materials in need of preservation.

Berkeley scholars who will help in literature evaluation are Professor Emeritus Kenneth Carpenter of Nutritional Sciences and Professor Garrison Sposito of Environmental Science, Policy and Management.

Kobzina says the Bioscience and Natural Resources Library will work in identifying and evaluating material with librarians and researchers from the Bancroft Library, the California State Library in Sacramento, the Giannini Foundation Library of Agricultural Economics, UC Davis Agricultural History Center and the UC Davis and UC Riverside libraries.

Other university libraries participating are at Auburn University, Alabama; the University of Connecticut, Storrs; Cornell; the universities of Florida and Nebraska; Penn State; Texas A&M; and the University of Wisconsin, Madison.


Copyright 1996, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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