Libraries to Uncover Hidden California History

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/22/10

Redevelopment plans for Downtown Los Angeles's Bunker Hill neighborhood

With recent grants from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), scholars researching California history will soon enjoy dramatically improved access to several unique collections housed at the USC Libraries.

CLIR awarded the libraries $160,000 for Excavating L.A.: USC's Hidden Southern California Historical Collections, a project designed to help scholars explore 26 regional history collections. Thanks to Excavating L.A., those studying the social and political history of the region will find invaluable resources on the the 1992 riots, the 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy, and the redevelopment of Downtown's Bunker Hill neighborhood, among other events from Los Angeles's past. The council is also funding Uncovering California’s Environmental Collections, a joint project launched by the California Digital Library that will improve access to many archival collections. Among those collections are USC's documents on a controversy surrounding plans to develop an area of Sequoia National Park.

Here's Bill Dotson's article for the USC News website:

Researchers soon will have more resources for probing the causes of the 1992 L.A. riots and the history of climate change in California.

The Council on Library and Information Resources awarded Hidden Special Collections and Archives grants for two projects that will dramatically improve access to the USC Libraries’ rare California archival materials.

Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the grants enable the libraries to support a diverse array of California-related research and teaching projects.

The council awarded $160,000 to the USC Libraries for Excavating L.A.: USC’s Hidden Southern California Historical Collections, which focuses on Los Angeles’ social and political history. The organization also funded Uncovering California’s Environmental Collections, a partnership among the California Digital Library, the USC Libraries and eight other California university libraries.

“By funding Excavating L.A., [the council] is helping the USC Libraries illuminate vital portions of the Southern California historical record,” said Catherine Quinlan, dean of the USC Libraries. “These collections offer irreplaceable insights into the 1992 riots, water and resource issues, freeway development and urban sprawl, and so many other areas that inform Southern California identity. I’m thankful to [the council] for helping us provide access to these materials and add them to the ever-accumulating narrative of Los Angeles history.”

At the project’s conclusion in early 2012, scholars will enjoy online finding aids to help them explore 26 archival collections related to Southern California. Some of the rare materials include Los Angeles Board of Education records about busing and racial integration, the Bunker Hill Redevelopment and Century Freeway projects, the 1939 WPA Household Survey, documents related to the 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy and blueprints of homes in 1930s South Central Los Angeles.

Phil Ethington, professor of history and political science at USC College, has begun working with regional history librarian Dace Taube to explore the collections in Excavating L.A. and share their archival materials with his students.

“The transcripts of community hearings conducted by the Webster Commission after the 1992 civil unrest provide a unique record of myriad citizen voices about race relations, attitudes toward the police and other vital topics,” Ethington said.

“USC has especially strong archives that document the wrenching story of race and intergroup relations in Southern California. The grant is a wonderful opportunity to make many more of these collections available to the public."

The collections complement the materials about L.A. arts and culture that soon will become more accessible to scholars thanks to the USC Libraries’ 2009 grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. The commission awarded the libraries $110,560 to process 53 collections, including the papers of Ray Bradbury and Irving Wallace and many important film and performing arts archives.

The USC Libraries joined eight California university libraries in Uncovering California’s Environmental Collections, a project launched by the California Digital Library. Thanks to the council’s grant, scholars will enjoy access to 33 California environmental history collections, including the records of the Unocal oil company, the papers of the Nobel-winning scientist Frank Sherwood Rowland and the USC Libraries’ documents about a land-development controversy in the Mineral King area of the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.
“These primary materials have tremendous evidentiary value,” said Rosalie Lack, director of Digital Special Collections at the California Digital Library. “They show facets of California’s environment at distinct places and times. Unpublished historical data sets are extremely valuable for researchers comparing past events with current statistics. They may reveal evidence of patterns or subtle shifts in the ecology of our planet.

“Together they form a multifaceted picture of the natural world and the way it has been probed, altered, exploited and protected in California over the past century.”
The USC Libraries began work on the two projects earlier this year and recently hired Katie Richardson as the Excavating L.A project archivist. Over the next two years, USC students also will have the opportunity to work on the Excavating L.A. project, gaining firsthand exposure to rarely seen materials about key moments in Southern California’s recent history.

The libraries will post updates on the projects via their Libwire news blog and share links to the new online finding aids for Excavating L.A. and Uncovering California’s Environmental Collections as they become available.

USC students who wish to learn more about Excavating L.A. or participate in the processing efforts should contact Dace Taube at

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