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Emily Lin

New Awards for Regional Archives at UC Merced Library

Sat, May 14, 2022 (All day)
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In October 2021, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) awarded UC Merced Library a grant from American Rescue Plan funds to support the California Agricultural Resources Archive (CARA) project.

While California’s Central Valley is one of the most productive agricultural regions on the globe, the historical records of the rural center of California are under-represented in the American register. The documents, maps, and photographs preserved in CARA include valuable information on local land development, crop research, and changing agricultural practices. They also shed light on rural domestic life and civic engagement through the organization of Farm Bureaus, agricultural associations, and 4-H.

The one-year grant has funded the retention of four positions: an archivist, two undergraduate student assistants, and a graduate student specialist. In addition to allowing the library to continue processing collections, this federal support enables the library to continue its outreach and engagement efforts despite the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic and a significantly curtailed budget.

In partnership with Merced County 4-H, the library is conducting a “History Detectives” Summer Science Academy for students in grades 8-12 this coming July. Students will learn how to conduct hands-on research in the archives and use tools to curate information for an exhibit on agricultural history in Merced. They will have the opportunity to learn techniques that the typical student is not exposed to until college or beyond. 

UC Merced Library is taking a place-based approach to developing special research collections that will support the highest levels of educational opportunity for Valley residents. Recognition of the importance of these efforts has resulted in even more substantial support. In April, the NEH announced it would award a $750,000 Infrastructure and Capacity Building Challenge Grant to UC Merced to fund a renovation project in the library.

The Library, in partnership with UC Merced’s Center for the Humanities, will expand its capacity to house archives and special collections documenting the Sierra Nevada and Central Valley regions. The capital project will create secure storage space as well as spaces where researchers, students, and community members can engage with the collections. The project is expected to be completed in two years and will house over 100,000 items.

For more on the Sierra Nevada-Central Valley Research Archive: https://ucm.edu/TzrUEg

To register for the History Detectives Summer Science Academy: https://surveys.ucanr.edu/survey.cfm?surveynumber=37158

From the Archives: 4-H Youth Development

Mon, February 28, 2022 4:40 PM
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As farm advisors fanned out across California in the 1910s and 1920s and developed programs of work with local farm bureaus, one of their key endeavors was enrolling boys and girls in local agricultural clubs. Early agricultural clubs, including calf, pig, poultry, vegetable growing, and home economics clubs, were formed to provide youth with hands-on learning experiences and demonstrate better agricultural and home practices. Merced County agent J.F. Grass attested in his 1920 report that these clubs successfully “aroused the interest of parents” and “stimulated farm bureau work in those communities.” Competitions were established to increase attention to purebred stock, better feed, and other farm improvement objectives.

Dos Palos Calf Club, 1920

 Edqard Questo with prize lambs 

Stanislaus County Demonstration Day winners Joan Dompe and Rita De Lash 

Images above: Dos Palos Calf Club Members, 1920, Merced County. First and second prize lamb exhibited by Edward Questo of the Harmony Grove Club, 1936, San Joaquin County. Stanislaus County Demonstration Day winners Joan Dompe and Rita De Lash (photo dated 1950s).

Participating in demonstrations, competitions, and judging allowed members to polish what are called “soft skills” today: skills such as communication, teamwork, project management, and leadership. Growth in membership led to the recruitment of adult volunteers who served as project leaders, and clubs adopted formalized procedures and organizational structures under the national 4-H system. The breadth of publications and other 4-H materials from California archived in the California Agricultural Resources Archive shows how projects expanded beyond agriculture and home economics. We’ve picked a few highlights found in the recently published Madera County UC Cooperative Extension records.

Illustrations of California Trees (1930) prepared for California 4-H leaders is a guide to identifying native conifers that indicates their distribution across the state:

of California Trees

Following these 1966 instructions, a 4-H club could construct a Portable P.A. System for $18-20 dollars and “amplify a speaker’s voice with clarity and enough volume to cover audiences of 200 or more:”

4-H Portable P.A. System

Humboldt County 4-H All-Star Mark Bent compiled this 1973 project manual, Rocket into the Future:

Solid-Fuel Rockets

In 1959, the University of California produced a 28-minute motion picture film, The 4-H Trail, as an introduction to the 4-H Club program in California. The film features lively footage of club activities and events from around the state and singing by 4-H chorus members. The CARA project has digitized this film for preservation and access. It can now be viewed in full online in Calisphere.

 

Tracing Agricultural History in the Archives

Fri, February 5, 2021 6:30 AM
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The University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Records for Merced County span well over one hundred boxes of documents and photographs and have a physical footprint of about 70 linear feet in the UC Merced Library. Merced County Cooperative Extension recordsThat’s several ranges of library shelves, and yes, they are stored in our “archives vault.” That’s one of the differences between a library collection, where anyone can pick up a book from a shelf, and an archive, where a researcher typically schedules an appointment and identifies specific boxes to look at ahead of time. So how do you know what you can find in the archives? And why would someone want to access the archives?

For starters, yes, you can always contact the UC Merced Library to learn more about our collections and discuss a research question you may have. The library even offers a 24/7 chat reference service as part of the larger network of UC Libraries. Let’s say you are a fourth- or fifth-generation Merced farmer and you’re wondering if there is any information about your family farm in the archives. While there may not be a direct path to answering that question, knowing what the archives contain can direct you to where to look.

The Merced County Cooperative Extension records, along with other UCCE county records archived at UC Merced Library, have what is called a “finding aid” published in the Online Archive of California. This online guide provides information about the scope and background of the collection as well as an outline of how it is organized. Since these are the organizational records for the county Cooperative Extension office, they reflect the work and activities of that organization.

As a general principle, archivists take care to respect the original order of files based on the theory that the original organization may reflect relationships and context that are important to retain. In other words, when we receive a collection, we do not simply begin to organize materials alphabetically, by chronology, or by subject. Whether they are the personal files of an individual or the files from an organization, we take into account their grouping and sequence. In an organization, for example, records may be created and organized by department or by key functions. These groupings can help a researcher understand the structure and development of that business or organization. Sometimes, however, materials end up boxed or stored away without much thought to organization. Imagine if someone dumped all of their photos randomly into a box. If later the box is given to an archives, it will be up to the archivist to try to make sense of the contents and arrange them in such a way that is useful to a researcher.

The Merced UCCE records contain administrative files of annual, monthly and weekly reports from 1917-1974, and trial reports from roughly that time period. They also contain the files of individual farm advisors, some of whom inherited or subsumed the files of previous advisors into their files. For the most part, these farm advisor files are organized by specialization or research topics—for example, fruit trials, pomology, soil—keeping their original groupings. Additionally, there are files that were not associated with a particular advisor, but are grouped by subject or format, such as crops, livestock, 4-H, and audiovisual materials.

Uncovering information about a particular farm would take digging: if you knew about specific activities such as participation in a project or crop trial, you could hone in on records by time period or crop. The historic narrative reports often mention the activities of specific members of the Farm Bureau, and especially in the early years it is interesting to note those who had a prominent role.

Clip from 1921 narrative report

The 1921 narrative report of the county agent lists members of the Cottonwood center and their projects.

So what are some other reasons for accessing the archives? Perhaps you have an interest in a particular crop and the varieties that were tried in the region or the growing practices or treatments used. A researcher could also trace the historical development of a particular industry in the county, such as dairy, through the reports and research documented in these records.

The 1921 narrative report of the county agent is an example of one reason why archives can offer interesting and valuable information. While the earliest volumes of the Merced County Farm Bureau Monthly are available online, the published information does not disclose the political struggles and organizational challenges faced in those early years, which county agent J.F. Grass so frankly writes about in his report:

Three school fights, two church fights, and the differences existing at Delhi has caused a splitting up to some extent of these centers, some of these getting down to personal quarrels. It is therefore surprising that under all these things the unity of the Merced County Farm Bureau is as strong as it is.

Primary source documents in an archive can offer a different perspective on a subject, and often a more direct or personal point of view than what’s available in the public record.

Now digitized, however, these historical perspectives are available for anyone curious or interested in seeing the fuller picture.

For more information: cara.ucmerced.edu

100 Years Ago: Improving Life in the Farm Home

Fri, December 18, 2020 12:00 PM
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Last month, I introduced the history of the development of the Merced County Farm Bureau as documented in the early reports of the county agent. These reports, as well as historical photographs, are now freely available in digital form through Calisphere. Working alongside the county agent was a home demonstration agent who was responsible for organizing activities to solve problems and improve practices which affected “physically, socially, or economically the homes of the community.” In December 1920, after her first year in the county, agent Mary Van Camp reported that fifteen centers had been organized in the county with a membership of 401 women engaged in a program of work for each farm home department center. 

What is striking to me about her report is the consistent emphasis on the development of local leaders. It was up to each center to decide what problems they wanted to raise attention to and promote training to address. Across the county, the “problems” identified were clothing, food, and improved health and sanitation. While the agent’s role was to advise and provide demonstrations, she describes her role as putting “as much confidence in the ability of the local leader as she could[,] checking methods when undesirable and praising where methods used were good.” That speaks volumes about the spirit behind Cooperative Extension and its approach. “It is interesting to note,” Van Camp writes, “that each different leader is planning the work as best fits her environment.” Her report records insights into the different needs of each community, how sharing models and practices can inspire local initiatives, and how to best foster and support locally-led problem solving.

The Start of School Hot Lunches

After a child feeding demonstration was conducted in a one room rural school in Livingston, local leadership organized to improve the school lunch situation. Teachers, a local nurse and physician, as well as the county superintendent of schools, worked together to introduce hot lunches and improve sanitation at the schools. With a number of photographs, Van Camp makes the point that children no longer needed to sit on the ground outside to eat their lunches. Instead, in cold weather children were served a hot dish, and “pupils mob the home demonstration agent on the road to tell her they have gained a pound.”

Eating school lunch about in the yard.

Food Preservation and Clothing Techniques

We may not have expected that 2020 would bring a renewed interest in canning (news reports have noted shortages in canning supplies) as well as other at-home activities such as sewing and knitting. A hundred years ago, home demonstration agents played a key role in showing homemakers how to safely preserve food and how to make their own clothing efficiently. That knowledge would become even more valuable as communities later weathered the Great Depression and shortages during the Second World War.

Van Camp reports on demonstrations on “cold pack sterilization, pressure cooker, water bath and steam bath” methods for canning vegetables and meats. A Mrs. L’Hommadieu of Stevinson even hosted a demonstration at her home on the use of a canning retort, where a 35 lb. pig was preserved alongside eight quarts of beans. 

Demonstration on the use of a canning retort.

In another photograph in the report, she depicts a project leader demonstrating how to alter dress forms for clothing. A blur of movement in the foreground of the photo are the toddlers in the room watching as well.

Project leader altering patterns.

For those interested in learning more about the history of canning techniques, the National Agricultural Library has a wonderful digital exhibit on The Evolution of Home Canning Practices

This spring, the UC Merced Library is teaming up with Merced 4-H to inspire local youth to create their own digital exhibits and tell their own local stories. We are accepting registration for a county-wide project to begin in January. Students 8th grade and up will learn to use digital archives, Arc GIS Story Map software, and other digital tools. We are excited to see what students come up with and what histories they uncover!

This article was published in the December 2020 issue of the Merced County Farm News.

A Look Back: The Farm Bureau Organization 100 Years Ago

Fri, November 20, 2020 5:45 PM
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“Merced County was what might be termed virgin territory for rural organization work before the farm bureau came into this county,” wrote County Agent J.F. Grass in his November 30, 1920 Narrative Report. But Grass reported that with a few “good men” of experience placed in office who were “willing workers,” and with ongoing attention to “developing individuals” to be “trained to act as leaders,” “the program of work idea is working out satisfactorily in this county.” As of December 1st of that year, the Farm Bureau of Merced County had fifteen farm centers and 1,075 members.

Map of farm centers in the county, from the 1920 annual report of the county agricultural agent. 

Map of farm centers in the county, from the 1920 annual report of the county agricultural agent.

Three years after the start of the county farm bureau, the 1920 annual report strikes a reflective tone, and Grass takes stock of the factors that are important to the progress of work: the importance of “efficient local leadership,” and of addressing the needs of local conditions, which were found to be diverse across the county. Near the end of the report, he captures an interesting snapshot in time of what he sees as the needs and prospects of those fifteen centers—starting with Amsterdam and ending with Stevinson—based on their population, attitudes, and the physical conditions of the land. Of one center he writes, “moving population and sparsely settled, poor soil to the greatest extant, lack of unity among the settlers.” Of another, a “good center, a group of people in this center who always want to change the existing order of things… always making resolutions.”

To those interested not only in the history of agriculture, but also of civic organization and community development in this county, these and other historic reports from a century ago give firsthand perspective. The 1920 report includes discussion of the Merced and West Joaquin irrigation districts recently formed, the founding of the Merced County Purebred Livestock Breeders Association, and the development of the Farm Bureau Exchange, as well as photographs illustrating farm demonstrations, agricultural clubs, and other work conducted in the county. Now, anyone with an internet connection can freely view and download these historic materials through UC Merced Library and the California Digital Library on Calisphere.

In 2018, the National Archives awarded UC Merced Library a Major Initiatives grant to preserve and digitize these and other records of California’s Cooperative Extension (UCCE) county offices. The award recognized that the Cooperative Extension records represent “documentary heritage essential to understanding our democracy, history, and culture.” Merced County’s UCCE records are among the first the library archived, under an agreement between the campus and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. Over the course of the three-year grant, collections from fourteen California counties have been archived and are being digitized. They are core to the California Agricultural Resources Archive (cara.ucmerced.edu), an effort the library is undertaking to aggregate and provide digital access to a host of historical research material on California agriculture online.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Archives evacuated to UC Merced Library

Fri, September 18, 2020 3:00 PM
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Amidst the destruction and fast-changing nature of this year’s wildfires, UC Merced Library was able to answer a call for help.

On Monday afternoon, Ward Eldredge, curator for the Sequoia and Kings Canyon (SEKI) National Parks, contacted UC Merced librarian Emily Lin to inform her that he was preparing plans to evacuate the archives. The Castle Fire, part of the SQF Complex wildfire, had expanded considerably over the weekend and was approaching Dennison Ridge, near the southern boundary of Sequoia National Park and the park headquarters. Given the growth of the fire, he and other park employees had already begun to evacuate. Eldredge asked if the UC Merced Library had the ability to house any of the materials.

After saying yes, Lin worked with Eldredge and Associate University Librarian for Library Operations, Eric Scott, over the course of the next day to make arrangements. Because the Park Service had difficulty procuring moving services in such a short window of time, Scott coordinated with UC Merced Facilities Management to arrange for University Moving Services to assist with transport while organizing UC Merced Library staff to assist with unloading of the collections under COVID-19 restrictions.

National Park Service employees loading archival records on Tuesday afternoon. (Photo courtesy of Paul Hardwick, NPS) Library staff unloading collections on campus 
National Park Service employees loading archival records on Tuesday afternoon (photo courtesy of Paul Hardwick, NPS). UC Merced Library staff unloading collections (photo by Rebecca Gourevitch).

An estimated 600 linear feet of documents capturing the history of the two national parks—as well as slide collections, herbaria collections and other artifacts—were transported safely to UC Merced. Sequoia National Park was established in 1890 as the second national park in this country, while Kings Canyon National Park was established in 1940, subsuming General Grant National Park. The two parks have been administered jointly since World War II and have played an important role in the development of fire management practices and modern understanding of fire’s role in healthy ecosystems.

Library staff moving collections into the building Collections safely transported to UC Merced Library 
Collections safely relocated to UC Merced Library (photos by Eric Scott and Rebecca Gourevitch).

Mutual interest in preserving important park records and expanding research access through digitization led to a loan of two of the Parks’ collections to UC Merced Library in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting shutdown had put a pause in digitization plans. With this rescue, the Library and the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks look to raise attention to the importance of saving and digitizing these valuable collections.

The Library would like to recognize the following UC Merced employees who assisted with transporting and unloading the collections:

Library Staff
Ross Anastos
Donald Barclay
Fabiola Chavez
Derek Devnich
Rebecca Gourevitch
Sunni Nelson
Eric Scott
Jonathan Wilcox

Library Student Assistants
Austin Ashworth
Kalib Caples
Isabella Quiroz
Krista Walsh

Facilities Management Team
Carlos Estrada
Johnny Anjel
Eric Ferreira
Ernie Solano
Rodney Trevathan

Merced County Cooperative Extension Tours CARA

Fri, December 20, 2019 8:00 AM
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On Thursday, December 12, 2019 the UC Merced Library hosted a visit from the Merced County Cooperative Extension office. As our work archiving and digitizing the historical records of the office nears completion, we invited the staff as well as the retired advisors who had been involved with the initiation of CARA to learn about the progress and outcomes of the project. The visit was an opportunity for the Cooperative Extension staff, some of whom had not previously been on campus, to tour the library as well as to see the archives and our digitization process.

Merced County Cooperative Extension staff tour the archives

The visit was also a valuable opportunity for the UC Merced Library staff to learn more about the work of Cooperative Extension in Merced County and its history. In addition to Maxwell Norton and Richard Mahacek, two emeriti who have been involved in steering the project since its pilot phase, we were delighted that three other farm advisors emeriti whose names have become familiar to us were in attendance: Bill Weir, Lonnie Hendricks, and Robert Scheurman.

Merced County Cooperative Extension Farm Advisors 

UCCE Merced current advisors and emeriti, (back, left to right): Maxwell Norton, Richard Mahacek, Lonnie Hendricks; (front, left to right): Bill Weir, Robert Scheurman, Scott Stoddard, Russell Hill.

County Director Scott Stoddard introduced the Merced County Cooperative Extension staff and provided an overview of current programs. We learned that the three top vegetable crops in the county are sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and cantaloupe melons (yes, melons are included among "vegetable crops"). The staff and emeriti, meanwhile, took interest in the library’s new furniture on the fourth floor, our scanning equipment, and the records we have collected from other counties. They also engaged in animated discussion to figure out what was in this photo now available on Calisphere, identified as “A.E. Montgomery”: 

According to the discussion, this appears to be a fig tree—possibly a fig orchard grown by A.E. Montgomery—based on the pruning performed, the thin skin of the tree, and the fact that figs are somewhat sensitive to cold (the “teepees” in the background could have been used to protect the trees from cold and frost).

If you would like to learn more about the history of agriculture in Merced County, this 1958 report provides a view of top products and trends in the middle of the last century, as well as some poetry and political commentary/humor mixed in:

CARA and Agricultural Education at the World Ag Expo

Thu, February 21, 2019 12:00 PM
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UCANR Welcome Table at WAE 2019“Do you want to test your knowledge of California agriculture?” we asked visitors at the World Ag Expo last week. Young and old, students and seniors, teachers and parents, journalists and farmers, the confident and the hesitant, drew near and took part in our quiz game. Their task? To match three pictured items to the appropriate California county: Humboldt, in the North; Merced, in the Central Valley; and Ventura, in southern CA. As some participants guessed lemons in Humboldt, avocados in Merced, and timber in Ventura, we prompted them to consider regional geography and climate.

When we revealed the answers, visitors learned about the Klamath beetle, introduced by UC Cooperative Extension advisors and entomologists in Humboldt in the 1940s to combat a weed that had taken over 150,000 acres of rangeland and posed a danger to grazing livestock. The solution employed by UC scientists was the first, and highly successful, case of using a biological control against an invasive species in the state. They also learned that Humboldt County is the leading producer of timber in California, and has historically been an important producer of livestock and dairy products.

Lompoc Ornamentals & Row Crop Pest Management ProjectParticipants learned about the significance of sweet potato production in Merced County, as well as figs, and tomatoes, introduced by Italian immigrants. They learned that Ventura is the leading producer of lemons in the state, and of the value of avocados and nursery plants produced there. Given that many were not aware of the range and scale of agriculture across California, we directed them to CARA, to explore the history and research involved in the development of agriculture in the state.

We were delighted we had the opportunity to be part of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources presence at the Expo, and to help promote the work of UC Cooperative Extension, which has had such historic impact on the state. One school teacher from the Central Valley was so taken by our game that she wanted to share it with her students. As CARA develops, we want to continue and expand this kind of community engagement, so people can know and appreciate what grows here.

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