I’m sitting in a corner café called the Mudrakers Café, on Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley. It has Turkish origins and the coffee whilst nice is not freshly made by the cup, but in bulk quantities, then stored in a vacuum flask where you help yourself. This seems to be the popular option here. Similarly in the cafes, berger joints, or other more casual restaurants, there is an expectation of serving yourself. Even clearing up afterwards. The Californians are well-trained to take their rubbish and dirty plates to a collection point; they are not left on the table for the staff to clear away. Apparently it is a local ‘thing’.
I spent the morning drinking coffee–yes even more coffee then touring the Berkeley campus with a Canadian colleague from the week’s ‘Summer School’. I estimate I have now seen about half of this massive campus in two half-day walks. The Sather Tower is known as the University of California’s most enduring landmark. It was completed in 1915 and at 300 feet it is one of the world’s tallest free-standing bell-and-clock towers. It has 61 carillon bells weighing from 19 to 10,500 pounds–you can work out the weights in kg. Big and heavy. Its local name is the Campanile. Thankfully there is a lift to take visitors to the top. After all the walking during the past week, my legs would not stand up to it. However, I managed the last two flights. Even with the haze the views were impressive.
The Summer School at Berkeley
This was five days of interesting and challenging exchanges of experiences, planned projects, academic debates and friendly chatter. Have I gained anything from this experience? Yes. Briefly, my observation is that oral history in the US–well certainly out of the Bancroft Library, Oral History Centre–is about conflict resolution, community empowerment and corporate/political/government positioning. Often it is the background, or story behind the official history to provide legitimacy, explanation and understanding for others to digest. Many of my fellow colleagues’ projects were along similar lines. There is an emphasis to develop oral histories based on community projects around race relations, community protest and aspects of assimilation.
While there was academic debate, by some, over oral history as a legitimate methodology, the inclusion of this means of research is strong across all levels of education here. Numerous colleges/universities have courses with strong oral history aspects and it is encouraged for post-graduate Masters and PhD research too. I was the only person undertaking an individual, family based, oral history. Others who were tackling similar projects were still focused on how the individual family member interacted with the wider community. Simply put: my research focuses on the individual where the consensus here is to use the individual as a means of interacting with a wider audience.
My final night in Berkeley was spent with a colleague (Canadian) who has a strong interest in indigenous studies. Shrimp and pasta, a glass of merlo and I tasted ‘grits’ for the first time. I had read about them and understood it to be part of the staple diet of southern US. Other than being salty, they had the texture and flavour of mashed potato, fried up. However, I guess there are numerous means of cooking it.
Enough of academia for the moment–my next post will be about– I’m not sure what, but hopefully interesting.
By the time you get to read this I have arrived in Winnipeg, Canada, on the next leg of my study tour. My first impression is that this city is flat. Beautiful blue sky and comfortably warm. None of the fog/pollution that San Francisco was suffering. A new adventure awaits.