News | 13 July 2021

Library’s New Community Archiving Program to Broaden Scope of Regional History Project

By for UCSC News


Filipino Community of Watsonville Parade Float. Courtesy Special Collections, University Library, UC Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz County historic photograph collection).

The University Library has announced the establishment of a new Community Archiving Program that will build on the foundation of its decades-old Regional History Project (RHP).

With the retirement of longtime RHP director Irene Reti, the Library has now re-envisioned the project to broaden its scope and will soon be launching a national search for a newly created position of Community Archivist. 

The new Community Archivist will continue to promote oral history as a means to capture the rich diversity of stories of the campus and region, with a particular focus on reaching out to traditionally under-represented communities. They will partner with the campus and community to develop and facilitate oral history projects, serving as a resource to those interested in using the methodology in their own research or in documenting the history of their own communities. 

The Community Archivist will also seek out partnerships with community organizations and leaders to support the preservation of community history through other means, such as the establishment of formal archival collections and public history projects.

“I am so pleased to bring this position into the Library which will lead to the increased diversity of our collections and deepen our engagement with the campus and Santa Cruz County by offering tools and methodologies to collect stories and histories from all community members,” said University Librarian Elizabeth Cowell.

Canning Strike. Courtesy Special Collections, University Library, UC Santa Cruz. (Santa Cruz County historic photograph collection).

UCSC head of Special Collections & Archives Teresa Mora noted that she was excited to continue the Library’s commitment to oral history in a way that will foster partnerships with the broader community and engage with students. 

“I see this as an opportunity to build upon the excellent work of the Regional History Project which has provided so many opportunities for student engagement over the years, seen most recently in the student-led oral history project, The Empty Year, said Mora. “I look forward to lending our support to such important community-led collaborations as Watsonville is in the Heart and to further identify opportunities to support our faculty and students in similar research.”

Mora added that community archiving is a relatively recent trend within the archival profession that focuses on collaboration with community partners in an effort to allow community groups—often those who are traditionally underrepresented within formal archives—the agency to tell their own stories. Oral history is a powerful tool in many of these projects as tangible artifacts may no longer exist.

“The community archivist reflects the university’s real commitment to elevating and amplifying local voices,” said UCSC associate professor of sociology Steven McKay, a lead researcher on the Watsonville project. “Our community partners are excited to share their perspectives and experiences that have generally been neglected or overlooked in local and Asian American history. We are equally excited to preserve and promote these important narratives and connect our partners with a professional archivist dedicated to the histories of the too-often unheard.”

UCSC dean of humanities Jasmine Alinder added: “As a public historian myself, I am particularly excited to work with a new Community Archivist. This position and the Community Archives program will broaden our potential for impact, emphasizing community-engaged scholarship and the co-creation of knowledge.”

Founded in 1963, the Regional History Project has been instrumental in documenting the history of both the campus and the community and has served as a training ground for students and faculty in the field of oral history. Projects have included student-led oral histories documenting the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake and the impact of Covid-19 on the UCSC Community. 

Seeds of Something Different: An Oral History of the University of California, Santa Cruz, the first comprehensive history of UCSC.

The program has actively engaged with the local community since its inception, publishing oral histories on topics such as the history of agriculture on the Central Coast and working closely with other local history groups to provide guidance in developing their own oral history projects.

Under the direction of Reti, the RHP produced more than 60 oral histories, documenting the history of both the campus and Santa Cruz County. Reti conducted oral histories with such notable local and campus figures as Sam Farr, Donna Haraway and George Blumenthal. She also edited the compendium oral history volumes, Cultivating A Movement: An Oral History of Organic Farming and Sustainable Agriculture on California’s Central Coast and Out in the Redwoods: Documenting Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender History at the University of California, Santa Cruz 1965-2003. 

In 2020, Reti, with co-authors Sarah Rabkin and Cameron Vanderscoff, published Seeds of Something Different: An Oral History of the University of California, Santa Cruz, the first comprehensive history of UCSC.

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