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ROHO in Action
Coming Up
  -  Winter 2012
ROHO Historian Sam Redman interviewing Susan Honeyman Crawford
ROHO historian Sam Redman interviewing Susan Honeyman Crawford

Winter 2012 Newsletter

Big things are happening at ROHO! Building on a nearly sixty-year legacy, we're moving in exciting directions. In the coming weeks and months expect to see

  • Dozens of newly released oral history interviews
  • More streaming audio and video from our interviews
  • Better user interface and easier search tools on our website

And we continue to conduct interviews, host training workshops, and spread the word about oral history at Berkeley. We always welcome feedback about the interviews we conduct and about our efforts to engage with the broader community of alumni, scholars, students, and teachers who look to ROHO for compelling stories about and indepth analysis of our recent past.

This new quarterly newsletter is just one way for you to keep informed about our ongoing work. Please like us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and sign up for our newsletter for more regular updates, news, and special features.

Neil Henry
Director, Regional Oral History Office


ROHO in Action

Inside ROHO’s Archives: One Reporter’s Experience

New Yorker Magazine staff writer Jill Lepore had long heard about the Bancroft Library’s Regional Oral History Office, as far back “at least” as her graduate school days in the 1990s in history and American Studies at Michigan and Yale. But it wasn’t until she decided to tackle an article about the history of political advertising that she got a chance to use ROHO’s archives, and what a revelation that experience was for her.  “Historically,” she wrote in a blog post published the same September day her article, “The Lie Factory – How Politics Became a  Business,” appeared in the New Yorker,  “the state of California has had one of the best and most active oral-history projects in the nation.”

It was to ROHO’s more than 4,000 original interviews that Lepore turned to research her riveting article, including oral histories conducted of Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter, founders of one of the first and most influential political advertising and consultancy firms in America, Campaigns, Inc. The company got its start propagandizing against and plotting the defeat of the populist gubernatorial campaign of Upton Sinclair in 1934. Lepore discovered these interviews and others with notable figures including H. R. Haldeman and Carey McWilliams while searching online databases at the California State Archives.

This search led her to a key find, an oral history conducted by ROHO’s Gabrielle Morris in 1972 of the notoriously media shy Baxter. Discovering that the oral history wasn’t available online, she contacted the Bancroft’s “incredibly generous” staffer David Kessler, who “made a PDF of it for me.” This in turn led Lepore to find and interview Morris herself, an experience she described as “terrific” in an email, and together the interviews, plus another she discovered from the 1960s, provided Lepore with a revealing and ominously prescient kicker to her article. Lepore wrote in the New Yorker that an interviewer once asked Baxter, “Does political public relations actually transfer political power into the hands of those who exercise it?”

“It certainly could and has in some instances,” she said, carefully. “In this profession of leading men’s minds, this is the reason I feel it must be in the hands of the most ethical, principled people—people with real concern for the world around them, for people around them—or else it will erode into the hands of people who have no regard for the world around them. It could be a very, very destructive thing.” 

Each year, scores of scholars, researchers, journalists, and others access ROHO’s archives in search of evidence to support their work on a wide range of subjects, their writing often published in magazines, academic journals, books, newspapers, and magazines around the world. Each search offers a fascinating story unto itself, and Lepore’s is just one.

-- Neil Henry

Risk, Biotech, and California in the 1970s: ROHO historian Sally Smith Hughes tells the story of Genentech

Image of book cover of Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech

Before the term “venture capitalist” came into widespread use, those who invested in new enterprises engaged in what they then called “risk investing.” In her engaging recent book on the origins of the biotechnology industry, ROHO’s science historian Sally Smith Hughes shows that never was that term so befitting than when used to describe those who invested money and time into the pioneering firm Genentech.

When Genentech initially launched public stock offerings on the NASDAQ exchange in October 1980 it was the first biotech company to “go public.” Due to media frenzy around the company in advance of the IPO, public demand for the stock was extraordinary. The stock opened at $35 a share but leapt to $80 within twenty minutes of the opening bell. At the end of the first day of trading the company was valued at $532 million, which signaled huge profit for the founders and early investors.

Four years earlier, however, when the company was founded and the first investors signed on, there was no guarantee of any pay-off at all. Not only was the technology of recombinant DNA still itself in development, but also it was clear that marketable, FDA-approved products were many years off. The fact that investors continued to pour money into what was, in essence, a theory was something new and wholly remarkable in the interrelated worlds of science and business. This collective audacity of scientists and investors who firmly believed in the outlandish potential of new ideas sheds light on the unique California-born culture of entrepreneurship that gave birth to companies such as Intel, Apple, Oracle, Genentech, and dozens more.

This fascinating story of remarkable scientific achievement and bold investor risk is told by Hughes in Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech (University of Chicago Press, 2011). Dr. Hughes’s work on Genentech began in 1992 and continued for much of the following two decades. She interviewed most of the early players in Genentech’s history—and in the broader history of biotech—including Genentech founders Herb Boyer and Robert Swanson and Nobel laureates Paul Berg and Arthur Kornberg.

 The complete set of biotech interviews can be found on ROHO’s website. Moreover, Hughes, along with her partners in the Bancroft Library curatorial group, including David Farrell, collected the archival records of many of the key players in this story, from Donald Glaser and Daniel Koshland, Jr. through the historic papers of Genentech itself.

 The well-regarded blog “New Books in Science, Technology, and Society” recently interviewed Dr. Hughes about her research. The full interview is available streaming here.

-- Martin Meeker

Rebels with a Cause: Saving Marin and Sonoma's Open Space

ROHO interviews will be featured in the forthcoming television documentary, "Rebels With A Cause." The film, currently in production with KRCB TV, Channel 22, the PBS affiliate for Sonoma, Napa, and Marin Counties, sets to chronicle the extraordinary efforts of the ordinary people who saved the lands of the Point Reyes National Seashore and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area from development.





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