An ongoing effort to collect, digitally preserve and share 100 years of historical records by the UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) has earned the UC Merced Library a more than $300,000 grant.
“We’re extremely proud to be able to further the work already begun on the UCCE project,” UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland said. “Our library is producing a collection that demonstrates the organization’s lasting effects on the state, the work it has done in the past and its potential for the future.”
The work is especially relevant to the San Joaquin Valley, said Emily Lin, the UC Merced Library’s head of Digital Curation and Scholarship.
“We have a lot of archives and historic records based around urban centers, but we haven’t been collecting the records of rural California in any systematic way,” she said. “But rural California has had an incredible influence on the state’s history. California was transformed by agriculture over the past century.”
The Archivist of the United States approved the $308,900 grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission for “A Century of Impact: Documenting the Work of the Cooperative Extension in California's Counties.” The three-year project will begin in the summer, after Lin and others hire a group of undergraduate students to help with the work. Additionally, the project will be part of an informational booth at the World Ag Expo in February in Tulare — UC Merced’s first appearance at the exposition, which draws more than 100,000 people from all over the world.
“We were convinced the history of Cooperative Extension in California was worthy of preserving when we launched the pilot project four years ago,” said Glenda Humiston, vice president of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR), the organization that oversees UCCE. “The federal grant to continue this work confirms the value of UCCE history and its contribution to California’s prosperity.”
A pilot project, begun after the 2014 centennial of the UCCE, looked at Merced, Ventura and Humboldt counties’ UCCE records, and produced a stack of material 70 linear feet long — just for Merced County. A banker box is about 1 linear foot.
Records from Humboldt County included disaster responses from the 1955 and 1964 historic floods, while Merced County’s records were mainly about crops, irrigation, the beginnings of the Merced Irrigation District and 4-H. Each county’s records provide insight into its unique characteristics, Lin said.
The new project will collect 100 years’ worth of reports and historic photographs from 20 California counties — in the Valley, along the coast, up north at the edges of the Sierra and along the southern border — and will geocode all the records.
“This project is of great potential value in supporting a number of lines of existing research, as well as in opening up new and fruitful areas of inquiry into the interrelated topics of democracy, technology and community,” said David Campbell, a political scientist and the associate dean for social/human sciences in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis. He wrote a letter of support for the project that was included in the application.
The digitization project will help researchers at all levels, Professor Mario Sifuentez said.
“It provides access to a trove of documents that shed light on the nature and development of agriculture in the region, which amazingly has been understudied,” he said. “Despite living in the heart of one of the most productive agricultural regions of the world, few people really understand how agriculture in the Central Valley works. I am invested in producing work and helping students produce work that explains the historical trajectory of how the Valley ended up as ‘The Valley,’ and agriculture is the main component of that story.”
"We’re extremely proud to be able to further the work already begun on the UCCE project. Our library is producing a collection that demonstrates the organization’s lasting effects on the state, the work it has done in the past and its potential for the future."
The archives set the stage for research projects across many disciplines. Historians will find the records helpful, but so will people studying progressive era institutions, immigration, race relations, social movements, technological change or the rich history of food and agriculture in California. There are also implications for political science and public policy scholarship; environmental and climate studies around such topics as water and pesticide use; material for economists and labor market scholars; and geographers.
The library is working with the San Joaquin County Historical Society, and San Diego State University will also have a set of digitized records when the project is completed. In addition, regional 4-H students will be part of the project, helping tag and digitize the material.
Cornell University Professor Scott Peters, a historian of higher education who wrote a letter of support for the project, said engaging with local students and their families through a 4-H project is particularly valuable.
“It’s always important to help young people connect with the history of their communities,” Peters said. “These historical materials will enrich their understanding of the vision, values, ideals, tensions, dilemmas and struggles that the work of building a democratic culture in partnership with higher education requires and involves. And it helps them understand their own role in history and ask themselves what they are creating and leaving that will be part of history 100 years from now.”
After the 2014 centennial, UC ANR allocated funds to locate a professional archivist at the UC Merced Library, which is becoming known for creating comprehensive digital collections of historical materials.
Archivist Lisa Vallen began work and found UCCE records in the National Archives as well as pictures, negatives and documents spread throughout the state.
The ANR hopes this project will help not only researchers, but will educate the public and policy makers about UCCE.
“There’s no question about the value of this project and the richness it brings to the whole state, not just UC,” said UC Merced University Librarian Haipeng Li.