About UC Berkeley Historian's Eye
The Historian’s Eye team at UC Berkeley is a collective of American Studies undergraduate seniors, recent graduates, and our faculty advisor and collaborator, Professor Michael Cohen. We spent the Spring of 2012 working together to produce a digital archive of photographs, oral histories, and associated curriculum focused on the first six months of the Occupy movement in the San Francisco Bay area.
The Berkeley project was first conceived by Historian’s Eye founder Matthew Frye Jacobson in response to the enormous upsurge of energy, attention, participation and violence in the West Coast Occupations, especially Oakland and at Berkeley, in October and November, 2011. This led to a broad collaboration with American Studies undergraduates at UC Berkeley. The objectives were balanced between project and process, and were meant to be as conversational, methodologically experimental, and productively horizontal as the Occupy movement itself was in those first few months.
This team expanded to include eight people: UC Berkeley Professor Michael Cohen, and American Studies undergraduates Robert Lee, Patrick McGrath, Alaska Quilici, Jennifer Rubiello, Samantha Silver, Jacqueline Hughes Simon, and Elena Wagoner. Individual working groups were assembled to concentrate on the four leading aspects of the project: photos, oral histories, educational outreach, and our process blog. These groups each had core teams and editorial oversight, but they remained fluid so that we all moved between different elements to contribute variously to each part. The whole team met at least once a week to work through technical, curatorial, and theoretical issues, and remained grounded in the spirit and forms of Historian’s Eye as our primary, guiding text for production and conversation. We looked to the site and deeply into our own processes for what it means to document the contemporary moment; how to represent the political present; how history is made and accessed; and which pieces of our otherwise mundane, vernacular experience might resonate for later historians, and why.
The answers to many of these questions didn’t always come in the classroom; rather, they came in the field as we were conducting our first Oral Histories, or as we were poring over thousands of photographs to distill which few hundred were “the right ones”, or as we were collaborating on an assignment that would compel other students to participate and “make history”. Once we started producing as documentarians, the answers were simple but perhaps inexplicable: Occupy had impacted all of us, and when we slowed down, started to record what we were seeing and hearing, and witnessed the present through the “Historian’s Eye”, we couldn’t turn it off. Suddenly, we were compelled to observe the makings of history every day, and see it as our right and our mission to capture it, save it, and share it. While we remained focused on the quality of the content we present here, we were also committed to a Gonzo learn-by-doing process that honed our interpretive skills, critical eye, and sensory perception of the moments that matter.
We have produced a collection of photographs and oral histories that is by no means the complete story of Occupy the Bay, but we hope the spaces between will compel you as well as our own team to fill in the gaps with more stories and photos, and that this project serves as an open invitation to continue uncovering the history in our midst.
We kept a blog about our process along the way, and invite you to read it and get to know us at http://calhisteye.wordpress.com/