The Golden Age And The Age Of Gold: Memory And The Alchemy Of History In California, 1877-1888
AdvisorCasper, Scott E.
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This thesis analyzes the process by which Hubert Howe Bancroft and his assistant Thomas Savage collected a preserved a primary cultural memory of California from the aging populations of Alta California (1769-1846) in the form of dictated oral memoirs. The diversity of the testators included in the project mirrored the diversity of Alta California, producing a multi-ethnic cultural memory of California that, in spite of that diversity, emphasized continuity between the Alta Californian past and the state of California in the late 1870s. That primary memory of Alta California’s transformation contrasted with the real ways in which the U.S. annexation had robbed many of the testators of their property and wealth. In spite of their fall from the social status many of them had enjoyed in Alta California, a decline well-documented by historians, the testators collectively argued for an historical link between the California they recalled creating and the one in which Thomas Savage interviewed them in 1877 and 1878. Bancroft eventually contributed to the emerging secondary memory of California’s founding, which emphasized historical rupture between Alta California and the modern state, beginning with the Gold Rush. That fundamental disagreement of memory did not result from Bancroft or Savage ignoring the oral sources that they had labored to collect. Rather, it resulted from the pair’s tendency to dismiss the narratives of the dictations and to use them only for the facts that they contained based on their belief that oral sources contained historical information in the same way that archival documents do: facts buried within otherwise superfluous information. They wrote an early manifestation of the emerging secondary memory of California’s transition, now its founding, that drew significantly from the individual memories of the dictations while rejecting the overarching narrative of continuity, positing absolute historical rupture instead. Thus, this thesis explains how and why Bancroft and Savage labored to preserve the primary cultural memory of Alta California and its transition to U.S. rule even as they eventually helped to rewrite a secondary cultural memory of California that posited the opposite: California, created ex nihilo.