If you choose to go to college and major in history, there is one question that will come up a lot, especially when your four years are coming to a close: “so, what are you going to do with history? Teach?” In general, I think that I can safely say that I didn’t study history because of the job opportunities that I would be showered with after graduation. I studied history because, broadly speaking, I want to understand the world we live in. My studies over the past four years have repeatedly reaffirmed the relevance – and power – of people’s history.
That’s why, when I signed up for a public history internship class this semester, I was hoping to intern at the Freedom Archives. I had previously encountered the archive during another class where we watched COINTELPRO 101 and had Q&A with Claude. I appreciated then, as I appreciate now, the fact that history’s relevance is fundamentally integrated into the mission of the Freedom Archives. What’s the point of historical material if the only people who engage with it are academic historians? Although I’m not going to answer it, that’s not a rhetorical question – academic historians are important. But the power of historical materials increases exponentially when they are made available to a broader audience. Everything here is collected, cataloged, and shared online and at events with its relevance to today’s struggles and today’s youth in mind. As the website states, the material here is meant to Preserve the past, illuminate the present, and shape the future.
I’m glad that my 100 hours here have helped to advance that goal. I’ve spent my time at the Freedom Archives listening to and cataloging a shelf of reel-to-reel audio tapes that deal with the “Little Free Speech Movement” of 1966 and 1967 at UC Berkeley. When I did a little research into this period, I found that not a lot of material is out there right now that deals with the campus uprisings that took place after the better-known Free Speech Movement of 1964. I hope that historians, students, and anybody interested in the nature and value of student movements finds this collection valuable. Although I grew up in the East Bay and encountered the Free Speech Movement a lot (in the form of UC Berkeley’s co-optation of the movement to sell the school, at the campus Free Speech Café, in the movie “Berkeley in the ‘60s,” in classes, in conversation, in modern student movements…), I learned a lot about the experience of campus organizing during that period by listening to these tapes and talking about the subject with Claude, Nathaniel, and my fellow interns.
In a certain sense, I know that I do want to teach history after I graduate, and for the rest of my life. Not necessarily in a classroom and not just to any one age group, but in my daily life: in conversations with strangers on the bus, with friends and family, at marches and demonstrations, in my future workplace, and everywhere else. History can be used to fight racism, sexism, and even the class war. Historical knowledge is power, and it is for everyone.