Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Filters all 'round

Publisher Hubert Howe Bancroft had a plan.  He wanted to have the stories of the pioneers of California, meaning those that were here before him, preserve their stories.  He would have their recollections recorded.  It was a handy bit of early Oral Histories that are a result of this effort.  

Happy to share that his insight and his desire for the stories extended beyond English speakers.  I've not really researched to learn why he came to this choice.  I only know that I'm glad he did because he included folks like our own Doña Eulalia Pérez Guillen de Mariné.  Rancho El Rincón de San Pascual, on which all of Pasadena now exists, was reserved for her when the mission lands were secularized.  

One of Bancroft's interviewing agents was Thomas Savage.  Of old New England heritage, he was born in Havana, Cuba, grew up in Spanish speaking countries, and his Mother Tongue was Spanish.  He worked as an editor, was U.S. consul in Guatemala and El Salvador, supervised copying and abstractions on Early California and according to scholar James B. Hart (CBE), "wrote a substantial part of the volumes in Bancroft's Works on Mexico and Central America".

It was Thomas Savage who interviewed Doña Eulalia on December 10, 1877.  I share this today since December 11, 1877 is the date he includes when he committed her recuerdos (memories) to paper.

Image based on photo of Doña Eulalia lent me by Victoria Duarte de Cordova
As I was getting ready for this post I began to experiment with her image and different filters.  The more I fiddled the more I wondered about the filters that existed when Mr. Savage interviewed Doña Eulalia.  In an oral history the questions you pose can set the trajectory of the interview.  The attitude and knowledge you have set the questions.

How much deeper might the interview be if one really has no idea of the response but has an understanding of the situation?  How much can we learn from the past if we hear it through the voices who lived it? What sort of filters do we need to be mindful of as they share their past? What questions were left unasked because she tired?


If you'd like to learn more about Dona Eulalia  and formulate your own questions, you can pick up -
Three Memoirs of Mexican California by Carlos N. Hijar, Eulalia Perez, Agustin Escobar translated by Vivian C. Fisher, The Friends of the Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley, 1988

or go the net and enter her name, keeping in mind the author's filters
or go to:


  1. It's true, but interviewing is so difficult. Because if you don't provide a direction, sometimes the subject of the interview gets very impatient, as if you didn't do your homework. As if you're making them do all the work. When I do an interview, I usually arrive with 40 questions, and end up asking five, or less. If the subject likes you, or feels like talking, he or she takes over.

    But what you end up writing may not be to their satisfaction at all.

  2. Interviewing is an art form. Charlie Rose is this side of a god.

    The challenge is finding and keeping close to the line that acknowledges you tried learn something of the subject, but not pre-define the subject's response.

    Oral histories can be truly challenging. Coming from a radically different experience can provide a dynamic interview - sometimes in a good way and sometimes not. Trying to catch a era or epoch that is in the way past, is really a challenge.

  3. You ask good questions here, Roberta. I have conducted only one interview, which I researched like crazy. I've been interviewed a couple of times. Both of those interviews I found frustrating--the interviewer seemed to know nothing about me, asked questions that were irrelevant to my life and/or work, etc. Especially the last time, it's as though he though I was somebody else. I like Karin's approach.

  4. So many different sorts of interview possible. About a topic, or a process, or an art form, or a political outcome. Karin's right, research is the key and then finding out what the interviewee would like to share about the topic. When that light goes on for them the ride is a good one. I really miss interviewing folks as I did on Casa Martinez.

  5. Terry Gross is one of my favorites. Sometimes her interviews meander a bit, but that's because she's not loaded with assumptions.

  6. The meandering is always short and it always sounds as if she and the person being interviewed are chatting over a cup of tea or coffee. That's hard to do in a radio studio. One of the least conducive sites made by man or woman.

  7. What a great window into our rich historical past! How interesting that she makes certain to describe herself and other Spaniards as "white" or "completely white." This is an aspect of Latino culture which I don't think a lot of people realize… the emphasis on race.

    I really wish I could go back and experience the Californio days…

    1. One of the more interesting things to me about that is that in most of her lifetime she would not have referred to herself as white. That is something that is more closely related to US/American practice dueling that era. I think it's good to remember that her story is taken a little more than a decade after the jUS Civil War.