Monthly Archives: January 2018

By Jordan Keagle

WWI Ice Poster_sm

US Food Administration Poster, World War I, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Deciding on a dissertation topic did not come easily to me. Throughout the year I spent preparing for my qualifying exams, I thought I knew what my topic would be—the bizarre and spectacular rabbit drives that took place across the West until the 1940s. But after being set loose to begin work on my prospectus, I decided that my pet project didn’t have the broad impact needed for a successful dissertation.

But if I wasn’t going to move forward with rabbit drives, what would I do? I knew, in the broadest sense, what I wanted my dissertation to be about: the intersection of environmental and cultural history in the American West. That was a far cry from a workable topic, however. Over the summer of 2017, I met with my advisor, Bill Deverell, several times. We tossed around dozens of potential topics, but Bill kept pushing me to develop ideas around “big concepts,” which could branch out into numerous dissertation topics.

Bill’s advice led me to “cold”—an intersection between environment and culture–but this quickly proved to be too large to tackle as a dissertation. Looking over my notes, I started to imagine two potential approaches, one intuitive and one less so. The first was to examine cold as an adversary, a deadly force that had to be conquered in order to make a life in the West. This made sense and certainly provided enough to write about, but was perhaps too easily understood. As Bill often says, “Don’t we know that story already?” Instead, I wondered if we could consider the way the cold was tamed, made into a tool and a product that could be used for human purposes?

My dissertation centers on commodifying coldness in the American West circa 1850-1950, tracing the evolution of cold in the West from elemental threat, to a purchasable product, to a domesticated force, available at the press of a button. Modern technology has rendered control over the cold so easy as to make it invisible to the average American. One of my goals for this project is to recapture an understanding of the labor and challenges of the West before “mechanized cold,” a world with familiar desires for cold drinks and comfortable homes but one that achieved these ends through means that seem very foreign to us.

LVNM 1884-10-14

Advertisement for the Montezuma Ice Company, Las Vegas, New Mexico (1884).


Cover of leaflet for Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company refrigerators (approx. 1885-1901), courtesy of the Huntington Library.

Ice Company Wagon - LAPL

Pasadena Ice Company wagon (circa 1910), courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.

Jordan Keagle is working on his Ph.D in the USC History department


As we commemorate the life, work, and vision of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., here is Dr. King’s encapsulation of American history and westward expansion in customary brilliance and power.

As we begin 2018, we asked several Huntington Library curators to share specific collections relevant to the West that have been newly acquired, catalogued and are now accessible for research. As many know, the Huntington Library has extensive materials related to the American West. In fact, the subject constitutes nearly 40% of the Library’s holdings. Historians interested in these new archives can learn more about researching at the Huntington Library on its website:

Peter Blodgett, H. Russell Smith Foundation Curator of Western American History
The Barrows and Weyse Families Papers contain hundreds of letters and photographs from two families who became linked by marriage in 1860s Los Angeles.


Parcel of Henry D. Barrows (circa 1888) in downtown Los Angeles, courtesy of the Huntington Library.

Julius Weyse was a political refugee from Germany to England in 1836 and then a gold seeker to the United States in 1850 while Henry D. Barrows had relocated to California from the eastern United States. The contents include German-language Gold Rush narratives and later correspondence with details about family life in California while the Barrows materials include similar documents. With the presence of a US Marshal’s letter book for Southern California between 1857 and 1864, various land papers, and 62 pocket diaries from Henry Barrows, the collection includes numerous details about life in Southern California in the second half of the nineteenth century; the presence of significant content from German immigrants offers the possibility of investigating a potential transnational Los Angeles.

When incorporated with copies of Barrows publications here and other family collections at the Huntington such as the Wolfskill papers (Henry D. Barrows’ first wife was Juanita Wolfskill), the Barrows and Weyse Families Papers might shed some additional light upon the multiplicity of peoples and perspectives in Los Angeles. Also, depending upon the degree of depth in the papers, researchers might find possibilities for inquiring into the history of the Historical Society of Southern California.

Collection description in the Online Archive of California:


Dan Lewis, Dibner Senior Curator, History of Science & Technology
The Huntington’s history of aerospace collections have essential California connections — including the recent acquisition of the papers of William Arata, an aerospace engineer whose work spanned corporate life at Lockheed, Northrup Grumman, and other corporations.

Delta Northrop plane

Building a new Delta Northrop plane (circa 1933), courtesy of the Huntington Library.

His materials provide an excellent pan-corporate view of aviation and aerospace in Southern California between the 1930s and the 1980s, and are notable for his work across institutions. Arata also worked with Willis Hawkins at Lockheed, whose papers are at the Huntington, and with many others in positions of power and responsibility. The papers contain a great deal of material on transport designs, and are more broadly reflective of Arata’s thinking, responses and reactions to industry change and innovation. This transport work is an excellent counterpoint to the military focus of other aerospace holdings at the Huntington.

The Papers of J. Michael Scott, a pioneering Federal wildlife biologist who worked in Hawaii just after enactment of the Endangered Species Act, will be ready this Spring for research use. Scott was one of four such biologists working in the islands to survey the wildlife, but especially the bird life, in order to help set Federal conservation priorities. These papers have strong utility for environmental history research, as well as the particulars of wildlife biologists’ fieldwork in conjunction with The Nature Conservancy, the Federal government, and other stakeholders.


Clay Stalls, Curator of California and Hispanic Collections
The Huntington has recently opened two valuable collections for research in Hispanic history in California.


Map of Mexico, Texas, Old and New California, and Yucatan (circa 1851), courtesy of the Huntington Library.

The Chávez Esparza Family Letters document extensively the immigration of members of this family from the state of Aguascalientes, Mexico, to California in the 1960s and 1970s. The letters provide particularly valuable first-person accounts of the family members’ experiences at work, especially types of employment and relations with employers and fellow employees; transnational family relations; and strategies for moving to and living in the United States. Collection description in the Online Archive of California:

The Pedro Villaseñor Political Papers offer rare documentation of the transnational character of Mexico’s troubled church-state relations in the 1930s. Born in the Mexican state of Michoacán, Pedro Villaseñor (1907-1996) was an ardent Mexican nationalist aligned with the political resistance against the federal government’s suppression of Roman Catholic religious liberties in the Mexico of the 1920s and 1930s. After his move to Los Angeles, he supported this cause, which still strongly resonated among the large Mexican population of Los Angeles, by organizing political groups and activities and publishing newsletters that would have a nation-wide circulation. Collection description in the Online Archive of California:


Li Wei Yang, Curator of Pacific Rim Collections
Last week I acquired the papers of Kenneth Y. Fung, immigration attorney based in San Francisco. Fung was president of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance (1947-1949) and he testified before Congress in 1945 about the unequal treatment of Chinese American spouses under the American immigration system. Fung was also a good friend of Y.C. Hong.


Kenneth Y. Fung (back row, far right) stands with the Chinese American Citizens Alliance (circa 1928). Photo courtesy of the Huntington Library.



Skid Row Reader CoverBy Dan Johnson

The Skid Row Reader is an experimental adult literacy textbook created to nourish reading skills in students who are recovering from a host of afflictions that contribute to chronic homelessness. Created as a response to inadequate and out-of-touch teaching materials, the effort is built around themes of history, perception and context that center students in a sense of social geography and shared experience. The text encourages “digressive learning.” Each chapter is conceived as a launching point for personal association, discussion and an exploration of corollary topics rather than the imposition of a rote lesson. Contributors include Patricia Nelson Limerick, Michael Lesy, David Shields, Sam Sweet, D. Randall Blythe, Liz Goldwyn, Daniel Levitin, Erik Davis, Larry Harnisch, Terry Stevenson, Max Felker-Kantor, Jonathan Gillette and more.

The Skid Row Reader is online at and in the depths of social media at