Vallejo Outing April 13, 2013

Twelve Institute members had a history-filled day in Vallejo on April 13, with private viewings of two institutions: the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum, where Executive Director Jim Kern gave us a tour before regular open hours, and the McCune Collection at the Vallejo Public Library.  Highlights at the museum included artifacts from Mare Island (the first U.S. naval base on the West Coast) and from various ships including the USS San Francisco, paintings of sea battles in the War of 1812, a periscope, a Russian cannon, and an exhibit about a Vallejo woman dancer.

Following lunch in Old Town and a walk past numerous historic buildings, we arrived at the McCune Room and browsed around the collection of rare books and printing-related objects, assembled by local physician Donovan McCune and donated to the city of Vallejo in the 1960s.  Judith Hilburg, President of the McCune Committee, introduced the collection and showed us some of their finest incunables (books printed before 1500) and other treasures.

Institute member Peter Meyerhof gave an illustrated talk about José de la Rosa and California’s first printing press. The Ramage press arrived in Monterey in 1834 and was used by a series of governing authorities, including Mariano Vallejo, to issue proclamations and other printed information (and misinformation, in the case of an already obsolete Spanish book of home remedies).  Although the name Agustín Zamorano is usually associated with the press, Peter’s research has revealed that de la Rosa was its main user, both in Monterey (spelled Monterrey in those days) and in Sonoma, where he worked for General Vallejo in a number of capacities.

We then heard a talk about a Victorian-era home entertainment called toy theater or paper theater and a project the McCune Collection is developing to further explore printing history. Michael and Valerie Nelson of Magical Moonshine Theater are using this form of puppetry to develop a performance based on William Morris’s illustrations of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in the “masterpiece of publishing” known as the Kelmscott Chaucer. We also had the opportunity to peruse a display of other recent examples of toy theater, often based on illustrated children’s books but not exclusively aimed at children.

You can learn more about the McCune Collection at, the puppeteers at, and the Vallejo Museum at

Member News

Welcome to our newest members, Gail Greene and Ernest Hook.

Steven Levi is working on his 8th book of creating thinking.  Using history as his guide, his work Off the Wall Thinking illustrates how off-the-wall ideas which were greeted with jeers when introduced have sometimes changed the world. Some of the ideas include toilet paper, braille, “creative equivocation” and other concepts.  This will be Levi’s 82nd book.  His next mystery novel, The Matter of the Dematerializing Armored Car, will be out in time for  Christmas.

Dot Brovarney is publishing a book this fall called The Sweet Life: Cherry Stories from Butler Ranch. Besides editing the collection of stories and photographs, she has provided historical context to the book about a cherry ranch in the hills west of Ukiah. At the center of The Sweet Life stand longtime owners George and Ella Butler, who through their u-pick orchard and a generosity of spirit created a unique sense of community in Mendocino County for over sixty years.

With mention of a body of work including her newest book, Framed by Sea & Sky: Community Art in Seward, Mural Capital of Alaska, and noting that she “meticulously collects, records, and shares the stories of the people, history and culture of Seward through her research, presentations, and publications,” Jackie Pels (Hardscratch Press) has received the 2017 Historic Preservation Award in her hometown of Seward, Alaska. She says she is most pleased by that word “meticulously.”

Ann Harlow has been elected president of the Berkeley Historical Society and continues to serve as editor of its quarterly newsletter (as well as copy editor of our newsletter, the newsletters of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, and the magazine American Art Review).

Monika Trobits will be teaching her third course for San Francisco State’s OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute), beginning in late August. “‘San Francisco Urban Journeys’ will consist of 5 walking tours exploring the Embarcadero, the Haight, Civic Center, and Russian Hill. These journeys will begin at 10 a.m. the week of August 21, on either Monday or Wednesday (the course schedule is still being worked out). For more information and to register: (415) 817-4243 or” “Meanwhile,” she writes, “I continue to fine tune my second book for publication in late 2017 or early 2018. This one will trace the story of a commodity in the San Francisco Bay Area from the gold rush era to the present day.”

On June 24, the City of Sonoma unveiled a fullscale bronze statue of city-founder General Mariano Vallejo portrayed sitting on a bench in the central Plaza. Peter Meyerhof was one of the seven-member committee of citizens which planned all aspects of this monument, hired the skilled artist Jim Callahan to fabricate it, and raised the necessary funds entirely from private donations. This interactive creation was given to the city at a dedication ceremony attended by approximately 300 people. Because of General Vallejo’s historically invaluable memoirs, Peter made sure that he was depicted holding a book entitled Recuerdos.

Members:  Please submit news of your history-related publications, lectures, awards, research finds, etc. to

California and the West Events


Dates not set: Book discussion on Benjamin Madley's An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe; public panel on new methods of history study; excursion to Niles Canyon (Fremont); visit to Marin County Civic Center and its history room with a talk by Bonnie Portnoy on artist Tilden Daken.


Fall 2017: Martinez Adobe Fandango; Public Program: “Siberia and California: Connections During the Russian Revolution and Civil War”

Fall 2016: Amador County

Summer 2016: San Francisco Presidio

Winter 2016: Berkeley History Center

Spring 2015: Sonoma Plaza

Winter 2015: San Francisco Public Library

Summer 2014:  Red Oak Victory and World War II Homefront National Historic Park, Richmond

Spring 2014:  Los Gatos History Museum, "American Bohemia: The Cats Estate in Los Gatos”

Winter 2014:  Tour of California Historical Society exhibition on Juana Briones, January 25

Summer 2013:  Green Gulch Farm Zen Center visit, August 15

Spring 2013: Visits to Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum and the McCune Collection at the Vallejo Public Library, April 13

We Promote:
  •  the study and discussion of history outside the traditional classroom setting
  •  research, writing, performances, exhibitions, and other expressions of historical study
  •  non-traditional and interdisciplinary areas of study as well as traditional approaches to history


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About Us

The Institute for Historical Study is a community of researchers, writers, and artists. Our common bond is a devotion to history in its many forms. Through wide-ranging programs, we share research, ideas, and practical advice and provide a public forum for the discussion of history. 


Play Readers Upcoming Meeting

Tuesday, February 20, 1 p.m., home of Ross and Phyllis Maxwell, San Francisco

We will continue reading and discussing Longitude, by Arnold Wesker. Based on the book of the same name by Dava Sobel, the play dramatizes the fascinating story of John Harrison, a carpenter and clock maker from Lincolnshire who, in 1730, competed for a prize for the creation of a marine chronometer that would make it possible for ships at sea to calculate longitude — a challenge that had baffled European navigators since the beginning of long-distance sailing. The group welcomes new members.  If you wish to be placed on our email list and receive announcements, contact Joanne Lafler.

Public Programs

Public programs usually occur once or twice a year and have included panel discussions, individual presentations, and film series. Programs are co-sponsored with other institutions, including public libraries, universities, museums, and archives.


Writers Group Upcoming Meetings

Sunday, January 14, 1:30 p.m., home of Joanne Lafler
Discussion topic: “writing about social issues in an environment of high political interest.”

Next Medieval Studies Meeting:
Monday, January 29, 2018, home of Ellen Huppert Nancy Zinn presenting. Please contact Lyn Reese if interested in joining this group.