Department Blog

Special Collections

New exhibit: California in Song

October 8th, 2015 by Sara Gunasekara

We are pleased to announce that our latest exhibit, California in Song, has just been installed in the exhibit cases outside of Special Collections. This exhibit, created by Music Librarian Michael Colby, draws on the sheet music collections in Special Collections.

As long as there has been a California, and even before it became known by that name, it has inspired song. Through songs about the Golden State, we hear about its history—from the Gold Rush to the San Francisco earthquake, its places—from the St. Francis hotel to the city of Sacramento, and the dreams it has inspired of a better life in a wondrous place at the edge of the continent.

The first music in what is now known as the state of California was made by its first inhabitants, the Native Americans. Following its discovery by Europeans, the discovery of gold in the hills precipitated a massive influx of fortune seekers. Even the 1906 San Francisco earthquake inspired song.

The natural beauty of California inspired song, but so did many of its man-made creations, even the St. Francis Hotel! While the city of San Francisco inspired many a song, even Sacramento got a song, written by Eden Ahbez, who adopted a “hippie” lifestyle years before San Francisco celebrated the Summer of Love in 1967. Ahbez is best known for composing the Nat King Cole hit, “Nature Boy.”

California has inspired many dreams in its history, from the get-rich-quick dreams of the Gold Rush, dreams of escape from the Depression dust bowl, to dreams of Hollywood glamour, and the Aquarian Age dreams of Haight Ashbury in the 1960s.

California continues to inspire songwriters, beyond the examples given here. While the Beach Boys extolled the charms of “California Girls” of 1965, in 2005 Gretchen Wilson asked “ain’t you glad we ain’t all California girls?” Katy Perry’s 2010 “California Gurls” returned to the more common theme in keeping with the California dream.

The exhibit will run through Winter Quarter 2016 and can be viewed anytime that Shields Library is open.


On This Day: April 2, 1990

April 2nd, 2015 by Sara Gunasekara

Today’s feature in our On This Day series takes us to the opening of the west wing of Shields Library which occurred twenty five years ago on April 2, 1990. The 140,000 square foot addition was designed by architects Simon Martin-Vegue Winkelstein Morris. The dedication ceremony occurred on October 19, 1990 and included a speech by Gary Snyder.

This year also marks another anniversary for the Shields Library building. It was seventy-five years ago (on March 22, 1940) that the first wing of the building opened. The north wing of the Library, which includes the Main Reading Room, cost $265,750 to build and was funded by the Public Works Administration.

Our exhibit, Diamond Jubilee of the Shields Library Building: 1940-2015, provides more information about the history of the building. Additional information can be found on the Library Centennial website.

Here is a photograph of the library staff outside the west wing shortly after it opened in 1990.

Library staff outside the west wing of Peter J. Shields Library, 1990

Library staff outside the west wing of Peter J. Shields Library, 1990

Visit Special Collections during Picnic Day Open House

April 11th, 2014 by Sara Gunasekara

Special Collections will be participating in Picnic Day as part of the Library’s Open House which is tomorrow, April 12, between 11-1. We’ll be featuring our exhibit, Picnic Day: A Century of Celebration, as well as other treasures from Special Collections.  Stop by and say hello!


New exhibit, Picnic Day: A Century of Celebration, includes historic films

March 25th, 2014 by Sara Gunasekara

Picnic Day: A Century of Celebration
Exhibit on display during Spring and Summer Quarters in Special Collections Display Cases, Shields Library

The Special Collections Department of the University Library presents an exhibit highlighting a century of the University’s annual event, Picnic Day. This exhibit draws on materials from several University Archives collections including the Picnic Day Collection and the University Archives Photographs.

The Picnic Day tradition started on May 22, 1909 with a “Dedication Basket Picnic,” said to have been suggested by Mrs. Carolee Shields, wife of Peter J. Shields, to honor the opening of North Hall, the first dormitory on the campus of the University Farm (now the University of California, Davis). Peter J. Shields helped to write the legislation for the creation of the UC Davis campus and the main library building is named in his memory.

Picnic Day has since become the annual open house for the campus and has grown into one of the largest student-run events in the U.S.

As part of this exhibit Special Collections digitized three historic 16mm films of Picnic Day from 1939, 1947, and 1953. The 1939 film, recorded by Remi C. O’Connor, Class of 1941, contains the oldest known footage of campus. The films can be viewed here.

For more information or to share your memories of Picnic Day, please email Special Collections at

Join in the festivities for the 100th Picnic Day on Saturday, April 12, 2014. The Library will host an open house from 11-1.


Robert G. Mondavi Papers Open for Research

June 17th, 2013 by Liz Phillips

Robert G. Mondavi: Celebrating the Good Life


Special Collections is pleased to announce the opening of the Robert G. Mondavi Papers in celebration of the 100th anniversary of his birth. Anyone familiar with California wines has heard the name Robert Mondavi. But do you know how he became one of the most influential figures in the American wine world of the late twentieth century? Special Collections doesn’t have any secret hints for making wine (those remain with the winery), but we can tell you how Mr. Mondavi rose to prominence and how he saw his role in promoting wine, fine food, and the arts.

Robert Mondavi (1913-2008) and his wife Margrit Biever Mondavi have a long-standing relationship with UC Davis. Thanks to their interest in our educational mission, The Robert G. Mondavi Trust donated the Robert G. Mondavi Papers to Special Collections in 2011. Since that time, Manuscript Archivist Liz Phillips has been hard at work cataloging and preserving Robert Mondavi’s papers. This work has been funded by generous donations from the Robert Mondavi Trust, Margrit Mondavi, and supporting friends.

For more information, have a look at the companion website or if you’re in the area, come see our exhibit at Shields Library. The exhibit will be in place through mid-December 2013.

Visit Special Collections During Picnic Day Open House

April 19th, 2013 by Sara Gunasekara

Special Collections will be participating in Picnic Day as part of the Shields Library Open House. Shields Library and Special Collections will be open from 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 20, 2013.

On display will be selections from the Colby E. “Babe” Slater Collection. Slater, a 1917 graduate of the University Farm School (now the University of California, Davis),  won Olympic gold medals for rugby in 1920 and 1924. Slater’s daughter, Marilyn Slater McCapes, graduated from UC Davis in 1955. Her husband Dick McCapes graduated from UC Davis in 1956 and received a DVM from the School of Veterinary Medicine in 1958. The McCapes are this year’s Picnic Day parade marshals. Dick will represent Marilyn who passed away in 2012. Babe Slater is also being honored as a parade marshal.

On display in the cases in front of Special Collections is the exhibit, Maynard Amerine: In His Own Words. Amerine, a professor in the Viticulture and Enology Department, was an acknowledged authority on both the cultural and technical aspects of grape growing and wine making. Amerine left a legacy to the State of California and the world through the hundreds of students he trained who have become wine makers and grape growers. In addition to the exhibit, you can also view Professor Amerine’s 1973 class lectures for his course Sensory Analysis of Wine. These historic videos were recently converted to digital files.

Stop by to see these “snapshots” in the history of UC Davis. We hope to see you on Picnic Day!

UC Davis Traditions exhibit is now a web exhibit

April 16th, 2013 by Sara Gunasekara

If you weren’t able to see the UC Davis Traditions exhibit that was on display during the Summer and Fall, you can now view it as a web exhibit! It is available on our website here.

We’re always interested to hear your memories of these UC Davis traditions or others that we didn’t capture in the exhibit.

Wild West Days, 1966

Happy 45th Birthday, Unitrans!

February 20th, 2013 by Sara Gunasekara

On February 28, 2013, Unitrans will celebrate its 45th Birthday. In the late 1960s, the Associated Students of UC Davis (ASUCD) explored possibilities for providing bus transportation to students traveling between the City of Davis and the campus. The University Transport System, or Unitrans, was founded by ASUCD and service officially began on February 28, 1968 with two London double decker buses operating on two routes. Today, Unitrans provides transportation with 49 buses on 18 routes, carrying over 3.5 million passengers a year.

In 2008 Special Collections created an exhibit to celebrate the 40th birthday of Unitrans. The exhibit is available in web form here.

Milestones achieved by Unitrans during the past five years include: completion of the Hutchison Passenger Terminal (2008), implementation of a vehicle tracking system (2009), creation of the O Line (2010), creation of the V Line (2011), and the return of RTL 1014  to London (2012). Read the Dateline story about the return of RTL 1014  here.

Happy 45th Birthday, Unitrans!

Another school year begins.

September 27th, 2012 by Jenny Hodge

Students are back and classes have started! Summer is behind us and the student population has exploded as the hustle and bustle of the academic year takes over once more. Freshman welcome to UC Davis and returning students welcome back. Keep an eye out for new bikers as our quiet summer campus goes from this:

To this (note the freshmen dinks on many of these bicyclists):

To learn about UC Davis traditions, such as the freshman dink, visit the current fall exhibit in front of Special Collections in Shields Library.

New exhibit: UC Davis Traditions

June 21st, 2012 by Sara Gunasekara

Labor Day. Frosh Dinks. Tank Rush. Frosh-Soph Brawl. Wild West Days.

What do all of these things have in common? They are UC Davis traditions!

Our latest exhibit contains selections from the University Archives Photographs Collection which feature campus traditions, some of which continue to this day. The University Archives Photographs Collection offers a visual record of the history of the University of California, Davis. The collection contains photographic prints and negatives, and depicts buildings and grounds, faculty and staff, campus events, classes and classrooms, student clubs and activities, departments, and sporting events.

A finding aid for the University Archives Photographs Collection can be found on the Online Archive of California.

Stop by the display cases in front of our department to view UC Davis Traditions: Past & Present. The exhibit can be viewed anytime Shields Library is open.

For more information or to share your memories of UC Davis traditions, please email Special Collections at

Frosh-Soph Brawl, tug of war, circa 1968