By JOHN Y. COLE
Speaking without notes, historian J.S. "Jim" Holliday (left) celebrated his 75th birthday with an impassioned "Books & Beyond" talk at the Library on June 10 about his favorite topic: how the 1849 gold rush shaped the state of California.
Mr. Holliday's animated and entertaining presentation, sponsored by the Center for the Book, marked the publication of his second book, Rush for Riches and the Making of California (Oakland Museum and the University of California Press, 1999).
Mr. Holliday has devoted more than 50 years to studying, writing about and lecturing on the California gold rush and its consequences. He is director emeritus of the California Historical Society, former director of the Oakland Museum of California and was one of several historians featured in Ken Burns's television documentary series "The West."
Mr. Holliday has shared his scholarly immersion in the gold rush and his mastery of its source materials, especially personal diaries, maps, manuscripts and photographs, through two books: Rush for Riches and The World Rushed In: The California Gold Rush Experience: An Eyewitness Account of a Nation Headed West. Published by Simon and Schuster in 1981, The World Rushed In became a classic and is still in print. Thanks largely to Mr. Holliday's forceful and clear narrative style, it appears that Rush for Riches is on its way to the same status. His books and his presentations, as the audience learned, emphasize storytelling and drama.
In Rush for Riches, the author vividly follows the gold rush story from 1849 through the "free-for-all" decades of the 1860s and '70s to the climactic year of 1884, when the U.S. District Court in San Francisco shut down hydraulic mining operations in the tributaries of the Yuba River. A key theme is how "the dream of California" and its (often fulfilled) expectations of sudden wealth "became the American dream." This story of California's 19th century emergence and its effect on the nation is illustrated through daguerreotypes, photographs, paintings, broadsides and maps, 100 of which are in full color. Rush for Riches is a companion volume to the exhibition "Gold Fever!" developed by the Oakland Museum as part of the celebration of the sesquicentennial of the California gold rush.
Mr. Holliday's talk at the Library took place 50 years after the Library of Congress, through its own exhibition, celebrated the centennial of the gold rush and the adoption of California's first constitution in 1849. That exhibition and the opening night lecture on Nov. 12, 1949, by historian Carl Wheat were part of the Library's state exhibitions program inaugurated by Librarian of Congress Luther H. Evans.
The exhibition featured items from the Library's collections, supplemented by documents from the National Archives and the National Gallery of Art, and many photographs from schools and other institutions in California. The 97-page exhibition catalog and Wheat's talk, "The First 100 Years of Yankee California," were published separately by the Library.
Mr. Cole is director of the Center for the Book.