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UCLA History Project provides a glimpse into university’s momentous past

By Lucy Benz-Rogers

January 12, 2010 10:14 pm

For each generation of students that passes through UCLA, it may be difficult to realize that the Spring Sing tradition they enjoy so much is actually 65 years old, or that students dressed in blue and gold have journeyed to the Rose Bowl with UCLA license plate adornments for even longer.

Though UCLA is still almost a decade away from its centennial, there is still plenty of history and tradition to celebrate. For this reason, the UCLA History Project will be releasing the first UCLA history book in more than 40 years in the fall of 2011.

The book will be the culmination of seven years’ worth of research, said UCLA History Project Director Marina Dundjerski.

“The book was always the cornerstone of the project,” she said. “Our mission is to tell and capture the UCLA story by using our history to show how much the university has achieved.”

It will include roughly 500 photographs from UCLA’s founding in 1919 to the present with a detailed, woven narrative to explain the stories behind them. It will cover everything from the first Spring Sing in 1945 to the Campbell Hall shootings in 1969 and Apartheid protests in 1985.

Since the UCLA History Project was created in 2004, Dundjerski and her growing number of staff and student researchers have been conducting interviews and digging through Daily Bruin and library archives, among other research techniques.

“We’ve received unprecedented access to historical documents,” Dundjerski said, adding the team even combed through UC Berkeley documents for information, especially from the early years of UCLA’s history as a Southern California satellite campus.

The team also contacted alumni for any memorabilia or photos they would be willing to contribute. Old ticket stubs for UCLA-USC games and a vintage beanie hat were collected, and select pieces are on display in the James West Alumni Center.

The History Project also reached out to important figures in the university’s history. Those whose accounts will appear in the book include former chancellors, student leaders and renowned faculty members.

“During this process, we’ve interviewed approximately 200 individuals. Those are the stories and details that you don’t necessarily find on paper, but it’s important to capture,” Dundjerski said. “(They are) people who not only lived through important moments in UCLA history but also helped shape it into what it’s become today.”

Student researcher Rachel Mundstock, a fourth-year history student, said that throughout her research she has been struck by the role of students in shaping the university.

“It’s a way to connect with others who have come before,” she said. “(What stood out) is how involved the students are. … They’re constantly pushing.”

Dundjerski also cited the trend of student-driven change at UCLA, such as collecting bonds during War World I to fund the building of the original campus on Vermont Street, and partnering with USC in the 1942 rivalry game to raise $2 million for World War II.

“Students have really made a collective contribution from the beginning, and will continue to do so,” she said.

A key motivation for the book, said Vice Chancellor for External Affairs Rhea Turteltaub, is to highlight how far the university has come in a relatively brief amount of time.

“We see the book as an important way to share our history and achievements and contributions with the UCLA family and extended community,” she said. “The opportunity to tell that story and have people appreciate those achievements is very important for external affairs.”

Indeed, one of the greatest rewards of working on this project for Dundjerski has been witnessing the growth and success of such a young institution.

“I’m inspirited by the story of UCLA every day, and I hope the book will do the same for others. The UCLA history is a collective, living legacy that we all share.”

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Lucy Benz-Rogers
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