Guest blogger: Melissa Gonzalez-Tapia (University Archives student intern)

August 10, 2022
Hanna Ahn
Photo of Melissa Gonzalez-Tapia

Hello, my name is Melissa, and welcome to my first blog post. I am a rising senior at East Palo Alto Academy, and this internship was suggested to me by my high school counselor. I decided to join this internship because I believed that this would be a great opportunity for me during my summer break and would support me in strengthening my future goals, like helping me make more informed decisions on what I want to do with my life. My supervisor Hanna has helped me define what I am passionate about and along with that, she has helped me set measurable goals which are going to give me greater direction and greater focus later on, as my dream career is to own a skincare company. Some of my favorite subjects are physics and chemistry. The interesting thing about these subjects is you can always develop new materials with both subjects to create a better outcome for a project, which will be great in using later on in my future career.  

Throughout this internship, I have been working with a collection that incorporates letters written from and to Mark Mancall that represent different phases in his life. These letters can be considered primary sources. A primary source is an original document or object created by someone who was living during the same time that you are studying. Primary sources are the raw materials of history. Reviewing all of the letters I got to see many opportunities Mark received, which included internships, grants, diplomas, and fellowships. 

We started with a box full of letters that had various kinds of textures, some letters were really old and breakable, and other letters were written on telegram paper, aerogram enveloped, and so on. We got to look at every single one of those letters and sort chronologically. The Mark Mancall Papers consists of 13 boxes total, but 7 of the boxes are his letters. At Hanna’s suggestion, I listened to Mancall’s 6-hour long oral history recording and skimmed through the 331-page transcript to better understand the life of the professor whose personal correspondence I was helping preserve, and listening to Mancall himself recalling details of his own life, revealing his inner thoughts and sharing his personality, was incredibly helpful in helping me better understand the significance of these letters.

Mark Mancall's letters, unorganized

Mark Mancall's letters, sorted

The oral history interview talks about different occasions in Mark's life, he talks about his seminar on structuralism and its influence on Structured Liberal Education (SLE). He also describes the events in his early life which led him to pursue the study of Asian languages, literature, and history. In addition, listening to the interview was very helpful because I heard the details directly from Mark Mancall which allowed me to gather more information to help in processing the collection and assist in my research for this blog post. For instance, listening to Mancall’s interview and processing his collections of letters helped me get a really clear picture of his life events. I got to see photos of and recognize the people Mark was referring to in all these different letters he was receiving and writing to. 

According to the Stanford News, Mark Mancall was a longtime Stanford history professor who passed away on August 18, 2020. In 1974 Mark founded the Structured Liberal Education (SLE) program at Stanford and served as the director of SLE from 1973-2008. He attended Harvard University for graduate school; during that time he started studying Chinese History and then taught Chinese History, Asian History at Harvard. He is the author, co-author, or editor of six books, including Russia and China. He instructed courses in Chinese history, Buddhist social and political theory, South Asian history, the history of socialism and Marxism and Israeli history.

Throughout this project, I have been working a minimum of 20 hours per week. My work consists of ensuring that each letter is organized chronologically by date and removing sensitive information. The file boxes contain letters  to and from Mark Mancall spanning 1952-1996. An amazing thing is that this correspondence collection also contains letters addressed to his parents directly from Mark, family, and friends. Mark had a unique relationship with his parents in that it seemed like they would write to each other almost every day. His parents were very on top of Mark and wanted to know everything he was doing. Mark would also make sure his parents got a brief schedule of what his traveling time and days were going to be like. How would Mark tell his parents he received some kind of certification? Any time Mark received some kind of important information in his letter he would rewrite the letter, specify it and mail it to both his parents.

Letter from Mark to his parents

Collaborating with handwritten correspondence and photographs from over 70 years ago has been a fascinating experience but also very incompatible with the way we Generation Z members interact with each other. Seeing all these handwritten letters from Professor Mancall has been amazing, I got to see all the time and effort he put in writing to his parents, friends and keeping in touch with them almost every day. Generation Z’s communication preferences are via text messages and video calls on social media platforms like Tik Tok, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. Generation Z has used the internet since a young age, if not all their lives, and is comfortable within the technology and social media platforms. On the other hand Baby Boomers prefer to connect face to face whereas Gen Z members prefer social media because it makes it easier for them to interact with each other and see the other side of the world. 

Mark Mancall had numerous travel research journeys throughout the years, like Guatemala City (1965), China (1966-1976), Tokyo (Ford Fellowship, 1958-59), and Finland (1956- 57). Hanna thought it might be helpful to do some research on the Soviet Union and how it was significant to Mark Mancall. I also learned that tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union relaxed somewhat between 1953 and 1957 due to the death of the longtime Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Because of those relaxed tensions, Mark was able to visit the Soviet Union in 1957 when he was a graduate student. He was part of the group of the first American student cohort to visit the Soviet Union at that time. Mark was also in Finland from 1956-1957; during that time parts of Finland had been occupied by Russia, many of the churches they saw had extended into the Gulf of Finland, and all the gun emplacements faced Helsinki so that if any problem arose in Finland, they were going to attack Helsinki from these gun emplacements. 

Letter from Mark to his parents while traveling in Finland

History can teach you many things, it helps you understand how events in the past made things the way they are today. Individuals learn to emulate those successes and avoid those mistakes when learning about the history of any kind of subject. History can inform you and help you understand cultures, society, and identities. With lessons from the past, we not only learn about ourselves and how we came to be but also develop the ability to avoid mistakes and create better paths for our future generations.

Processing this collection has encouraged me to build my family history collection as well. Record collections should be preserved for future generations. Whether you have 100 letters or just one, they are important to your family history and add to your family story. As we record our history, we get to open the opportunity for future generations to connect with us when we are gone. Family histories humanize the people you know or knew and remember those who did not know them.

Melissa reviewing the Mancall letters collection

The overall purpose of letter correspondence is that it can play a role in maintaining a satisfactory relationship. Writing improves the attention we give to information. It allows our brain to better evaluate the data it receives, and to organize it better, which in turn helps to ground ideas and concepts in the mind, which means that we will remember them better. One of the best features when it comes to writing a letter is being able to sit down and process your thoughts before actually putting pen to paper. Organizing personal collections can be a way to tell a story about your life or the life of a loved one.

Archives are important because they provide evidence of activities from the past, tell stories, document people and tell us more about these individuals and organizations. When you document your life and your stories you clear space for ideas, plans, and new memories.

A portion of the processed Mark Mancall collection

I want to give a big thanks to Hanna Ahn, Josh Schneider, Adan Griego, Kelly Fields, and Claudia Willett, along with everyone else I was introduced to this summer. This internship has helped me develop skills and I was offered much support from many different people. In this internship I was able to learn about the world of archives while having the opportunity to network with members of the staff of the Stanford University Libaries. The purpose of networking is to build relationships and share knowledge. Through these new relationships, a person can make progress in their career path quickly. When you look at it that way you can see why networking is such an important part of your life.

Melissa smiling!