Report on the Peoples Temple Collection at the California Historical Society

Over the years, the California Historical Society (CHS) has become the largest repository of archival materials related to Peoples Temple and Jonestown, and the developments of the last year demonstrate that the collection is active, vibrant and growing.

Earlier this year, seven Super 8 films forming part of the Peoples Temple Publication Department files were carefully digitized by the California Audiovisual Preservation Project (CAVPP), with funding from the California State Library. These previously unviewed films are now available to the public on the Internet Archive. This archival film footage provides a vivid and poignant look into daily life in Jonestown, recording the baby nursery, piggery, children at play, Peoples Temple members working, and slash-and-burn agricultural practices. The public is encouraged to review these films on the Internet Archive, and contribute comments, insights, and identifying information to help deepen the historical record related to Peoples Temple.

We are also pleased to announce the recent acquisition of a small cache of books from the Jonestown Library, generously gifted to the Society by Port Kaituma Secondary School teachers Karen Roethof and Erin Dunnington, facilitated by Antony Arcusa. These titles—including a lovingly annotated copy of The Wind in the Willows–were found in the Port Kaituma Secondary School Library, with markings and annotations clearly indicating their Jonestown provenance. The gift was helpfully supplemented by a list of books on law, anthropology, political economy, and literature that may have formed part of the original Jonestown Library.

The Peoples Temple Collection at the California Historical Society comprises over 20 collections of diverse archival materials, including organizational records; government documents; official and personal correspondence; newspapers and other publications; research materials; photographs; film and video tapes; audio recordings; and three-dimensional artifacts. Thanks to the generous donations of journalists, scholars, former Peoples Temple members, families, and friends, the collection has grown considerably since 1983 – when the California and Guyana courts first deposited the Peoples Temple Records at CHS – and continues to grow, providing the most comprehensive archival record of the organization, from its origins in Indiana to the aftermath of the deaths of November 18, 1978.

Over the past decade, CHS archivists and volunteers have worked tirelessly to process the bulk of the materials that make up the Peoples Temple Collection at CHS, enhancing public access to the collections, while ensuring their long-term preservation and care. Detailed finding aids for many of these collections are available on the Online Archive of California (http://www.oac.cdlib.org/institutions/California+Historical+Society). Catalog records for Peoples Temple-related material in all formats can be searched through the Society’s website: http://c95040.eos-intl.net/C95040/Search/SimpleSearch.aspx.

Mary Morganti, Director of Library & Archives, continues to welcome donations of Peoples Temple-related materials that enhance the breadth and scope of the existing collection. If you wish to discuss a possible donation to the Peoples Temple Collection at CHS, please contact her at mmorganti@calhist.org.

All are welcome to visit CHS and view the Peoples Temple Collection. Located at 678 Mission Street, San Francisco, California, 94105, the North Baker Research Library is open to the public from 12 noon to 5:00 p.m., Wednesday through Friday. Appointments are not required, but new researchers are encouraged to contact the reference desk at reference@calhist.org or 415-357-1848, ext. 220, for assistance prior to their arrival. The collection can be searched on the CHS website (http://www.californiahistoricalsociety.org/research/collection_search.html) and the Online Archive of California (http://www.oac.cdlib.org/).

Marie Silva, Archivist & Manuscripts Librarian
Mary Morganti, Director of Library & Archives

Originally posted on October 13th, 2013.

Last modified on December 23rd, 2015.
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