Report on the Peoples Temple Collection at the California Historical Society

On Wednesday, October 21, 2015, CHS hosted a discussion about Peoples Temple and Jonestown with Season of the Witch author David Talbot, San Francisco Chronicle editorial writer Marshall Kilduff, and Peoples Temple survivors Eugene Smith and John Cobb. Moderated by CHS Executive Director Anthea Hartig, the evening included a Season of the Witch book signing and a viewing of Peoples Temple and Jonestown letters, photographs, and artifacts from the Peoples Temple Collection. The discussion was later broadcast on C-SPAN.

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. We are pleased to announce that the Donneter Lane papers relating to the Guyana Emergency Relief Committee have been processed and cataloged, and are now available for research. This small but significant collection documents the Guyana Emergency Relief Committee’s early and diligent efforts to ensure dignified burials for Jonestown victims. Along with other guides to the Peoples Temple Collection, a detailed finding aid to this collection is available on the Online Archive of California: http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/c8t156vw/

We also continue to work on digitizing films and video tapes documenting Peoples Temple and Jonestown that were donated to CHS in 2010. Thirty-five films have been or will be nominated this year for digitization as part of the California Audiovisual Preservation Project (CAVPP). This archival film and video footage provides a vivid and poignant look into daily life in Jonestown, recording entertainment nights in the pavilion, a basketball game and children’s parade, children at school, Peoples Temple members working, Jim Jones touring Jonestown, aerial views of the site, and other scenes. These films will be available on the Internet Archive, supplementing the seven already digitized: https://archive.org/details/californiahistoricalsociety?and[]=subject%3A%22Peoples%20Temple%22

All are welcome to visit the CHS Reading Room 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

Originally posted on October 30th, 2015.

Last modified on December 18th, 2015.
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