BY FRED SANDSMARK ’83
Cal State East Bay grad student Melanie Rivera is nuts for Walnut Creek history.
As part of her studies toward an MA with an option in public history, Rivera filled two glass cases at the Walnut Creek Library with the lively story of the Contra Costa County Walnut Growers’ Association. Called “Our Paradise in a Nutshell,” Rivera’s display (which appeared from Labor Day through Halloween) traced the association’s past from its founding in 1920, through its heyday as producer and marketer of Diamond Brand walnuts, to the demolition of its processing plant in the 1950s to make way for BART.
Linda Ivey helped supervise the project as the University’s public history coordinator. The goal of public history, she explains, is to move history out of the classroom. “A lot of people love history but won’t major because they don’t want to be teachers,” she says. Public historians have career paths including writing, cultural resource management, and museum work, she says, and they often research subjects as deeply as academics before editing and organizing their research for public consumption.
That’s true for Rivera, who spent more than 200 hours interviewing locals tied to the Association, reading minutes and financial records, and selecting photos and artifacts. Her goal? Help library visitors find a kernel of insight in her two display cases. “If a person can learn something from my exhibit — it doesn’t matter how small or trivial — then I’ve done my job,” Rivera says.