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04/24/2002 07:00:00

Caltech Historian Accepts Joint Humanities Appointments

"We had hard times here. 'Course it'll be all different out there -- plenty work, an' ever'thing nice an' green, an' little white houses an' oranges growin' aroun'."

PASADENA, Calif.- Pa Joad's words refer to California in John Steinbeck's novel, The Grapes of Wrath. It tells the story of the Joad family, which loses its farm in 1930s Oklahoma, then heads west to the promised land of California in the hope of finding a better life. It is a story that still resonates today, says William Deverell, an associate professor of history at the California Institute of Technology, who has been elected chair of the California Council for the Humanities (CCH).

It will be a busy year for Deverell. This month the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation also named him the 2002-03 Haynes Fellow. The Haynes Foundation is a leading supporter of social science research for Los Angeles and also the oldest private foundation in the city.

As the new chair of the CCH, Deverell will be working to ensure the success of a new three-year project the Council will launch this June. Titled "California Stories," it is a initiative to refresh the story of California with the stories of today's Californians, and strengthen the sense of community across the state. The first project is called "Reading The Grapes of Wrath," Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

The CCH hopes its initiative will create opportunities for people to read and discuss the book, then consider the parallels between the book and the contemporary California experience. The conversations and the stories that spring from them will hopefully lead to increased understanding and tolerance among Californians, and stronger community bonds.

"I'm particularly excited about the opportunities provided by this unprecedented statewide effort," says Deverell. "The story of the Joad family still resonates powerfully in a state where 50 percent of the residents are immigrants. Through this project, we will be giving Californians a chance to reflect on their own family experiences, the dreams and disappointments shared by immigrants then and now, and a chance to consider the place of their own stories in the larger story of California."

In addition to his work with the CCH, as the newly appointed Haynes Fellow, Deverell will help to guide the Haynes Foundation and keep its trustees "attuned to developments in the social sciences research community," says Foundation president Donn B. Miller.

"Dr. Deverell's research continues to enhance our understanding of the events and relationships that have helped to shape California," says Miller; "we are delighted to welcome him to the Foundation."

"I'm deeply honored by the appointment," says Deverell. "The Haynes Foundation is an extraordinary regional institution with a rich and important history. I look forward to the challenges of this position with great personal and professional excitement."

The Haynes Foundation, founded in 1926, supports social science research into policy issues of the Southern California region.

The California Council for the Humanities was established in 1975. It is a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities and an independent, nonprofit funder and creator of programs that seek to enrich California's cultural life, while strengthening the state's communities through public use of the humanities.