The Archives of Hayden V. White

A deep dive into the legacy of a former UCSC professor

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White encouraged students to express their creativity and not feel restricted by abstract rules. Photo by Maria Cordova

Hayden V. White was a pivotal figure in the history of the UC system. He waged legal battles against the Los Angeles Police Department and steered the history of consciousness (HisCon) program at UC Santa Cruz in its formative days. He devoted his life to research and philosophy, but above all, he lived to engage and support students by challenging the status  quo.  

Patrick King and Christian Alvarado, two HisCon doctoral candidates, curated “Archival Research as Penance: The Papers and Library of Hayden V. White” in the Special Collections & Archives Reading Room at McHenry Library, dedicating the exhibit to White’s original papers and  archives.

Upon entering the quiet area, visitors are greeted by an array of glass display cases — filled with work from White’s former students, articles written about White, his floppy disks and personal notes, among other rare  pieces.

White was not just a humanities scholar, but also a foundational character in humanities programs at every university he taught at, including  UCSC. 

As chair of the HisCon program in the 1980s and ‘90s, White brought a diverse set of teachers and faculty, creating an interdisciplinary department. He emphasized making space for students to express unorthodox thoughts and various perspectives toward social and political issues.

“He brought people like Donna Haraway, who was one of the major feminist theorists of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s,” King said. “He brought people like James Clifford, who rethought the foundations of anthropology and anthropological thought, and people like Angela  Davis.”

White’s support of radical thought didn’t stop with hiring professors of different backgrounds. He also encouraged his students to express themselves creatively and to think outside the box, earning him letters of appreciation, which also occupy the display cases.

The image at left displays student work that White saved for future generations. Photo by Maria Cordova

Alix Norton, archivist for the Center for Archival Research and Training, worked closely with Alvarado and King for this project. In particular, Norton helped decide which pieces would be best received by the public.

“My favorite items, though, have to be the audiocassette recordings of some of his ‘Introduction to History of Consciousness’ courses from the 1980s,” Norton said in an email. “He had such a commanding voice and a love for teaching that is immediately apparent when you listen to the tapes, and I’ve enjoyed learning a bit more about HistCon from White himself.”

Aside from his impact on UCSC, a large part of White’s legacy centers around his activism against the LAPD during the  1970s. 

“During his time as a professor at UCLA, the LAPD was essentially infiltrating college campuses in order to surveil and collect information of students and professors deemed radical or threatening to the state,” Alvarado said in an email. “Hayden White became the face of the legal battle against the LAPD, ultimately leading to the state of California ruling that the surveillance actions undertaken by the police was unconstitutional.”

In winning the California Supreme Court case White v. Davis, White helped secure police surveillance restrictions on college campuses. 

White saved research, writing and teaching files to his labeled floppy disks. Photo by Maria Cordova

Newspaper articles, court records and original letters from those affected can be found in the display cases, which happen to be both Alvarado’s and King’s favorite parts of the exhibit. 

“The White exhibit is a bit more tucked away within our reading room. It’s a much more intimate experience for visitors to come in and view the materials on display,” Norton said in an email. “This exhibit is also a great way to see what an archival collection actually looks like!”

A detailed description of each item on display can be found at tinyurl.com/white-archive.

“Archival Research as Penance: The Papers and Library of Hayden V. White” will be on display until March  20.