Melissa JacobsonMelissa Jacobson

Melissa Jacobson of Lafayette, DVC professor of history at the San Ramon Valley Center, has been appointed the newest member of the Contra Costa County Historical Society board of directors. The board represents more than a dozen local museums and hundreds of members in Contra Costa County.

Jacobson’s responsibilities as a board member include fiscal oversight of the Historical Society, coordination of exhibits and events, and planning for development and growth of the historical society, among others.

A professor at the San Ramon Valley Center since 1995, Jacobson previously taught at Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University.

She has a bachelor’s degree in history from Seattle University, and a Master’s Degree in the Philosophy of History (a research degree in history) from Glasgow University in Scotland.

The board appointment is of special interest to Jacobson, as she recently completed a six-month sabbatical leave during which she connected with local historical societies.

“At the end of my sabbatical, I created a travel study course, ‘WWII in the East Bay,’ ” Jacobson said. “It is an online class that covers six East Bay cities: Richmond, El Cerrito, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland and Alameda. Students visit the main webpage that has detailed information about WWII in these locations, as well as unique interviews with people who lived during the time.” There is also a podcast for each city that students download onto an iPod or Mp3 player and take with them as they tour each city.

“I love the fact that this class gets students out of the classroom and into the real world, interfacing with our local history,” Jacobson said. “One of the very best comments from students about the course is that they now have fun, unique places to go to spend time with their family.”

For instance, she said, they can take a drive out to Point Molate, have lunch or coffee in Point Richmond, and then take a tour on the Red Oak Victory ship.

“While conducting research for my class,” Jacobson said, “I visited a number of local historical societies. The History Center in Martinez was particularly arresting because it was so well organized and the staff is so in tune and engaged about our local history. They were excited to provide help and enjoyed ‘digging up’ whatever pertained to my WWII taste for that day’s research–whether it was Sally Rand photos or Japanese nurseries.

“The Richmond Museum and the Point Richmond Museum are also special to me because I met several people–nearly all volunteers–who are so committed to preserving local history,” she continued. “They were able to produce–on the spot– photographs of WWII defense housing and everything pertaining to the four Kaiser Shipyards. Volunteers also helped me to locate WWII-era individuals to interview, and I went into people’s homes and heard unique WWII stories.

“The local historical societies in Contra Costa County are a real treasure, not only their holdings, but all of the dedicated volunteers who assist researchers who try to make sense out of our past,” Jacobson continued. “At the time of my research, I felt very fortunate to be able to be involved with other people who love local history. It’s hard to describe what it feels like to share a love or a passion (like history) with another group of people. How excited have you been about sharing red and blue ration tokens with someone? Or a dance card from a WWII-era high school dance? Or, why you traded Kleenex for a car ride? This is why I started thinking about becoming more involved in our local historical societies. I enjoy working with volunteers at our local museums. They provide a priceless service to all of us by making access to historical documents and photographs less of a mystery and more of a reality.”