Ruth Tringham and Eric Blind

Recorded June 26, 2010 Archived June 26, 2010 01:21:23
0:00 / 0:00
Id: SFD000188


Eric, 35, interviews Ruth, 69, about her career as an archaeologist and her more recent involvement with The Presidio.

Subject Log / Time Code

Came to California in 1978, saw Presidio for first time. Then not again until 2000, became more involved in 2006.
Applying similar approaches to her pre-history work in her work at the Presidio.
Work at the Presidio has changed way she sees The Presidio, and her place in California. Feels like a native of San Francisco, now, has changed her identity.
Favorite parts of the Presidio; teaching students and dancing in the old ballroom.
Likes to imagine the person breaking the bread at the Presidio hundreds of years ago; less interested in the commandants.


  • Ruth Tringham
  • Eric Blind

Partnership Type

Fee for Service


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00:04 Good2Go, my name is Eric blind. I am 35 years old. Today is June 26th, 2010. I was here in the Presidio of San Francisco and the new archaeology lab building and I'm with my professor over it Berkeley my graduate advisor a good friend of mine.

00:32 My name is Ruth tringham. I'm 69 years old so I don't feel it.

00:38 Today is the 26th of June 2010 and we are in the Presidio of San Francisco sitting in the archaeology lab and very nice new building and my relationship to Eric blind is his colleague.

00:59 I'm also the supervisor of his Graduate Studies and he is also a very good friend.

01:09 I like the beginning archives. If you can remember the first time you came to the Presidio. And what do you what do you what do you thought you imagine when you got here or or maybe just a favorite memory? It doesn't have to be the first coming to this place. Well, you know, I'm a historian Eric. So I have to stop at the beginning then go on from there, but I won't go too far. I came to California in 1978 and actually even during that year was very soon after I was invited to the Presidio to a dinner at some kernels count some kernels house. It was when the Presidio is an Army Fort and I'm so damn nervous about coming to the US Army base and nobody have a stock Miata.

02:09 Drove in and I'm I found with difficulty the house but I never saw the main post then. Can you imagine it was like 20 years later that I actually came to the Presidio. Again. This was in 1999 something like that 2000 when the excavations Bob forces excavations. We're going on in the country of the name of the street now, but and I came to visit the excavation and actually was also visiting Amy renzi who was one of my supervisors. He's at that time. And so they that was the next time then again. I didn't come a tool until 2005 woke up at 6 when you were working with Michael Ashley and I came over then and it was it was the fastest.

03:09 All the collaboration with you and where was it was a completely different feeling than and was just you know, now I saw the whole of the the whole of the Presidio you took us on a tour and this time I went over into the military the old military psychology board the psychiatrique road and then had the joy of seeing where the old psychiatric patients used to do the exercising you offer this as a place where we might want to do. I have I have a recent face and eye Fulton you

03:52 I do remember that.

03:56 Oh as you of it as you started coming back to the Presidio more and more and got more involved with her our program and and bringing classes here, you know, can you eat? Can you work all the time that you felt connected to a particular place at the Presidio or that somehow the Presidio have a certain personal connection for you?

04:22 Well, I suppose I mean, I've always been interested in military history for some reason. I don't know quite why and this was something that I felt that this was a place that I could be very close to history of the last 300 years in North America in a way that I had never felt before so I gave me a completely different attitude to US history. That was that was just it was more emotionally connected suppose seeing something like seeing the gun emplacements of this person's First World War II World War and you know having being on the other end with I don't remember is to love the second world war in Europe, but to see it here in the Pacific was was very moving. I found one of the things one of the things which

05:22 I also found riddhi connective is I don't know that was one day that we were working in the El Presidio time of the late Seventeen hundreds and we were talking about the Native American workers and how they came from Mission Dolores. And then there was this whole conversation about you could hear the bells from Mission Dolores at San Francisco from the San Francisco Presidio brother and I sold now, we'd never be able to hear those bells because it's so much noise and then I still have felt this whole connection between that made me feel a connection between San Francisco the city where I've been living since 1980 and the Presidio of San Francisco that I had never felt before.

06:16 Wow, I like that.

06:24 But you know, you can hear the full cone of San Francisco Bay from the other in the Southeast corner of San Francisco where I live so there is that whole this is whole kind of Senses of taste. What can you hear in the city? And what counts you here? I was a really interesting connection. Do you like to do a lot of the senses and trying to get multiple senses involved in your in your in your research and it in people's understanding of the past it was it was it was the bells that was the one that really something that really struck me and they're there are many out of all the kinds of things and and in fact one of the reasons why I started to work here will get interested in coming back to the sent to San Francisco to do more research to San Francisco Presidio to do more research was that

07:22 This was a place where I could actually put into practice a lot of these sensitive Place research since it's a place in the past that kind of research that I bumped it to do over turkey where I was working on couldn't really put into practice, you know that kind of community scale. So the Presidio seemed to me in a kind of potential place where I could do that and of course through with people very sympathetic like yourself who was just encouraging me to be wilder and Wilder in my research aims like this.

08:02 Though I let you know as you've come to get further involved in the program and and go out on these whims a moment an event or a certain collaboration that helps you kind of reconfigure your your your understanding of the Presidio is past. Yes. I have to tell you that you are very very instrumental in doing this to you know, you welcomed me off to that conference that where we first met in Stanford. It was the archaeology of vision and we first met there and got talkin about

08:43 Of the senses of vision touch audio and so on and how important that was in the past and in sharing the past with other people but such as visitors to a Heritage Place like San Francisco Presidio and Michael very excited by this and then I came here and you are such a magnificent Storyteller that it was just you just transformed my whole impression all the Presidio as a really interesting place that was full of stories and stories that had yet to be understood to stories that has yet to be told and I just took my goodness. This is a place. I would really like to just

09:32 Spend a lot of time exploring those stories that was cool set with some stories that I started taking off from that you wouldn't let me take off from there was one of them out and about pet the general Spoon House. What was his name and his house burned down when he was busy fighting the war in Mexico and all his his wife and children were burned in it. And you thought of this isn't told me that story and we sold the place where the house was supposed to have stood and I was really I was really amazed at the story that nobody had sort of the reason why did this house burned down then that was a connection between the research that I've been doing in southeast Europe where people burn their houses down deliberately as a way to vary the houses and make sure that they were

10:33 The houses could be seen in future Generations because it made such a mess and that but that this connection here. So when I hear about General pershing's house burned down I immediately think there's got to be a reason why General Pershing house burned down. They just doesn't just happen by accident. It was a big house like that burn to the ground. So my first theory was following of these so my mystery novel interest is surely somebody did it deliberately to draw him away from the war in Mexico as a political statement interview. Eric said to me nonsense. It's nothing like that. It was an accident and you don't want to go there so I'm determined to go there sometimes but anyway, because of Point probably but no no no,

11:29 So his that would you consider that kind of a time that you were frustrated in your efforts to convey a bit of that was a time when I was frustrated, but I'm never frustrated to the extent that I'm not going to keep keep on at that question and at some point I know that will be Excavating General pershing's Boone ruins and I have it on tape matte whole but least on record. But so this this idea that they're all up Archaeology is very frustrating. Anyway, you know where all these questions that we want to ask all this information that we want to find out and stories that we'd like to be able to tell about people's daily lives and we come cuz we don't have the information.

12:27 When where I work in prehistoric turkey will Southeast Europe we have very little information just fragments, but here in the Presidio you have documents. You have a lot more but it's still very frustrating. If you can't always get your hands on those documents and that can be frustrating. But but I think I told changing now.

12:52 How to say what are the things I've I've always been impressed with as soon as you've mentioned, you know, you work on sites in turkey that are many thousands of years old and prehistoric settlements in southeast Europe and you've been able to take some of the approaches that you develop their and and and apply them to a place here in the Presidio that you know at its surface of it seems so different and I just wonder if you could talk to us a little bit about how you've got it made this a little bit of a transition and then applied some of these interesting multi-sensory understandings of place to seems like a very different place. Well, it's a lot of that ability to transfer transfer the the knowledge and the interest from prehistoric Eastern Europe and turkey to the San Francisco Presidio comes

13:51 Is is really based also in my interest in Sharing being able to share how I how I make my interpretations of archaeological data to share that process with the public and that's something I wanted to do in turkey and in southeast Europe and did to a certain extent through digital technology through web web publication, but here at the Presidio, it seems that they have the potential to do it is much greater because we have here because we're right nearest city. We have different kinds of internet technology and digital materials. We have resources right here at our doorstep and the possibility of collaborating with people that we don't have in the field in those other places. So a lot of what I'm interested in is the digital

14:50 Documentation and multimedia expression and representation of the past and that's what I really been interested in in transferring event the interest from what I did in prehistory or what I do in prehistory to the archaeology of the San Francisco Presidio. It's it's still archaeology the problems with challenges and the potential of sharing with the public is still the same the process of interpretation is still the same. It doesn't matter. But the day tours is more fragmentary there and let's hear more dependent on documents here than their the process of how we document that and how we share that is still the same and the process of how we interpret it in terms of the the senses of place the senses of the same, you know, there's been any different just because the slightly later

15:50 In the past later in history, then there however, the other thing that made it was very interesting full me was to be able to really do some put that into practice here in a way I couldn't in southeast Europe or turkey and one of the ways I put that into practice was through teaching Summer School courses, which you very generously allowed me to do and so we tour 433 Summers we taught some summer school courses for UC Berkeley at the Presidio and

16:31 Actually told the students or guided them how to how to critically analyze the data the media sources and the other documents from in terms of in terms of a cuticle informational stories about the past and you took one of those courses I hang out with and you're just before you became a graduate student at Berkeley and you created these all the students had to create these five minutes films about the Presidio and it was it was fantastic. It was something we couldn't possibly really have done except right on our doorstep. It was a non-residential course and so students when I went back each day and then but it was it was just something that would have been very difficult to do outside of the city.

17:27 And then the other two courses were about documenting to guiding students teaching them how to document digitally in a very structured way very rigorous way how to how to actually document what they saw or what they found and document the process by which they interpreted them and so I'm using digital technology and you know, this is the way of the future it's got to be done like that and it was it was great. Just it was a way of me looking to see what what what could I do? What can I contribute to what was going on at the Presidio?

18:09 So and then you invited me to try this interpretive plan at the Presidio, which was fantastic. I love I love working with Adrian Priscilla's on that and it was it was it was a list of series of dreams. You know, how would we how would we really like to have an interpretive Trail around the Presidio at some of how would we what would we like to have intercourse Adrian and I are very much into interpretation and being able to let your imagination fly. But in a in a rigorous way you basing it on the archaeological information and that was such such a joy to write that because I thought maybe this can actually happen. It wasn't just a dream. It could actually see something because I live here and it's right here on my doorstep.

19:09 And the people is supportive at the Presidio. We could actually do some really really interesting stuff that I couldn't do it in other places. So is all the students that you kind of guided here at the Presidio as I like how you say guided appreciate that the Presidio and learn from their project has it hasn't changed the way that you understand this place or it's past as you as you've seen this these stories come to life these bits of History kind of get teased apart and movies and and different bits of documentation. Is it changed how you approach who entirely entirely I mean I come here when when we have visitors, I I bring them to the Presidio. I say it's really interesting place. They're always there.

20:09 Movie Sting the stories about it and I try to remember the stories you told us in and then repeat them probably in a gobble sentence that I try and but it's just the kinds of things that we've done in the Old Presidio project and the polling just doing the interpretation of that and just being able to explore the many many different stories and then all the stories have come up in during the other courses like the story is over. I didn't even know before I told that course in 2007. Where is Fort Scott? I thought I had to find it and that nobody else seemed to know either I couldn't get a straight on sore. Where is. And of course it's very clear where it is, but that that this is a huge Rich resource of

21:09 The history of that time and it's a completely different time from the Presidio time, you know, you got here three hundred years of History, which I had competing entirely unaware of before and now I'm very very aware of the different periods and how that affected the landscape and Imagining the different the different architectures is going through especially because this is all parallel with you.

21:43 Yoho study in the Officers Club, you're not that the room the Mesa room, which is so fantastic. I'll show him in a nutshell all of the all of the different architectural Styles really the different lives of the people that have I love that and then the the when we did see see your study of the media literacy, the students went off and found stuff that I didn't know about about the laundry the launderette. I didn't know about that and then I want one of the things I loved was State connections.

22:24 This really has made a huge difference to me the connections. That's all there between San Francisco the city or you have a brain or whatever. It was cold and San Francisco Presidio. I had you know, I would lived in San Francisco's I said since 1980 and I never visited the Presidio and yet now I realize that the San Francisco Presidio is nintendrew part of the history of San Francisco in a way that I had no idea is intertwined incredibly. There's one of the students in the media literacy course did a film on Chinatown Chinatown has connections with the San Francisco Presidio, you know this whole thing. It was not separated at all in that something that I have learned and I'm very grateful for now much more interested in San Francisco History than I ever was it what is I suppose in a way was it done?

23:23 Is to make give me a very different attitude to living in San Francisco. Then I had before before 2000 written that has nothing to do with becoming a citizen. It was I know I have the whole working at the Presidio has allowed me to feel very very proud and definitely part of being a San Franciscan. I feel like I am a native on now as much as one can ever be a native of San Francisco and the Presidio has done that for me. You know, I'm no longer and I don't feel myself in spite of the accent an expatriate. I know I speak beautifully but pets that has nothing to do with my my feeling of identity. I don't feel myself identified with the place where my accent comes from

24:18 Nearly as much as I feel a part of San Francisco as fascinating so, you know, that's a threat of you know, what the city because of you work here.

24:43 Is there any is there any spot a real particular place at the Presidio that I don't know that the helps you with that what that feeling. Is there any any you know, I guess I'm kind of looking for maybe your favorite place that it was in the Presidio hours after that is really resonated for you. So, you know, you'll get a laugh if I tell you a lot of problems which was the jail house in the in the California when it's doing the 18 hundreds board member of the peak of Deepika when the video was expanded to make a logical drangel the smaller one.

25:43 On the car park. I thought that was brilliant. It really is because anyone with imagination you standing there is something about standing in the place under which the prison the jailhouse is and there's this and you can't this feeling of really it's being part of it. It's that corner or the corner where the there are various little rooms there and they're identified on the mat as what they were and there's the the governor's room where

26:19 I got remember that this is tearing them where the door so who fell in love with the Russian. So those that those places and that, you know, that's that's one of my it's one of the things I love to do that I love to sew to still go and stand around when one can when they're on cause hand in there in that area. And I think that would be something that would be great to to try to develop for I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling that I'm sure the other people could be drawn into that hole imaginary. This is where it was idea. I was just do I killed yesterday and he said further their school program. They go at Katy put them in that room and then they'll pretend like they're locked in it and they can't get out.

27:19 I mean, I'm still I'm still a little frustrated Puppeteer, which is why I'm so interested in Alpha media another favorite place. I have to tell you one more favorite place is over in the Fort Scott area. I found that. Area quite quite a strong emotionally passion it interesting in motion sensors of place there because I suppose it's less changed this entirely destroyed and some of the other places. I know it's a recent history, but there are two two places over there that I found three perhaps three places and they have to do with your you were asking to ask me about experiences with students that I have any interesting experience of students. Will this one of the places is the Officers Club of Fort Scott?

28:17 Which has is fantastic Ballroom. I know you got Sample Room here in the other Officers Club and it's very large. That was much smaller. And there was when we were doing the course on Fort Scott in 2071 group of students was supposed to be documenting the Officers Club. They were in there and I went along to keep an eye on him see what they were up to and they kind of putzing around and trying to think what would they know? What would this have being and what would this room will be so I encouraged them and we all started bouncing around in the ballroom as though we were in the 1911 Bowl made with singing the song Ballroom song and dancing. It was very fun and it has a little ghosts but building

29:10 So that's one and then there's another place that doesn't have anything to do with students, but I found really just somewhere I would I could I don't know. I just had a feeling about it and it's a place where they played handball. I think it's near where the tennis court. So it's like a handball court, please anyting down there, but you woke down some steps and you come to this cool thing. Very strange. I found that full of ghosts to then. There's another place we're doing the Fort Scott course again, the two students were supposedly looking at one of the gun emplacement areas not coming placement. It's a place. We must have been a gun in the basement where they are and where they stored ammunition.

30:10 This is God house that is completely overgrown. And so one day I went with these student. So we started clearing this clearing the over the wall of the brambles and Nestle's and so I'm off this building and it was fantastic to watch these students say they have never done anything like this before and kind of clearing this since finding this plane leave his little God house signal station is signal house where they would the guy would send the signal of how they would how they were supposed to get the guns ready for shooting to say never did shoot anything. But anyway, we revealed signal station and immediately were all in there pretending we are signals people.

31:06 Really silly but it's just you know, you can do that to you these places that seem to be forgotten and yet something to get revealed and let you know. It's what we do in archaeology. We suddenly review places that have been hidden for many years. It's it's it's great. So it's a ton of potential here and there is something magical about finding those spots that still have yet to be discovered. I know you like doing it too because I think you may even have helped us that day.

31:43 Oh my God, I see her.

31:47 Yeah.

31:51 The first time I like I was I was working.

31:57 Did the Stanford thing? Yeah, that was that was the first time but I remember the first time I ever call meeting you here was I was working the Mesa room and with Michael like you said and I knew very much about you and your work and

32:19 And I remember he said Professor Trina might come by and I was home. I could Professor train somebody come by and I was like, oh gosh you work for me 9000 year old houses and here I am thinking around with this 200 year old Adobe came in and I remember you said this this looks just like this place isn't look at those bricks. That was one of the one of the big connections to it wasn't just the burned House of General Pershing, but it was also the Adobe the fact that they these these these buildings here.

33:09 With built-in the same as mud brick just to say we call it might break U-Pull-It Adobe, but it's basically the same thing as sun-dried brick and that here it was and you were revealing it and it was tough. I was so impressed and look what those victorians did over it and they put a weave wooden boards over it and hid This Magnificent mud brick house that where is what they what they would have done during Spanish time is to do what they did mine thousand years ago in Turkey, which is to plaster is over and you put layers and layers of Plasti, which is perhaps what they did over in the Lord's Buckeye. I'm in the Mission Dolores Mission, whatever his name anyway, the mission of San Francisco and I remembered that there was this whole argument that was going on at that time in 2005. Mm.

34:09 6005 which which was the oldest building and it seemed to me. Oh my goodness this building and it's only 200 years old and who cares which is the ugliest building and I do remember that and but for you people it was a big deal who came in the room and you saw wasn't surprising to see that same mud-brick surprising. I had no idea that there was the same material and the same technique. I had somehow thought that it would be more what we could wattle and daub which would be, you know, wooden framework and basket and then with Clay plopped on the beach.

35:09 Side, but yet I should have known because I'm Bob reverse who is also has significantly affected the way I look at the Presidio Bob Bush when she was a graduate student came and worked with us at Kentucky and she came specifically to to understand how to excavate mud-brick and somehow I hadn't put the two things together. Of course. She wants to know she's Excavating here. So she came to Chattahoochee up to see how we excavated how we dealt with documenting the mud brick architecture and it was something she was using for her dissertation work and that was in 1997 or 98 that she came to work with us 1998. She came and the very next year will that yes, she was Excavating.

36:09 In the Presidio, I think she was that's funny.

36:24 So if this is a kind of a random question, but

36:31 After you do as you if I delve into a lot of these stories, is there any particular character and the past? It doesn't have to be maybe a specific person like General Pershing but kind of a class of folk in the past that you wish you could you could kind of delve into their history and no other about it more about noon their sense of place or their understanding.

36:59 I suppose in a way it's interesting that you ask that because in many ways, I'm really interested to know. How did people who came by boat.

37:13 And then came, you know to the to the harbor will Jetty or however, they got to the to the Presidio. How did they view the Presidio is they came to it in different periods of its history. You know, what how did that change? Cuz you know what the dick look like for them. How did they feel I would love to I think that it would be a wonderful wonderful thing to imagine and that's what I do. Imagine. How did the will we know? You know how that British how the British Naval person because he wrote about it. But many of them didn't write about it. There must have been hundreds of of visiting ships bringing a trading Goods or just you know coming in for shelter or whatever. How did they what was their impression of the Presidio San Francisco? And how many of them would have continued around to where the little tiny town of yoga?

38:13 I was beginning to grow up. You know, what was what was their impression as they saw these different places of visit this visitors or as people coming to settle

38:27 Open Brightest it in that yellow thing. I'm very interested in getting into the sin to the sensibilities of the perceptions of people in the everyday. Just the person who baked the bread.

38:53 What was the role did they do? What was what did people do what did they see? What did they hear?

39:00 What was their whole? What did they smell is there walking around inside the Presidio? Did they see any done? Very interested in the the boundaries? Did they see any was the Presidio wall, was it a listen to real boundary falls on this is especially during the El Presidio times. Did they feel now? I'm in the Presidio now, I'm not in the Presidio. Do they know? You know, what's the what's the boundary like for them? I think is is a really interesting today.

39:37 Yeah, so about to be every day and how that changes through time and just a regular people people working. Not the common then I don't know about Colin Dunst the Native American the Native Americans unit was the baker in Native American or was he know she who was she was happy and children's viewpoints are also really interesting. It's good to think about everybody's perceptions to use your imagination for that.

40:13 I think it's very very important. I telling you this a ton of imaginative stories to be written proof. We've come to our end of time. Have we really all I know?