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Robert Levinson was an historian, educator, and author who specialized in the history of Jews in the western United States. His doctoral dissertation, "The Jews in the California Gold Rush", was published in 1978 and it remains the major work about the history of the Jews during the California Gold Rush. Levinson was a professor of history (1967-1980) and the director of the Sourisseau Academy for State and Local History (1973-1976) at California's San Jose State University. He played a leading role in founding San Jose State's Jewish Studies Program in 1975 and he was its first director. As an executive vice-president for the Judah L. Magnes Museum's Commission for the Preservation of Pioneer Jewish Cemeteries and Landmarks (1968-1973, 1977-1978), Levinson helped renovate and publicize pioneer Jewish cemeteries in California's Mother Lode. He also served as a cantor for Congregation Beth David in Saratoga, California and as a cantor, leader of services, and a lecturer for Congregation Shir Ami in Castro Valley, Calif.
The collection consists of Robert Levinson's correspondence and files, drafts, and a card file relating to his dissertation on Jews and the California Gold Rush. The correspondence includes personal correspondence, professional correspondence (on writings, conferences, and general academic matters), research correspondence, correspondence relating to Levinson's work with the Commission for the Preservation of Pioneer Jewish Cemeteries and Landmarks, genealogy and family history correspondence, correspondence with historical societies, museums and other Jewish heritage organizations, and correspondence from Levinson's cantorial and rabbinical work. The research correspondence, which dates circa between 1962 and 1979, is particularly rich with information about the Jews of California and the western United States during the Gold Rush. Among the dissertation materials in the collection are research files on a range of Gold Rush era subjects, towns, and families; drafts of Levinson's thesis; and a card file that consists of Levinson's attempt to index Mother Lode newspapers from circa 1850 through 1880 for Jewish content. Newspapers indexed include those from the following California towns: Angels, Columbia, Downieville, Grass Valley, Jackson, Mammoth Tree Grove, Mariposa, Mokelumne Hill, Nevada City, Placerville, San Andreas, San Francisco (for content relating to Jews in the Mother Lode counties), Sonora, Sutter Creek, and Volcano.