J.S. Holliday, 82, Historian of the California Gold Rush

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J.S. Holliday, who wrote a standard history of California’s Gold Rush based on journals and letters of the era uncovered during 30 years of painstaking research, died August 31 at his Carmel, Calif., home. He was 82.

A former museum director and university librarian as well as scholar, Holliday was best known for his book “The World Rushed In: The California Gold Rush Experience,” which has remained in print since its original publication in 1981. A classic of western history, it is notable for an innovative narrative style that blends the voices of the miners and the families they left behind with Holliday’s commentary and analysis.

Documentarian Ken Burns, who featured Holliday in his PBS series “The West,” called himself a “huge fan” of the Gold Rush expert.

Born Jaquelin Smith Holliday II in Indianapolis on June 10, 1924, Holliday preferred to go by his initials; friends called him Jim. His father, William, was a steel company executive who had a great interest in western Americana.

At Yale University, the younger Holliday majored in history but his education was interrupted by World War II, when he served in the Pacific as a second lieutenant in the Navy. He returned to Yale after the war and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1948.

After earning his doctorate in history at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1958, he served four years as assistant director of the university’s Bancroft Library. During the 1960s he taught history as an associate professor at what is now San Francisco State University and was an editor at American West magazine.

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