Oral History Projects

Discussion devoted to specific oral history projects. No matter what the stage (beginning, middle, or completed and available for access) or the venue (online or library or museum or historical society or?)

Katrina and The Flood, We Watched Everything Float Away

NEW ORLEANS (Aug. 29, 2005) - Flooded roadways can be seen as the Coast Guard conducts initial Hurricane Katrina damage assessment overflights here today.  U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Petty Officer 2nd Class Kyle Niemi Podcast memories of Katrina and the flood, from Louisiana State University’s Oral History Program. This is the second in the Katrina retrospective, using oral histories.

The MP3 audio podcast (playable right in the browser window) contains numerous clips from interviewees.

It was through listening to this podcast that I learned of the Floodwall exhibit and oral history that I wrote about in the previous post.

NOAA photo of New Orleans. Taken September 11, 2005 (Stick through the first minute of audio of the recording—unfortunately, the first 50 seconds of the 27-minute recording is boomy with that icky metallic note of excessive audio compression. It seriously gets much, much better after that. I nearly clicked away a few seconds in, thinking the entire recording would be like the first part, but I was very glad I stuck out the first minute.)

Some highlights from the podcast, with recollections of Katrina:

How memories of Hurricane Betsy (1965) helped one person decide what, exactly, to ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on September 02, 2010 in • HistoryOral History Projects
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Katrina and The Flood, 5 years later: Floodwall

Floodwall exhibit detail at Louisiana State University, 2007. Image from the Floodwall.org Flickr photostream. How can you possibly imagine the destruction of an entire city? How do you imagine an event so impossibly large? How do you get past “the mind boggles”? Floodwall is an art installation, a “Wailing Wall” with an oral history component. The brainchild of Jana Napoli of New Orleans, Floodwall is a way to wrap your mind around the destruction of New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina and the Flood.

NOAA Satellite Image of Katrina on the Gulf Coast of the United States Her art installation is a collection of household drawers, scrounged from the post-flood detritus from cleaned out houses. When Napoli returned back to New Orleans after the flood, she was stunned by the silence of the empty city. “I saw these emptied out drawers and thought, ‘Each one of these is a household.’ I began to collect them.” On the back of each drawer, she wrote the address where she picked it up. She couldn’t stop collecting them.

NOAA image of flooded New Orleans. Only rooftops are visible above the waterline.

Napoli: “The problem is, where do you save—the first 50 were easy; they went out in the garage—where do you save 700 dresser drawers while they dry out and fall apart?”

Drawers arranged to resemble tombstones, at the exhibit in New York City, January 2007. Image by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid, How can a person imagine the immensity of ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on August 31, 2010 in • HistoryOral History Projects
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Fascinating Oral Histories Online

Twelve collections of online oral histories, described by Kimberly Powell (About.com Genealogy). From stories collected by the Federal Writers Projects, to slave narratives, to Japanese internment camps, the holocaust, war stories from the Veterans History Project, A southern cotton mill, and the southern United States, and Voices of Feminism. [via Pennington Research Online]

From Kimberly Powell’s introduction:

Even if you aren’t lucky enough to find your ancestor’s history preserved online, you can learn a lot about them by reading oral histories of their contemporaries - neighbors, people from the same ethnic community, individuals who had similiar experiences (e.g. same Japanese internment camp), etc. There is no better way to understand the history that you came from than through the words of the people who lived it first-hand.

To her list, I’ll add another one, the Big Daddy List of oral history collections, part of a larger collection of first-person narratives: In the First Person—search results for oral history repositories (60 results) and ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on March 04, 2009 in • Online Oral History CollectionsOral History Projects
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Sens Feinstein, et. al., introduce bill to create Civil Rights Oral History Project

From Sen. Feinstein’s office: “Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today introduced legislation to create a Civil Rights Oral History Project, a joint effort between the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress to collect oral histories of those involved in the Civil Rights Movement and preserve them for future generations.” It will be like the Veterans History Project in that it would be a project of the Library of Congress

Just saw word of this from Senator Feinstein via Twitter. I asked how it will differ from the Voices of Civil Rights project, which I wrote about yesterday. The Voices of Civil Rights project is a joint project, where the Library of Congress is one of the sponsors, along with AARP and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR).

While I was poking around on the Voices of Civil Rights site yesterday, I had a question to ask them—is the project still conducting any interviews, or is their total populatino of interviews limited to those collected during their national bus tour in 2004. Good question, right? The email address doesn’t work, though: It bounced!  Doesn’t need an act ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on February 09, 2009 in • Oral History ProjectsVeterans History Project
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Recommended reading for hard times… Hard Times

Hard Times Studs Terkel Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression, the book, by Studs Terkel. It’s a compilation of oral history interviews he held with people about their experience of The Great Depression.

imageThe breadth of his interviewees and their experiences is what makes the book so good. The reader gets a good snapshot of life from many different perspectives from all strata of American society. No one is excluded. Wall Street barons and the great crash of 1929—those who got out of the market in time and those who did not. The adman who got rich during the Great Depression. People who helped to set up the Public Works program, including the Public Works Administration guy who hired Dorothea Lange, photographer, and what he did to ensure the survival of those amazing photographs. People who were profoundly grateful for the assistance programs during the 30s, and people who said ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on September 16, 2008 in • BooksOral History Projects
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StoryCorps for scientists

The PEW Scholars oral history program: “A rich history in the scientific process,” is run by the Chemical Heritage Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts. The Scientist article (free site membership required to view entire article, fooey.) describes the project’s background – originally run by UCLA – and its current state (digitization, full speed ahead!). Oral history captures essential information about what it takes to make and be a scientist– the stuff and ephemera and process that does not get recorded in scientific journal articles.

David Caruso, the project’s director, has an office filled with cassette tapes.

[A] cassette player cabled to a digital recorder that runs almost continuously. [David] Caruso, who now runs the joint Pew-CHF oral history project, is digitizing the interviews sent from UCLA, but the recorder only works in real-time and each interview lasts from four to twelve hours. It is a monumental task, but Caruso believes it’s worthwhile. “Science is not just produced in papers,” he says. “There’s a rich history to the scientific process,” including the beliefs, personal experiences, and even misconceptions of the scientists, he notes. Oral histories let us capture those otherwise lost aspects, ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on July 23, 2008 in • Oral history in the newsOral History Projects
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Jeannette Rankin, first woman congressperson

Transcript of an oral history interview with Rankin. I just read two letters written by my Great Grandma Fannie in 1917 that refer to Jeanette Rankin (she was elected in 1916, began her term in Congress in April, 1917… This was when the state of Montana granted women the right to vote, but before the right to vote was won nationwide.). Rankin wrote my great-grandmother to ask her advice on matters of “Indian Affairs.” Fannie taught school on the Crow reservation.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on in • MemorabiliaOral History ProjectsPersonal History
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Spirit Lake, Idaho Oral History Project

Oral History training February 20th as part of effort to complete an oral history project for the Spirit Lake Centennial Celebration. The link leads to fellow blogger Miriam at Ancestories; she’s got all the details.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on February 09, 2008 in • Do it: Learn HowOral History Projects
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StoryCorps appointment—yeehaw!

In the last few days, I did what I wanted to do two years ago– book an appointment on the traveling StoryCorps booth. My brother and I booked two back-to-back appointments for the StoryCorps booth for a Saturday in January at MacArthur Park, Los Angeles. We’ll each interview one of our parents. I am so stoked.

Two years ago, I receive the weekly email updates for StoryCorps. I followed their progress of the West Coast booth… and the year ended in San Francisco. No new place or date was announced. Then it was the holidays, and I turned my mind to other things. After returning from the mental sojourn, I discovered that StoryCorps was in the general LA area, and all times were booked, sorry. This time around, I got in on the appointment-booking day (first attempt was 5am before starting another leg of the families holiday roadtrip adventure). They weren’t taking bookings at 5am, but they were later that day, when I was in the presence of Mom and Dad and Bro4. Bro4 and I each got on the fone ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on December 31, 2007 in • Oral History ProjectsPersonal History
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Thou shalt not send media to Veterans History Project through U.S. Postal Mail

Side view of a CD that arrived to the Veterans History Project via regular US Post Office mail. When you send your submission, use a commercial delivery service, says the Veterans History Project. Otherwise our screening procedures will obliterate your submissions. I saw dramatic proof of this at the Oral History Association annual meeting in a presentation from the Veterans Health Administration and Veterans History Project.

Talk about Warp Speed! Here’s another view of the damaged disk. This is also a cautionary tale about making sure that you create more than one disk. Redundancy is good. Oh, and make a backup, so you have a second copy. Did I say that redundancy is good? Yep. Thought so.

Top view of a CD that arrived to the Veterans History Project via regular US Post office mail.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on December 19, 2007 in • Oral History ProjectsVeterans History Project
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David Isay will be at Vroman’s Tonight

imageDavid Isay, founder of StoryCorps, will be making an appearance at Vroman’s (local independent bookstore) tonight to talk about and sign the StoryCorps book, Listening Is an Act of Love, A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project.

The storybooth is also in town, in Santa Monica, for the second time (Nov. 8-Dec 8, 2007). Like the first time in Santa Monica, news of its appearance snuck up on me, unawares. However, this time around the Storybooth schedule says there’ll be there’ll be a Los Angeles Storybooth, and I know when signups begin.


Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 12, 2007 in • BooksOral History Projects
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Densho Project: Remembering the Japanese Internment

The Densho project is named for the term “to pass on to the next generation,” or to leave a legacy. The Project’s mission is “to preserve the testimonies of Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II before their memories are extinguished. We offer these irreplaceable firsthand accounts, coupled with historical images and teacher resources, to explore principles of democracy and promote equal justice for all.”

A few highlights of the site:

Sites of shame: A flash site where you can learn more about the different types and locations of internment camps. (link goes to intro page; you click a link on that page to launch Flash app)

They have a learning center with a select sample of interviews from their archives, some of which they just posted to YouTube.

The site has extensive archives; you need to register to get full access. It’s free, and mostly geared toward education, but they want you to read their agreement about the archival materials and understand what you can and cannot do with them. It took about a day for me to receive my username and password from the Densho Project.

...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on October 04, 2007 in • Online Oral History CollectionsOral History Projects
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Two stories from a Latino WW2 Oral History archive: War in the Pacific

Here are two excerpts from the oral history project that has interviewed Latino World War 2 veterans. A trip through news search engines brings lots of latino response to Ken Burns not-including and then including stories of latinos in The War. I’m less interested in reactions than in the stories themselves. So I’ll dip into one oft-cited oral history archive to find stories that keep with the theme of “last night’s show” for inclusion here.

Today, two stories from the Pacific theatre of war: Bataan death march and being taken prisoner of war by the Japanese.

From the narrative of Philip James Benavides, who served in the Pacific. He was a musician that was part of the Marine Band; he fought on Guadalcanal and Bouganville, and was taken prisoner of war.

Circumstances forced the 9th Marine bandsmen into combat as they headed back to the frontlines to replenish supplies and retrieve the wounded and the dead.

“It was unbelievable. The more we battled,” he said. “I guess you could say you got used to it.”

Hungry and tired, the Marines would eat anything they could scrounge up, including roots and grubworms.

After contracting (and recuperating from) malaria, he went island-hopping again in the Pacific

On Nov. 1, 1943, Staff Sgt. ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on September 24, 2007 in • Online Oral History CollectionsOral History ProjectsVeterans History Project
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Yessss! A Mention in the US News cover story!!!

USNWR Sept 27 2007 cover
US News: Making History, by Alex Kingsbury. “From World War II soldiers to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina, more people are sharing their own memories to bring the past back to life.” I spoke with him back in June, the story mentions me and this site. Color me stoked. I’m planning to do a roundup of stories about Ken Burns and The War; I’m tickled that one of them will be slightly self-referential.

I discovered it this afternoon, immediately after posting Genealogy Carnival, after I took my broken-footed boyfriend to doctor’s office. So glad they subscribe to around 4 copies of US News & World Report. They said I could have a copy before I even said, “I’m in here. My name is right here.” 

Ahem. Back to business. There are several related articles and sidebars in this issue. In addition to the main story talking about the phenomenon of oral history and personal memory projects, there are these stories:

A Ken Burns profile—An Intimate View of ‘The War’.

Tips for Recording Oral Histories. Emphasis on equipment and video, and the wisdom of Donald Ritchie, author of Doing Oral ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on September 18, 2007 in • Oral history in the newsOral History ProjectsVeterans History Project
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Carnival of Genealogy: Family Wartime Stories

Welcome to the 32nd Carnival of Genealogy. The theme: Family Stories of Wartime. The entries span the Revolutionary War to the Korean Conflict.

On the same day I was reading through the submitted entries, I asked my SO to set the TiVo to record all seven episodes of Ken Burns’s The War (begins Sunday, 23 September on PBS), a 14+ hour documentary that tells the story of World War 2 through the eyes of ordinary people from four American communities. “In extraordinary times, there are no ordinary lives.” We also watched a documentary that the TiVo recorded earlier this year: The Perilous Fight: WW2 in color. Color motion picture was accompanied by excerpts from diaries and letters written by those who lived it. It was a (mostly) sober couple of hours of non-Glenn Miller getting In The Mood (er, not that mood) for the Carnival, and for the upcoming Ken Burns documentary.

Ken Burns and PBS are promoting the The Veteran’s History Project (VHP), a nationwide oral history project to record and preserve the stories of Americans in wartime at the Library of Congress.

Pearl Harbor

The common theme of the documentaries, the VHP, and this carnival: Great historical events do not belong to the Kings and Queens, Presidents and Prime Ministers, War Secretaries and Generals, decision makers and strategists. When one nation fights another, the war is experienced from family to family, household to household. Whether victim, refugee, prisoner, laborer, soldier, the events of that war seep into every corner of a nation.

So here are some stories of war from the households of family (and neighbors) of the carnival partipants.

Revolutionary War

Revolutionary War-era maps and charts

Randy Seaver at Genea-Musings tells us the story of Patriot Soldier, Isaac Buck, one of his favorite ancestors and his service and war pension. Good for Isaac Buck that he received a pension, and good for Randy that the records are there to tell him of his ancestor.


Randy’s story mentions Ticonderoga; Here’s a map of Ticonderoga with authentick informations, 1777, from Library of Congress Memory Project. (My grandfather’s 100th birthday party was in the Village of Ticonderoga, or “Ti” as we call it)

The Revolutionary War is also known as “the First Civil War,” according to Tim Abbot of Walking the Berkshires. His account ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on in • GenealogyHistoryOral History ProjectsVeterans History Project
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