Oral history in the news

News stories pertaining to oral history

Oral History helps reveal how Connecticut town influenced young Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. Getty Images. 1999-2011. Photo by Reg Lancaster / Express/ Getty Images Early life influences on Martin Luther King revealed through oral history and research in the town of Simsbury, Connecticut. What was already known: MLK spent part of his youth working in the tobacco fields in Connecticut to earn money for school. What was recently discovered: his leadership among his peers and the experience of equality shaped his life. High school students researched how their home town played a key role in shaping the life of this Atlanta teenager.

[Simsbury High School students John] Conard-Malley and [Nicole] Beyer led the research project, which included going through books and old articles, and gathering oral history from people like 105-year-old Bernice Martin who says King went to her church in Simsbury.

“He had a good voice,” Martin said. “He sang in the choir.”

They put their findings in a video. It tells the story of King’s two summers in Simsbury - at the age of 15 and again at 18 - when he lived here in the dorms provided by the tobacco company.

Simsbury, Connecticut: The location where Martin Luther King Jr. spent a couple of summers working in the tobacco fields. Today in Simsbury, the video was premiered for the town in its local commemoration of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Tying together news accounts from ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on January 17, 2011 in • Oral history in the news
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Saturday Evening Post: Interviewing Family During Holidays

Cover of the November/December 2010 issue of The Saturday Evening Post Whee! I’m in America’s oldest magazine. The cover story of the November/December 2010 issue of The Saturday Evening Post is about finding out more about your family’s history over holiday visits.

The five pages of the magazine covers ways to explore your family’s history, from asking questions of family members to genealogical research, in an article by Doug Donaldson, and one by Stephen C. George.

Plus there’s helpful advice. In a sidebar. I’m quoted there. About avoiding “Why?” when talking to family (more on Why Not Why here) and your seating arrangements when asking questions about pictures in photo albums. (More on that here and [new!] here.)

Cover story, first spread of the Saturday Evening Post's story Some fun stuff: Donaldson’s article and sidebar highlights family gatherings recorded using the built-in video camera on a laptop—that’s a new one on me! Among the experts interviewed is oral historian Stephen M. Sloan, a fellow member of the Oral History Association (too, I read his emails from time to time on the Oral History email list). Two fellow members of the Association of Personal Historians, Jennifer Sauers, and ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 17, 2010 in • Do it: YourselfOral history in the newsPersonal
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Survivor meets Oral History

image The last survivors. Last ones alive, who experienced… what, exactly? That’s the subject of a book by Stuart Lutz. Lutz interviewed 39 last survivors of many different experiences. The Last Leaf: Voices of History’s Last-Known Survivors is the oral history of those 39 people, with each chapter combining background information with the first-person narratives of each Last Survivor’s oral history.

So who were some of these people who witnessed amazing people and events?

  • The last living soldier of the great war
  • The last suffragette
  • The last pitcher from whose pitch Babe Ruth hit a home run
  • The last man to fly with Amelia Earhart
  • The last three Civil War windows (one Union, two Confederate)
  • The last survivor of the Lusitania sinking
  • The last surviving employee of Thomas Edison
  • The last man to live in the White House in the 1920s

And wouldn’t you know it? Lutz got his interest in history from stories he heard from his own family.

Lutz, a Maplewood [NJ] resident in his 30s, has always been fascinated with the nearness of the past. As a boy, he listened rapt as his ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 21, 2010 in • BooksOral history in the news
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Tonight on HBO - Studs Terkel: Listening to America

Studs Terkel Just got word there’ll be a documentary tribute to Studs Terkel, 1 day before what would have been his 98th birthday. The documentary by Eric Simonson looks at the man behind the oral histories of everyday people.

“What he did for a living is hard to describe to somebody who doesn’t know his work,” says Simonson, who spent numerous hours with his subject at Terkel’s North Side home—a pack rat’s paradise by the lake. ” ‘He’s an oral historian.’ Well, what does that mean? ‘And he’s a radio man.’ Well, so what? What does that mean? It’s really the force of Studs’ personality that makes him who he was, so I was trying to sift through all this footage to find the most quintessential looks at Studs Terkel and who he was and why it is he meant so much to many people.”

Terkel appears in it (his last interview for the film was recorded six months before his death in October, 2008). The Chicago Sun ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 15, 2010 in • InterviewingOral HistoriansOral history in the news
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News Roundup

Recent news stories that caught my eye from Austin TX, Lewiston NY, San Diego CA, Washington DC. Capturing stories of aging Mexican-Americans, Archival treasure-trove at Odd Fellows lodge, call for Washington DC secretaries, and the dwindling number of holocaust survivors.

Austin, Texas: Austin history project aims to preserve voices of elders.
Mexican American Oral History Project held a workshop this last weekend to train people to conduct interviews. Interviews will be conducted throughout the month of May. The article opens with a nice description of “the problem” that these oral histories seek to solve:

Many of us have parents and family who are entering the twilight of their rich lives. They have stories to tell — tales of bedazzling beauty and joy, of profound loss and heartache, of the mundane moments that fill the in between. They bear witness to history.

Among Mexican Americans, that history usually gets passed along orally, says Gloria ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on April 20, 2009 in • MemorabiliaOral history in the news
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High School students interview WWII vets

image Reliving History My hometown paper, Daily Pilot’s cover story on my rival high school’s project bringing sophomores and World War II veterans together to share stories of the past.

Today, I’m visiting at a hospital near the home where I grew up. I go downstairs to the hospital lobby to post an update to a private family-only blog post about a certain hospital patient’s progress. (No wi-fi in the rooms, yes wi-fi in the first floor lounge) There in the lobby are copies of today’s paper. Shouting at me on the front page is a story about how students from my rival high school—Corona del Mar—has a project where students interview World War II veterans.

“History comes alive for the students through this project,” [Corona del Mar community service specialist Denise] Weiland said. “For the veterans, tey get appreciation for their service and they realize that people ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on March 20, 2009 in • Oral history in the news
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It’s our past coming back to life

image Wow. 32-page typewritten transcript – from 100 years ago – provides a description of a pictoral history of Sioux nation. The Twin Cites (MN) family finds it in a trunk of Grandma’s old possessions (Great-Grandma typed it up), and gives a copy of it to members of the Lakota tribe.

Libby Holden [pictured with transcript, above] said her grandmother, who inherited the oral history, never spoke about it. It’s possible she never knew she had the document. When she died, her possessions were stored at the family’s printing company.

Last summer, Libby Holden and several other family members began sorting through the items. Holden says one big musty old trunk was especially interesting. [... It] contained the White Horse oral history. She said it’s possible the items were packed away by her great-grandmother and left untouched by her descendants.

Holden’s great grandparents had lots of contacts with Native Americans; their great grandfather was a lawyer ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on February 03, 2009 in • MemorabiliaOral history in the news
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Rest In Peace, Studs Terkel

Curiosity did not kill this cat. Studs Terkel died this morning at the age of 96.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on October 31, 2008 in • Oral history in the news
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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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Highschoolers and historical society combine effort to preserve history of blacks in Mesa, AZ

This is so cool. This Mesa, Arizona oral history project is a cooperative effort of Westwood High School and the Mesa Historical Society. Why is it cool? Because I know Sarah Moorehead, who’s named in the article. She’s the chairwoman of the oral history committee for the historical society. All the interviewees live in the Escobedo housing project, which was originally built to house WW2 soldiers, and then later became a public housing project. The city-owned property will be sold, and residents will move. But first, their stories and memories of the place will be preserved.

Here’s what Sarah Moorehead has to say about the oral history project:

Now that the city housing is closing, Moorehead said it’s become more urgent to preserve its history, because departing residents are taking their memories with them.

“When you have current history, there’s a limited number of ways to really save that history. Personal experiences are a very important part of that,” she said.

So often, documented city history focuses on leaders, often white males.

“But they have little to say about the average person and what the everyday life of an average person was like,” she said. “Our society is so much more than what our political leaders are doing.”


Other coolness:

...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on February 14, 2008 in • Oral history in the news
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Schenectady, NY: Feb 21 Intro to Oral History + Folklore

Schenectady Gazette: Feb 21, 2pm (Thurs) at the Schenectady County Historical Society, there’ll be a presentation on how to conduct oral histories. The presenter is Ellen McHale, executive director of the Folklore Society, located in Schenectady. The Folklore Society participates in the Veterans History Project, too. Oh, and she’s taught workshops at the Erie Museum, Apple. (tee hee!) Small world.

I’m very stoked to see this Schenectady mention. My Mom grew up in Schenectady; her parents both worked at the General Electric Co. I’d been aware of the Schenectady Museum (lots of GE archives there, including some of my grandfather’s papers), and I’ve seen the Schenectady History site run, in part, by the library.

Thanks to this story, I’ve found a couple of new, Schenectady-related links:

Folklore Society. Man oh man, their links page is mighty rich.
Schenectady County Historical Society

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on February 11, 2008 in • Do it: Learn HowOral history in the news
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News Roundup

Here’s a roundup of stories about oral history in the news. One is for an event that takes place in Syracuse, NY, tomorrow at the Erie Canal Museum. Wish I could be there.

Syracuse, NY, Saturday, January 19, 1pm: Erie Canal Museum’s speaker series starts off with a session I’d like to attend: “Robert Arnold kicks off the series with “Myth and History: Distilling the Truth.” Sometimes accidentally and sometimes purposefully we mythologize our family and community histories, offering the future no service by doing so.”

Daily Mail (UK) reviews Studs Terkel’s book, Touch and Go, and gives a bit of profile of the man, telling how interactions with the residents of his parents’ boarding house shaped him: “These waifs and strays were the making of Terkel, teaching him how to listen and how to feel empathy.”

Now there’s a forward-thinking Grandpa: Winchester ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on January 18, 2008 in • Oral history in the news
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Library’s digital storytelling station

Covina library has digital storytelling station to collect stories about city’s 125-year history. Cool. It’s local, very local. I’ll go and see. It’s from a grant award. If it goes well, more of these may pop up in libraries in the State of California.

After winning a competitive grant from the California State Library this summer, the Covina Public Library received a “digital storytelling station,” a massive cabinet full of digital equipment valued at about $3,000.

The equipment, which includes a new Apple iMac computer, a digital camera, a printer, a scanner, a tape deck, a record player and a DVD player, was awarded to the library with the hope of documenting Covina’s history through the eyes of those who lived it.

“We are very excited about this great library program that uses cutting-edge information technology to explore and preserve California’s untold history,” said Susan Hildreth, state librarian of California. “We look ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on December 13, 2007 in • AudioOral history in the newsVideo
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Two Companion Web Sites to Ken Burns’s The War

The Veterans History Project’s companion site features stories from its collection about the events described in each episode. Episode 1 covers Pearl Harbor, Bataan Death March, Guadalcanal and Japanese American internment camps. And I’ve linked to it before, the PBS Site for The War… the site got a revamp and facelift. Happy to see a prominent link from the PBS site to the Veterans History Project site.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on September 24, 2007 in • LinksOnline Oral History CollectionsOral history in the newsVeterans History Project
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Veterans History Project Medal Controversy: Fraud or Clerical Error?

Veterans History Project buttonThe Veterans History Project’s web sites posts stories from its collection. An independent Medal of Honor watchdog fact-checks the recipients listed on the Project’s web site against the official records. Watchdog finds discrepancies, notifies Project. Vets History Project scrubs the bad records. Investigates. Is this a case of Lie-induced Nausea or Unfortunate Clerical Error?

Test yourself. Quick: Which of these is the true Medal of Honor? the Vietnam Armed Forces Honor Medal or the Medal of Honor (Air Force)?

This week, MSNBC reported that the Veterans History Project (VHP) took down listings of veterans whose reports receiving the Medal of Honor were false. And here’s the tricky bit. Were those listings fraud? Exaggeration? Error?  Doug Sterner, who operates an independent web site honoring those who have received the Medal of Honor, fact-checked the Veterans History Project‘s site and database and found the errors and reported it to the VHP. The Project notes that many of the false listings are due to clerical errors.

The accusation: “Gross Negligence”

Doug Sterner’s efforts are devoted to debunking false claims to receiving medals—and honoring the known recipients of the medals. He ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on September 22, 2007 in • Online Oral History CollectionsOral history in the newsVeterans History Project
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