Events in the past, not exactly oral history, but pretty close to it.
The soundtrack of our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generation is now on the web in a large (and growing) collection called The National Jukebox, located at www.loc.gov/jukebox. The first phase of the historic audio recordings range from turn of the 20th century to 1929, and range from music (Jazz, opera, vaudville, ) and spoken word of all kinds.
The collection was digitized from 78 rpm recordings of the Victor label of records. Sony owns the license to the collection, but made an arrangement with the Library of Congress for people to listen to them. (You can hear, you can share, you can make playlists, but you cannot download the music)
It’s the iTunes of Retro Music.
Crossword Puzzle Blues: Duncan Sisters (1924)
Darn these words that crossword puzzle me
I’ll be basking [?] till they muzzle me
Some demented nut invented
this way to stay discontented.
Back in the day between ...Read More
He said, “I asked her if she’d seen anybody famous, anything I might have read about.” It bought a startling response. “She told she’d seen Lincoln debating Douglas when she was a girl.” That memory came back to him from freshly-baked bread.
It all began at dinner last Monday. The three of us sat down. Before long, the waiter brought us bread. He took a slice, buttered it, took a bite, and chewed it. Then a story came out, about a woman whose house he went to when he was a boy—about, oh, eight years old or so. He liked to be there on the day she baked bread.
He is my boyfriend’s father, Doc M Sr. He was in town for a visit.
He was born in 1926, the year that Winnie The Pooh was published, and Henry Ford established the 40-hour work week. In the year he was born, Moussolini came into power, and Emperor Hirohito ascended the throne in Japan. World War 1, the war to end all wars, had been over a scant 8 years. ...Read More
Family history meets History history: For the Digital Audio Workshop I’m teaching at the SOHA Conference, I will work from an interview with the granddaughter of the physicist who conducted the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. Photographer Rachel Fermi talks about discovering a color snapshot of a mushroom cloud in a box of family photographs. That discovery led her to create (with co-author Esther Samra) a book-length photo essay of the Manhattan Project, called Picturing The Bomb.
Here’s a little foretaste of the audio we will work with at the workshop, which takes place in a week and a half in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles.
And yes, you can still register!!
Here are some photos from the interview (during the last days of 2010), and four short edited audio excerpts.
In the FIRST AUDIO RECORDING [MP3, 1:07], Rachel describes the background—how she’s related to Enrico Fermi, and what she was told about him when she was young. (Although she was born in the United States, Rachel grew up in Cambridge, England.)
“I was told a little bit about my grandfather. I knew that he was a physicist, and I knew that he’d won a Nobel Prize. But as I was ...Read More
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.
(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
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.
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.
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?”
How can a person imagine the immensity of ...Read More
Just watched the first episode of Faces of America American Lives, the annual February PBS documentary by Henry Louis Gates Jr. He looks at the immigrant experience, and the family history that brought certain people to the United States – the parents and grandparents of Americans of note– Kristi Yamaguchi, Yo Yo Ma, Mike Nichols, Louise Edrich, Mehmet Oz, Elizabeth Alexander, Malcolm Gladwell, Eva Longoria and Mario Batali (I guess we hear more next time from Stephen Colbert, Meryl Streep, and Queen Noor). The heart of this episode dwelled in the events of World War II, and the way that great event shaped the lives of ancestors of Yamaguchi, Ma, Nichols and Edrich.
One trademark about these Gates productions is the revelation about an ancestor. You watch Gates direct the person to turn the page of the book and take in the surprise fact about the Ancestor To The Celebrity. What did figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi’s grandfather do when he served in WW2? Surprise! What became of the other family members of Mike Nichols who stayed in the old country? Surprise!
Some surprises are affirming and uplifting, others are revelation of unknown tragedy, examples of prejudice and injustice. Still others exemplify the torn loyalties of new Americans who support their adopted country that is now at war with The Old Country.
“Faces of America” illuminates the ...Read More
Pia Lopez of the SacBee opines that the census is much more than How Many People, What Ages are they? She describes all her family history that’s contained in census past. She recounts everything she knows of her family history that’d be lost if a proposed law that asks Just Four Questions Only (name, age, date of response, number of people living in one household) had been in force at the time her ancestors filled out the census. enacted.
From my family’s oral history, I knew that my mother’s grandfather had left Ireland for New York in 1893 and that he worked for James Butler’s Irish neighborhood grocery store chain.
But the June 6, 1900, census snapshot fills in a whole lot more fascinating detail. Martin E. Roache lived at 551 W. 152nd St., near Broadway (one block from the Hudson River) in Washington Heights, Manhattan. He was boarding with the Schmidt family.
The husband, age 42, had arrived from Germany in 1875 and was a baker. The wife, age 39, was born in New York, the daughter of a German immigrant and a native-born New Yorker. They had two children, ages 10 and 5. The older child was attending school. A ...Read More
A coupla years I came across a letter my Great Grandma Fannie wrote to her daughters Florence and Doris during the 1918 flu epidemic. I was captivated both by mentions of the flu (the letter was written during December, 1918) and tickled by the description of Vick’s VapoRub. You can read the whole thing here and see a page of the letter, and the clippings from the newspaper article, which I transcribed.
Last week, I was contacted by Donald W Patterson from the News-Record, and we spoke briefly about the Billings Gazette article and the letter and my thoughts. I told him more of what I knew, that Great Grandma Fannie wrote her daughters weekly. No, I didn’t know if there were more ...Read More
Thuds, the Ridge, and 100 Missions North. Air & Space Magazine, Smithsonian. On the weekend of April 4 & 5th, I was in Arizona to attend a wedding and to interview my uncle for the Veterans History Project. Among the many things my uncle did in his Air Force career was to fly F105s as a fighter pilot, flying 5 more missions than the required 100 missions into North Vietnam that completed a tour of duty.
My uncle mentioned that the latest Air & Space magazine had an article on the F105s. I found the article online; hence this link and post.
Other things my uncle mentioned that the article does not:
The tires would last for two flights. Takeoff, land, takeoff, land, change tires. That plane was so heavy on takeoff—what with fuel, external fuel tanks, and the ordinance they had on board, the plane was heavy at takeoff—50,000 pounds. Sometimes they had to rolling at 300 mph before the plane got airborne. Landing, the plane was 25,000 or 30,000 pounds. (I’m reciting the weights from memory; I’d have to go back and listen to get exact figures, but the point is takeoff weight was close ...Read More
This 3.5 minute video (direct YouTube link; embedded below) is an interview with Hugh Talman, a photographer with the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. He muses on his act of photographing the aftermath of Katrina. The curator who was planning to visit the area asked him, “What would you photograph?” His reply: “you’d photograph the evidence of the power of Katrina. I don’t style myself as photojournalist, but it turned into having photojournalistic aspects to it.” The video shows some of his photos. Most striking: photographs of an object where it was found (in its full post-Katrina context), versus the object photographed the way Talman normally works with objects, shot in the sanitized setting of a photo studio. What a contrast.
Before I watched the video (and saw just its name—“changes what we remember”), I thought, “Oh, this might relate to photos and memories and how to use photos to nudge or direct memories.” Not so pointed as that. It’s more that a collection of photographs is a kind of memory artifact of how it was. The contrast between an object’s plain (studio) background versus that object in its environment so powerfully conveys the power of Katrina. The two photos of the same object may as well be two different objects. I’m inspired to hunt more carefully when I look at old photographs for objects and their contexts, and the clues they might provide about a person or a time. I’m thinking ...Read More
[Seattle Times] Book and Tacoma Exhibit describe how the “transportation revolution configured not just the landscape, but the very mindset of the American West.” The book is The West the Railroads Made, by Carlos A. Schwantes and James P. Ronda (Washington State Historical Society/University of Washington Press). The exhibit is at Washington State Historical Museum in Tacoma (through January 24, 2009)
The article provideds some examples of The Change We Heed—as it reshaped life in that time:
Henry David Thoreau was one of the earliest observers to note the changes in the rhythms of American life triggered by the shift from stagecoach to rail transportation: “Do they not talk and think faster in the depot than they did in the stage-office?”
Rail travel didn’t just speed things up; it codified time and industrial standards in unprecedented ways. Early in the railroad age, each town and city had its own time zone — a system that might work in the age of stagecoach transportation, but became untenable in the rail era.
The United States established four standard time zones. After ...Read More
LIFE photo archive hosted on the web by Google. Photos go back to the 1860s, and sketches & etchings go back to the 1750s. Wow! Here’s the Google blog post about it. There goes the afternoon. I’ve already found an interesting railroad set. There goes the afternoon! [via Lifehacker]
Not only is this cool, but it’s a good thing to poke through if you’re going to sit down and interview someone. It’s better to get some research in about the time and place where your interviewee lived. What was it like in 1950s? What about such-n-such events? Spending time in collections such as this helps to take you, the questioner, there, and ask better questions of your interviewee.. I’ve been thinking about online repositories of supporting information
P.S. Southern Pacific Rail Road. Dispatcher, perhaps? That was my grandfather’s job and employer
It’s a personal family historian’s Best of All Possible Worlds scenario – follow a hankering to learn more family history for the sake of the kids, and go to the state historical society, discover not just one but dozens of boxes of archived materials about Great-Great Grandpa, and spend the next 8 years researching and writing a book about how that Great Great Grandpa, Isaias W. Hellman, helped make California. Frances Dinkelspiel’s book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California was released last week.
I first learned of Frances Dinkelspiel and her Great Great Grandfather during Southern California’s record rainy season in 2005. Kevin Roderick, of LA Observed, published her rejected op ed about the rainiest season ever. I was blogging the wet season, so I linked to it in my research of writings about the wettest year on record (1861) in CA. From that time, I intermittently followed Ghost Word, the blog of Berkeley-based Frances Dinkelspiel, which covered writing, journalism, and her work researching and writing about Isaias Hellman.
The story of Isaias Hellman in California begins the decade after statehood (1850) and ends just after WWI. In 1859, Hellman emigrated to Los ...Read More
O.C. History Roundup. I’m in Orange County (CA) right now, where I grew up and where my parents live. I came across this site a few days ago, and it definitely merits a link and a mention. Blogger Chris Jepson has lived in OC for 30 years, and works in local history in some fashion. The most recent post features vintage movies of Disneyland.
Studs Terkel’s Hope Dies Last has been my bedtime reading of late. Studs interviewed a number of people (post 9/11) on the topic of hope. (The book was published in 2003.) The book has stories from a range of people, ranging from notable figures (Paul Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay) and John Kenneth Galbraith, elected officials, teachers, clergy, musicians, activists, organizers, students, and more.
I’m not quite done with the book, but today—the day after Super Tuesday, which is also Ash Wednesday—is a good day to write about it. (I’m giving up reading political blogs for lent, a hard thing to do today, especially, since my state held an election yesterday. The upside is that posting here ought to increase accordingly. )
On this site, I veer away from politics and religion. Still, hope runs through both of those topics. And today, a little of politics and a little of religion, and a lot of oral history find common ground in Terkel’s book. Hope Dies Last offers a fascinating glimpse into contemporary history. These are the stories that aren’t “before my time” but during my ...Read More