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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No Jamboree this year (as if you couldn’t tell)

I didn’t make it to the Jamboree this year. Wanted to go to hang with the bloggers. But the weekend of June 28th and 29th was so oversubscribed, it wasn’t funny. I did go to a blogger meetup, tho. But it was local area bloggers. It met in my town. I had to leave early to scan some photos. Which you’ve probably seen.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on July 02, 2008 in • Housekeeping
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She Went West and Climbed Mt. Rainier

image In 1924, the 23-year-old woman climbed Mt. Rainier in Washington State. Edith kept a photo album, and wrote captions in white ink. She called herself Edy. I previously blogged about her mother, Jenny, whose childhood was marked by over-protection: Jenny’s parents hovered over her, and protected her so much that she felt stifled. That’s what parents do to the remaining child when the elder son leaves to seek his fortune and is never heard from again. Jenny wouldn’t let her daughter’s dreams be stifled the way she herself was stifled. So when Edy announced she wanted to go west, Mom told her daughter, “Go, go.” And Go she did. Including climbing to the top of a volcano.

The album is a record of Edy’s western sojourn. She worked at a Veterans Hospital. There’s a photo of Edy in uniform standing behind a man in a wheelchair. Lots of pictures of friends, of cars, picnics. Photos of a horse (“Chief”)  When I first paged through this album, though, I was amazed at these 8 pages of photos of her trek to climb Mt. Rainier. It takes a lot of pluck and stamina to make a climb like that.


The Mt. Rainier National Park web site describes the climb:

Mount Rainier, the most heavily glaciated peak in the contiguous United States, offers an exciting challenge to the mountaineer. Each year thousands of people successfully climb this 14,410 foot active ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on July 01, 2008 in • Personal HistoryPhotographs
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Shades of the Departed Guest Blog

Hooray for Footnote Maven, who invited me to guest blog at Shades of the Departed. My post is about interviewing people about photo albums. Why photos rock, and what sorts of practical things you can do during an interview. You may already be a winner! Read the entry to find out why. (I certainly won-in a slightly different way. Thanks to fM for the nudge to write that post. If it weren’t for that deadline, I might’ve waited a little while longer before blogging here again.)

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on June 20, 2008 in • InterviewingMemorabiliaPersonal HistoryPhotographs
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Family Health Care Time Space Continuum

Another long break. I’m back. (I think.) You know, I talk here of recording family histories, or family stories, but since April I’ve been in a slightly different mode: family medical history. It’s not from long ago; it’s current. And, depending on events (which included nearly 3 weeks of hospitalization or skilled nursing facility-ization), I find myself leaving the land of so-called normal to a different mindset– the health care time-space continuum. That place is highly absorbing, but it’s nothing I wish to talk about here. Hence the silence. (But the patient is home again, which is a nice improvement.)

I suppose if I were to relate it to the topic at hand—recording and preserving family stories—I have two things to say:

Though I have been around family members quite a bit, I find myself with zero interest in doing any interviewing. (well, one channel of my lovely stereo microphone went kaput and I haven’t had the energy or the inclination to even begin troubleshooting it beyond confirming that yes, there’s no incoming signal from the one mic.) No interest. None. Was this helped by the fact that I’ve already conducted some interviews of the family member? Probably. Though there are questions I’d still like to ask, stories I want to hear.

The Pros in the Oral History biz toss ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on June 19, 2008 in • HousekeepingInterviewingPersonal History
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Happy Birthday, Studs Terkel. In his honor: Tell stories!!!

image Studs Terkel is 96. In his honor, today’s been declared the International Day of Telling Life Stories.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 16, 2008 in • Digital StorytellingOral Historians
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Orange County Historical

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.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 09, 2008 in • HistoryLinks
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Billings, Montana—History by Mystery

imageI didn’t set out to just up and explore factoids of Billings, Montana, where my grandmother grew up. No, it sort of seeped in on me gradual.

First, I’ve been reading those letters from time to time (and describing my research methods). There’s a whole slew of them written from Billings. The news and tidbits (and clippings) has driven me to find out more about Billings, Montana. The letters drive the research, and the research informs the letters.

My great-grandmother in Billings wrote to her two daughters, Florence and Doris, in Boston. Florence is my grandmother, Doris my great aunt. I have Florence’s collection of letters. But the photos you see here are from Doris’s scrapbook. The fetching young woman with the 10-gallon hat is Doris. She was a horsewoman and a painter.

Panorama of Billings. 1915. Click to enlarge


Both girls were born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but their Papa got work that vaguely had to do with the railroad. They lived first in Minneapolis, and then in Billings, Montana. By the time the correspondence with the girls began, no mention was made of the railroad, but the occasional letter ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 01, 2008 in • Letters in the AtticPersonal History
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Reality Intervenes

Fire! No sooner do I get back on this site (and my other blog), but fire breaks out in the foothills. I’m safe. Most everyone is safe, but the terrain is steep. It’s been unseasonably warm here in San Gabriel Valley, and fortunately, there’s no wind. We got ourselves a fire in the mountains, tho. So between local blogging and work I gotta do, I’ll be taking my time returning to normal– whatever that is.

p.s. several days later. I’m fine. I was never close to it, other than close enough to see it when I went outside and looked at the foothills. Fire is now out. I blogged up a storm at the other blog, and have lapsed back into silence for a wee time.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on April 27, 2008 in • Housekeeping
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Sneaking back online

I’ve been away for a spell. Now am back. Hello. How’ve you been?

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on April 25, 2008 in • Housekeeping
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Audio Engineering Society’s 60th anniversary includes an oral history project

This is so meta. The AES – Audio Engineering Society is the place where real audio science gets done (this, according to my signal-processing engineer boyfriend). The meta part – I guess this is as good as an oral history of oral historians. This is oral history of audio engineers – the people who make recording spoken interviews possible. Very cool. the organization includes the likes of Les Paul – Les Paul!! (did you see the American Masters show about him last year? Wow!) They had a big 60th anniversary dinner and presentation (standing room only).

The event was highlighted by a screening of excerpts from the forthcoming AES Oral History Project.  Tantalizing anecdotes by legendary Columbia Records engineer Frank Liaco; Louis Goodfriend, first editor of the AES Journal; inventor and AES officer, Norman Pickering, and Les Paul, the godfather of multi-track recording, provided the audience with insights, revelations and thanks to Les Paul, occasional laughs.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on March 18, 2008 in • General
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Who invented the electret (condenser) microphone?

Dr West, I presume. How do I know it? Kareem told me. That Kareem. The Basketball Kareem. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In his blog. No kidding. Quoth Kareem: “In 1962, Dr. [James] West and his partner Gerhard Sessler invented the electret microphone used in almost 90% of all microphones built today — over 1 billion a year.”

Electret (also called “condenser”) microphones are the type generally used in lavalier (or lapel) microphones. (Hello every TV anchor and guest in recent history. How do we hear you? It’s electret!) Electret mics are used in all mini-sized microphones.

I love how I came to learn of Dr. West, electret mic’s co-inventor. Though I have passing awareness (heh. pun unintended) of Pro Basketball, and have heard the name of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and I read a local (L.A.)  blog by Tony Pierce, who became the blog editor at the L.A. Times, and though I saw an announcement that he got Kareem to start blogging, I had no idea. I yawned, oh, it’s a sports blog. Whatever. Didn’t even click ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on February 25, 2008 in • AudioAudio: Hardware
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Valentines from hearts now stilled

Love is stronger than death. It’s still not too late to talk Valentine’s Day, is it? Erika Hayasaki wrote a lovely story that the LA Times ran on Feb 14th, about a cemetery tour that focused on love stories. With a little research, Gwen Kaminski, who works at Laurel Hill cemetery in Philadelphia, found that the dead do tell tales. Well, okay, she found the tales and she told them. In addition to being a nice read, finding this story in the LA Times is a continuation of my theme of people I know in news stories last week.

I found the paper and read the story at a local lunch joint on Valentine’s Day. I kept wondering how an L.A.-based paper was covering a story based in Philadelphia. At the end, I noticed the byline (didn’t see it at the beginning)—Erika Hayasaki. Erika used to volunteer with WriteGirl (a nonprofit mentoring program that pairs women writers with teenage girls; I, too, am a volunteer)—until her employer, the Los Angeles Times, transferred her to their New York City bureau. Aha!. In fact, I’ve recorded an interview with Erika on the art of interviewing that I need to process and post in my start-it-up-again-podcast for this site. I’ll consider myself nudged.

Love. Cemeteries. There’s ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on February 19, 2008 in • Personal History
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