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, says Caruso.

What is it like to conduct the interviews, and what do they contain?

At the beginning of the interview process, says Caruso, “lots of scientists are initially a little worried. They don’t know what to expect.” But, he adds, those who believe they have little to say often end up speaking the most. Interviewees are asked about scientific as well as personal experiences, including their childhoods, inspirations, and the role of mentors in their lives. It is a record of how one becomes a scientist, says Caruso.



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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on July 23, 2008 in • Oral history in the newsOral History Projects
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