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blast from the past

Oral History: Collecting the Voices and Perspectives of History

The best history is complex, and told using many voices and many perspectives. Historians have a wide range of source types available to them which they can use in their research. Oral Histories are one type of source that a historian might consult as they seek to produce a rich and complex account of the past.

To learn more about what constitutes an oral history and the development of the field of oral history, check out the essay “What Is Oral History?” by Linda Shopes. The essay is part of a larger resource, “History Matters“, a collaboration between the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning of the City University of New York and the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, “History Matters” is designed to be a resource for history teachers (at both the high school and college levels), as well as students enrolled in U.S. History survey courses.

Interested in learning more about the process of collecting oral history interviews? Check out the Oral History Associations page of Principles and Best Practices.

If you are interested in the applications of oral history projects outside of the traditional field of history check out Upending the Narrative of the Great Man of History by Eliza Griswold, published in Smithsonian Magazine in December 2013.

Looking to listen to oral histories? Check out this sampling of online oral history collections:


 A independently funded, 501(c)(3) organization which launched a large scale oral history collection and preservation project in 2003. Learn more about StoryCorps through their FAQ page, or listen to their online collection of oral histories.

American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940

This collection of over 2,900 documents, which includes oral histories and transcripts was made possible through the work carried out by the Federal Writers’ Project, part of the New Deal’s  Works Progress Administration / Work Projects Administration. Explore the collection online through the Library of Congress.

Oral Histories of the American South

A collection of 500 oral history interviews about the American South. The 500 interviews available online are part of a larger collection of 4,000 interviews housed at the Southern Historical Collection at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.

Oral History of the House

This collection focuses on the people, events, institutions, and objects of the ever-evolving House of Representatives of the United States. Learn about the collection and listen to the interviews here.

Oral History Center, Bancroft Library; University of California Berkeley

Want to learn more about the Oral History Center and its collections? Click here. Want to search their collection of oral histories? Check out their search tools (you can either search the collection through a keyword search or use their list of subject areas ).

H is for History

H is forRight off, let’s start out being honest about the usual view of historians and history in our society. Perhaps the mention of history and historians brings to mind images of such things as:

  • high school history textbooks
  • test and quizzes requiring you to learn the names and dates associated with events, many of which you have since forgotten
  • dusty books
  • old papers and maps
  • dull lectures
  • the saying “those who do not understand the past, are doomed to repeat it”
  • people who were perhaps unwise when choosing their college majors

The list goes on. And I, the trained historian and archivist, have encounter each and every one of the items or situations listed above, along with a few others not listed above.  This might prompt others to ask if I am simply someone who enjoys boredom, or is there another side to history and historians that has not been shared with the general population?  While I will not pretend to be the most adventure seeking individual, I think the idea that history isn’t very useful or interesting is more of a public relations issue that an actual fact.

Over the next couple of months I plan to share the many ways the skills of historians and historical methods can be applied and how these application can be used for purposes other than producing lists of dates and names that are often times quickly forgotten.

In the meantime check out the resources listed below to learn more about the field of history and the work of historians from the American Historical Association (AHA).

“Why Study History”

 “What I Do: Historians Talk about Their Work”

Or if you are one of those who have like me already been bitten by the history bug, check out our history resource guide here.

Autumn at Wheelock, circa 1978

Whenever I am asked to name my favorite season, I somewhat lamely answer that I don’t have a favorite. Having spent my whole life living in New England I am well acquainted with the positives and negatives that come along with each season and genuinely don’t love one season over another. However, after spending the weekend sick with a cold staring out the window of my apartment at the sad little tree across the road turning a decidedly not vivid brown-ish green color in the cool and gray October weather, I was in need of reminding of the more pleasant aspects of autumn.

I was lucky to stumble upon just such a reminder in the archives while preparing a lesson plan for a library instruction session scheduled for later this week. Suspecting that others might be in need of a similar reminder of the positive aspects of autumn after the past couple of days of cool rainy weather we have experienced here in Boston, I have decided share a couple of the autumn photographs found in the archives. Enjoy!

Wheelock College Campus in autumn.
Photograph circa 1978.
Photograph from Wheelock College Slide Collection, Wheelock College Archives, Boston, MA.

Wheelock College Student walks the Riverway in autumn. Photograph circa 1978. Photograph from Wheelock College Slide Collection, Wheelock College Archives, Boston, MA.

Wheelock College student walks along the Riverway in autumn.
Photograph circa 1978.
Photograph from Wheelock College Slide Collection, Wheelock College Archives, Boston, MA.


Then + Now: Wheelock College – A Bright Idea in 1967

IMG_7100aSign reads: Wheelock College Activities Building. Boston’s first all-electric college building by Boston Edison Co.

Looks like Wheelock has always been a leader in technology and innovation!

Then + Now: A walk down Riverway