Say What? Fascinating Oral Histories

by Tracy Wasserman, Head Editor, INALJ Florida

Say What? Fascinating Oral Histories

Tracy-Wasserman-72dpiHave you ever wondered what those who lived during a specific era or world-altering event in history had to say about that event, in their own words? Or what shared memories certain groups of people have in common? Wonder no more because digital libraries around the world are busy building oral history libraries of unique testimonies that are both captivating and informative.

Memory is a significant link to the past, and has greatly influenced our understanding of historical events. Oral history libraries provide us with eyewitness accounts and memories surrounding the major events of humankind that capture the essence of a moment or a way of thinking. Here are some truly fascinating oral history digital library collections freely available online:

1. Nevada Test Site Oral History Project. 65 miles north of Las Vegas is the 1,360 square mile site carved out by US Department of Energy as a nuclear device testing ground from 1951 to 1992. The Nevada Test Site Oral History Project at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas is a collection of the oral history narrations of people who participated in and were affected by the test site. Listen to the story of Anne Welsh, a protestor with the Nevada Desert Experience, who grew up 60 miles from the test site, remembering as a child hearing the blasts and seeing the clouds, and being proud to be part of a such a cool thing (and then feeling later in life like she have been part of the Mafia as a kid). The collection includes other fascinating and diverse stories about the test site, from the scientists and engineers involved in the project, to the military, administration and labor and support personnel employed there, as well as the observations of local residents and protest groups.

2. Voices of the Holocaust. The Voices of the Holocaust project of the Paul V. Galvin Library at the Illinois Institute of Technology houses 118 audio interviews conducted in 1946 of displaced persons in France, Switzerland, Italy and Germany by Dr. David P. Boder, who was committed to making Nazi atrocities known through the voices of the people who lived through them. The collection also includes research resources and links to other survivor testimony archives, as well as reference maps of camps, ghettos, interviewee birthplaces, locations during the Nazi invasion, and liberation and interview locations. It’s a truly moving collection of audio interviews conducted in many languages, with English written translations included.

3. Arkansas Studios Institute. The audio/video collection of the Arkansas Studios Institute, a collaboration of the Central Arkansas Library System and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, is an invaluable oral chronicle of race relations and other historical events in Arkansas history. Listen to Annie Abrams describe her childhood during the Great Depression and her later life as a civil rights activist, and Carolyn Hubert describe her life leading up to her job as administrator of the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion.

4. Pepperdine University Library’s Historical Sound Recordings. The historical sound recordings of this digital collection include speeches given by national figures at Pepperdine University and surrounding locations, that track the history of Pepperdine University and southern California. Be moved by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech at the LA Coliseum in 1964 on civil rights and the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and inspired by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s speech on women’s rights at the Pepperdine University School of Law in 1985.

You can share and preserve your own family history story, or record and share your story for StoryCorps, an oral history archive of over 45,000 interviews of Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs, preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. We are all unique, and our insights and memories today could be a guiding light for our children tomorrow!

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