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Oral history

Class of 1889 in front of Durfee Greenhouse
Oral historian at the First National Women’s Conference in Houston, Texas, 1977. Photo by Diana Mara Henry

However rich our archival collections may be, there are always parts of the historical record that never make it onto the page. Memories, emotions, and attitudes are notoriously difficult to document, and there a variety of all-too human reasons that people choose not to write down every detail of their lives. As a result, the Department of Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) has been actively engaged in recording oral histories as a way of capturing a more complete record of the many voices and diverse experiences that comprise .

SCUA first ventured into oral historical work in the mid-1970s with efforts to document the history of the university prior to the massive expansion of the previous decade, and the department has subsequently engaged in oral historical projects to document the university’s 125th and 150th anniversaries. In the past decade, SCUA has extended its work to documenting the histories of persons represented in its collections and to a broader array of projects documenting the history and experience of social change and the people and cultures on New England. Furthermore, SCUA is the repository for hundreds of oral histories recorded by other people, ranging in scope from interviews with Franco-Americans in the 1980s, 20th century Argentine political figures, and former residents of the Quabbin towns in Western Massachusetts.

Many of SCUA’s oral histories are available online through our digital repository Credo. These include audio and video recordings and, in a few cases, they may be fully transcribed.

Supporting material

For donors of oral histories:

SCUA is happy to accept donations of oral histories that fit within its collection policy.

Although SCUA accepts materials in most audio and video formats — cassette, reel to reel, RDAT, VHS, Betacam, or digital — we typically prefer to receive interviews in the format in which they were recorded and in the highest quality available. When possible, we prefer uncompressed digital files, however we appreciate receiving a compressed derivative (e.g., mp3 for audio, mp4 for video). When available, transcripts in print and electronic form are a very valuable addition.

Learn more:

New Approaches to History

New Approaches to History Collection

1967-1985
23 boxes 10.5 linear feet
Call no.: MS 182

During the late 1960s, the Department of History at UMass Amherst created a new undergraduate course entitled New Approaches to History, relying almost exclusively on primary sources. The theme of the course varied from the Salem witch trials to Daniel Shay’s Rebellion to the Lizzie Borden murders.

The collection includes the course proposal, correspondence, syllabi, course assignments, and resources for three units: Salem witchcraft, Shay’s Rebellion, and Lizzie Borden.

Subjects
  • History--Study and teaching
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst. Department of History

Swedish Book Design

Swedish Book Design Collection

1922-1961 Bulk: 1922-1942
ca.250 vols. 17 linear feet
Call no.: RB 026
Image of Ivan Bunin, Herrn Fran San Francisco
Ivan Bunin, Herrn Fran San Francisco

James H. Fraser and his wife Sibylle were eclectic and sometimes omnivorous collectors of the book arts, dedicated to the scholarly exploration of visual culture, the book, and the avant garde. A former Director of the Library at Farleigh Dickinson University and a consultant to many other academic libraries, James Fraser developed an omnivorous passion for German and Eastern European graphic design and book culture and had interests that ranged from Socialist children’s books to Judaica, the American left, Mongolian printing, and Japanese posters of the 1980s. James Fraser died in the fall 2013 and was survived by Sibylle and their two children.

This unusual collection of over 250 volumes is a product of the Frasers’ interest in Swedish book jacket design. Consisting nearly entirely of soft cover volumes printed between the 1920s and 1960s, primarily pre-war, and not necessarily written by Swedish authors, the collection reflects the work of many illustrators drawing on a range of graphic styles, from avant garde modernism to the later parts of the collection, which includes translations of popular works by writers such as Ian Fleming and Agatha Christie.

Subjects
  • Book jackets--Sweden
Contributors
  • Fraser, James H.
  • Fraser, Sibylle

Brinley Family

Brinley Family Papers

1643-1950
4.75 linear feet
Call no.: MS 161
Image of Deborah Brinley and infant son Francis, 1729<br />Copy by Charles U. Bond (1830)<br />after John Smibert
Deborah Brinley and infant son Francis, 1729
Copy by Charles U. Bond (1830)
after John Smibert

A prosperous family of merchants and landowners, the Brinleys were well ensconced among the social and political elite of colonial New England. Connected by marriage to other elite families in Rhode Island and Massachusetts — the Auchmutys, Craddocks, and Tyngs among them — the Brinleys were refined, highly educated, public spirited, and most often business-minded. Although many members of the family remained loyal to the British cause during the Revolution, the family retained their high social standing in the years following.

The Brinley collection includes business letters, legal and business records, wills, a fragment of a diary, documents relating to slaves, newspaper clippings, and a small number of paintings and artifacts. A descendent, Nancy Brinley, contributed a quantity of genealogical research notes and photocopies of Brinley family documents from other repositories. Of particular note in the collection is a fine nineteenth century copy of a John Smibert portrait of Deborah Brinley (1719), an elegant silver tray passed through the generations, and is a 1713 list of the library of Francis Brinley, which offers a foreshadowing of the remarkable book collection put together in the later nineteenth century by his descendant George Brinley.

Subjects
  • American loyalists--Massachusetts
  • Book collectors--United States--History--19th century
  • Brinley family
  • Brinley, George, 1817-1875--Library
  • Businessmen--Massachusetts--History
  • Businessmen--Rhode Island--History
  • Craddock family
  • Landowners--Massachusetts--History
  • Landowners--Rhode Island--History
  • Libraries--Rhode Island--18th century
  • Massachusetts--Economic conditions--18th century
  • Massachusetts--Politics and government--19th century
  • Rhode Island--Economic conditions--18th century
  • Rhode Island--Genealogy
  • Rhode Island--Politics and government--19th century
  • Slavery--United States--History
  • Tyng family
  • United Empire Loyalists
Types of material
  • Deeds
  • Realia

Campbell, Sadie

Sadie Campbell Papers

1812-2002
19 boxes 10.25 linear feet
Call no.: MS 439
Image of Sadie Campbell and sons Harold and Robert Leslie
Sadie Campbell and sons Harold and Robert Leslie

A housewife, mother and active community member, Sadie Campbell was born in 1881 and lived at 1 Depot Street in Cheshire, Massachusetts for most of her life until she died in 1971. Sadie was closely tied to the Cheshire community where she had a large circle of friends and acquaintances, and was active in a a number of organizations, such as: the Cheshire Ladies Reading Club, the Merry Wives of Cheshire Shakespeare Club, and the Cheshire Cash Tearoom.

The collection documents three generations of a western Massachusetts family. The variety and nature of the materials in this collection offer a good view into the local and social history of western Massachusetts through the lives of Sadie Campbell and her family.

Subjects
  • Cheshire (Mass.)--History
  • Cheshire Cash Tearoom
  • Family--Massachusetts--History--19th century
  • Family--Massachusetts--History--20th century
  • Housekeeping--Massachusetts--Cheshire
  • Housewives--Massachusetts--Cheshire
  • Massachusetts--Social life and customs--19th century
  • Merry Wives of Cheshire Shakespeare Club
  • Small business--Massachusetts
  • Tyrell, Augustus
  • Williams Manufacturing Company
  • Women--Societies and clubs--History--19th century
Contributors
  • Campbell, Sadie
Types of material
  • Account books
  • Invitations
  • Letters (Correspondence)
  • Pamphlets
  • Photographs
  • Recipes

Girls Club of Greenfield (Mass.)

Girls Club of Greenfield Records

1895-1995
21 boxes 27 linear feet
Call no.: MS 379

Founded in 1895, the Girls Club of Greenfield provides high quality early care and educational services to the girls of Franklin County, Massachusetts, and advocates for the rights of children and their families. During the school year, the Club offers diverse programming, ranging from an infant room and preschool to after school activities that promote teamwork, community spirit, social skills, and confidence. Since 1958, they have also operated a summer camp, Lion Knoll, in Leyden.

The records of the Girls Club of Greenfield include by-laws, annual reports, reports and meeting minutes of the Board of Directors, correspondence, and ledgers and account books. Also contains program files for daycare, summer camp, education worker programs, and others, personnel records, membership and committee lists, newsletters, press releases, ledgers, account books, scrapbooks, news clippings, photographs, slides, and artifacts.

Subjects
  • Girls--Massachusetts--Greenfield--Social conditions
  • Girls--Massachusetts--Greenfield--Social life and customs
  • Girls--Massachusetts--Greenfield--Societies and clubs--History
  • Greenfield (Mass.)--Social conditions
  • Greenfield (Mass.)--Social life and customs
Contributors
  • Girls Club of Greenfield (Greenfield, Mass.)
Types of material
  • Account books
  • Photographs
  • Scrapbooks

Graphic Communications International Union. Local 48B

GCIU Local 48B Records

1952-1985
3 boxes 1.25 linear feet
Call no.: MS 059

Local of the Graphic Communications International Union that represented over 1000 bindery workers in the Holyoke, Massachusetts area. Records include detailed minutes, shop reports, committee reports, reports of delegates sent to the Holyoke Central Labor Union and national conventions, copies of agreements, notes on contract negotiations, copies of three newsletters, and subject files that document activities as well as the emergence of factionalism within the union.

Subjects
  • Carrying on
  • Collective bargaining--Paper industry--Massachusetts --Holyoke--History--Sources
  • Holyoke (Mass.)--Economic conditions--Sources
  • Labor unions--Massachusetts--Holyoke
  • National Blank Book Co.--History
  • Old unionist
  • Paper industry workers--Labor unions--Massachusetts--Holyoke
Contributors
  • Graphic Arts International Union. Local 48B
  • International Brotherhood of Bookbinders. Local 48
Types of material
  • Newsletters

Travel Brochures

Travel Brochures Collection

1916-1949
1 box 0.25 linear feet
Call no.: MS 490

Long a favored destination for travelers due to its scenic coastline and rural landscapes, New England’s tourist industry evolved in parallel with transportation technologies. Rail lines opened summering opportunities in the interior of the region in the nineteenth century, and the expansion of roadways and the automobile after the First World War drove the industry further, leading to a proliferation of summer camps, inns, and tourist sites, even in remote locales, serving shorter-term vacationers from the working class through the moneyed elite.

This small collection of travel brochures gathered by Faith Brainard and her husband Homer W. Brainard in the 1920s and 1930s, documents camps, inns, hotels, and touristic sites throughout New England. Most of the brochures advertise accommodations or attractions in a natural setting, including room rentals at farms, hiking in the White Mountains, and the rivers and mountains of Vermont. The target audience for many of the brochures was women traveling alone, featuring the promise of clean accommodations and wholesome activities.

Gift of Sharon Domier, 2004
Subjects
  • Hotels, motels, etc.--New England
  • Summer resorts--New England
  • Taverns (Inns)--New England
  • Tourism--United States
Types of material
  • Brochures
  • Pamphlets
  • Postcards

Barkin, Solomon, 1907-

Solomon Barkin Papers

1930-1988
11 linear feet
Call no.: FS 100

Born in 1902, Solomon Barkin was an economist, education director for the Textile Workers Union of America (TWUA ), and from 1968 to 1978 a professor at the University of Massachusetts and research associate at the Labor Center.

The bulk of the Barkin collection, over 10.5 linear feet, consists of bound notebooks containing speeches, typescripts, and printed versions of articles, book reviews, congressional testimony, forewords, and introductions — nearly 600 in all — written by Barkin. One box (0.5 linear foot) contains correspondence, bibliographies, tributes and awards, and a biography. Generally, the collection illustrates Barkin’s life as both a union organizer and an economist. His writings reflect his attempts to create “a system of trade union economics” as a counterpoise to standard “enterprise economics,” as well as his belief that labor should not be viewed as a commodity.

Subjects
  • Labor unions--Massachusetts
  • Textile Workers Union of America
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst--Faculty
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst. Labor Relations and Research Center
Contributors
  • Barkin, Solomon, 1907-

Bestor, Charles

Charles Bestor Papers

1971-2002
2 boxes 0.75 linear feet
Call no.: FS 126

A composer, Professor of Composition, and Director of the Electronic and Computer Music Studios at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Charles Bestor has also taught at Juilliard School of Music and other universities, won international awards for his music, and collaborated with contemporary installation artists.

The Bestor Papers includes scores and sound recordings for two of his compositions, Suite for Alto Saxophone and Percussion and In the Shell of the Ear, as well as correspondence, concert programs, and reviews, all relating to the publication and performance of the works.

Gift of Charles Bestor, Mar.-Apr. 2004
Subjects
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst--Faculty
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst. Department of Music and Dance
Contributors
  • Bestor, Charles