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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

No matter how 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.

SCUA accepts materials in most audio and video formats — cassette, reel to reel, RDAT, VHS, Betacam, or digital — but in every case, we prefer to receive the interview in the format in which it was recorded and in the highest quality available. When possible, we prefer digital files that are uncompressed, 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:

Albertson, Dean, 1920-

Dean Albertson Oral History Collection, 1975-1977
1 box (0.5 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 224

A long-time faculty member at UMass Amherst, Dean Albertson was an historian of the twentieth century United States with a specialty in oral history. A veteran of the Second World War, Albertson received his BA from University of California Berkeley (1942) and doctorate from Columbia (1955), joining the Department of History at UMass in 1965 after several years at Brooklyn College. The author of books on Dwight Eisenhower, Claude Wickard (Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of Agriculture), and the student movements of the 1960s, Albertson was interested throughout his career in new methods in research and teaching history. He died at his home in Longmeadow, Mass., on March 31, 1989, at the age of 68.

Dean Albertson’s History 384 class at UMass Amherst, required students to conduct oral histories relating to a theme in contemporary U.S. history chosen each year. Between 1975 and 1977, Albertson’s students interviewed social activists of the 1960s and early 1970s, participants and observers in the North End riots of 1975 in Springfield, Massachusetts, and war and nuclear power resisters. The collection includes transcripts of 15 interviews conducted during this period, as well as the students’ papers, which put the transcripts into context.

Subjects
  • Antinuclear movement--Massachusetts
  • Civil rights--Massachusetts--Hampden County
  • Demonstrations--Massachusetts--Chicopee
  • History--Study and teaching (Higher)--Massachusetts-- Amherst
  • Police shootings--Massachusetts--Springfield
  • Political activists--Massachusetts--Interviews
  • Prison riots--New York (State)--attica
  • Puerto Ricans--Massachusetts--Springfield
  • Riots--Massachusetts--Springfield
  • Selma-Montgomery rights March, 1965.
  • Springfield (Mass.)--Race relations
  • Springfield (Mass.)--Social conditions
  • Venceremos Brigade
  • Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975--Protest movements -- Massachusetts--Springfield
  • Welfare rights movement--Massachusetts--Springfield
  • Westover Air Force Base (Mass.)
Types of material
  • Oral histories

Archambault, Richard

Ashfield Oral History Collection, 1968-1969
1 folder (0.1 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 042

Richard Archambault conducted interviews of various citizens of Ashfield, Massachusetts, under the direction of Joel Halpern of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Anthropology Department. Contains copies of typed notes from interviews, as well as names of the citizens who were interviewed.

Subjects
  • Ashfield (Mass.)--History
Contributors
  • Archambault, Richard
Types of material
  • Oral histories

Bianchi, Michael H.

Michael H. Bianchi Collection, 1993-2015
4 boxes (6 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 915

Since the early 1990s, Michael Bianchi has been involved in the community of electric vehicle developers and enthusiasts and is a key figure in documenting the history of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association’s annual American Tour de Sol Electric Vehicle Challenge. A resident of northern New Jersey and a developer of software management and operations support systems with Bellcore and other companies, Bianchi became interested in alternatives to petroleum-fueled vehicles in the early 1990s, attending his first Tour de Sol in 1993. Since that time he has served as announcer for the Tour and documented each contest with photographs, oral histories with participants, and highly detailed summary reports (1994-2009). For many years, Bianchi drove his own electric vehicle, beginning with a Solectria Force, and he continues to write on the development of electric vehicles.

The Bianchi collection contains reports, photographs, and ephemera associated with the American Tour De Sol, along with an assortment of scarce newsletters and magazines on electric vehicles. Of special note are interviews (on microcassette) with Tour participants.

Subjects
  • American Tour de Sol
  • Electric Cars
Types of material
  • Audiocassettes
  • Oral histories

Brière, Eloise A.

Eloise A. Brière Franco-American Oral History Collection, 1980-1984
1 box (0.25 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 123

In 1982, Eloise A. Brière received a grant from the Massachusetts Foundation for Humanities to conduct a series of oral histories with French Americans in Massachusetts. A noted scholar of Francophone communities, Brière interviewed 44 first- and second-generation immigrants of varied background, ranging from parish priests and nuns to former textile workers, activists in language preservation, and the Mayor of Holyoke.

The interviews in this collection, conducted mostly in French between August 8, 1982, and Jan. 18, 1983, document the lives and experiences of forty-four Franco-American residents of Massachusetts, concentrated in the areas around Easthampton and Lowell.

Language(s): French
Subjects
  • Easthampton (Mass.)--History
  • Franco-Americans--Massachusetts
  • Lowell (Mass.)--History
Types of material
  • Audiocassettes
  • Oral histories

Brown, Robert E.

Robert E. Brown Southbridge (Mass.) Collection, 1973-1977
1 box (0.25 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 029

During the mid-1970s, Robert Brown worked as a fifth grade teacher at the West Street School, Southbridge, Mass., while pursuing a graduate degree in anthropology at UMass Amherst under Joel Halpern. Part of Brown’s research involved conducting oral histories with Southbridge families identified as “ethnic,” including Albanian, Greek, Polish, Portuguese, Italian, and Puerto Rican, as well as the only African American family in town at the time. Brown published his work in local newspapers and ultimately in the book, The New New Englanders (Worcester, Mass.: Commonwealth Press, 1980).

The Brown collection includes copies of his newspaper articles, profiles of the families he studied, and apparently complete transcripts of two oral history interviews. Also included are copies of two papers by Brown on Southbridge, possibly for an anthropology class, analyzing the education of Puerto Rican students and the lives of Rumanian Americans.

Subjects
  • African Americans--Massachusetts--Southbridge
  • Greek Americans--Massachusetts--Southbridge
  • Immigrants--Massachusetts
  • Italian Americans--Massachusetts--Southbridge
  • Rumanian Americans--Massachusetts--Southbridge
  • Southbridge (Mass.)--History
Contributors
  • Brown, Robert E
Types of material
  • Oral histories

Deary, Tom

Tom Deary Papers, ca. 1970-2006
9 boxes (12.5 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 526

Tom Deary was an union organizer for the IUE, serving on the executive board of Local 201 at the GE Plant in Lynn, Massachusetts. Involved in the 1969-1970 strike, Deary joined the IUE staff in 1971 and served for 30 years as an organizer, negotiator, and strike leader in the northeast and southern states. Frequently at odds with union careerists, he built a small labor newspaper in the 1980s into one with a regional focus, New England Labor News and Commentary.

The Deary papers include organizer reports, correspondence, IUE election campaign literature, and oral histories and videotapes. Letters, financial records, and business plans document Deary’s establishment of a regional labor newspaper, the New England Labor News and Commentary.

Gift of Marge Deary, June 2007
Subjects
  • Labor unions--New England
  • Labor unions--Organizing--United States--History--20th century
  • Labor unions--United States--Officials and employees--History--20th century
Contributors
  • Deary, Tom

Duckert, Audrey R.

Audrey R. Duckert Quabbin Valley Oral History Collection, 1966-1980
53 items
Call no.: MS 756

The linguist Audrey R. Duckert was a pioneer in the study of American regional English. Born in Cottage Grove, Wisconsin, Duckert studied dialect at the University of Wisconsin, and after completing her doctorate at Radcliffe College in 1959, she joined the faculty at UMass Amherst. During her forty year career at UMass, Duckert became a founding member of the Dictionary of American Regional English (1965) and she was the first UMass woman admitted to Phi Beta Kappa. In addition to her linguistic work, she developed an avid interest in local history and was involved with several local historical societies, including the Swift River Valley Historical Society in New Salem.

The Duckert oral history collection consists of a series of 53 audiocassette recordings containing interviews with persons displaced when the Swift River Valley was flooded to create the Quabbin Reservoir in 1939. The histories include rich recollections of life in the towns of Greenwich, Enfield, Dana, and Prescott, with village life, education, family, and the changes that accompanied the inundation of the region. The original audiocassettes are in the possession of the Swift River Valley Historical Society.

Subjects
  • Dana (Mass.)--History
  • Enfield (Mass.)--History
  • Greenwich (Mass.)--History
  • Prescott (Mass.)--History
  • Quabbin Reservoir (Mass.)
  • Swift River Valley (Mass.)--History
Contributors
  • Duckert, Audrey R.
Types of material
  • Oral histories

Inglis, David R.

David R. Inglis Papers, 1929-2003 (Bulk: 1946-1980)
12 boxes (5.75 linear feet)
Call no.: FS 033
Image of David R. Inglis at Argonne N.L., ca.1953
David R. Inglis at Argonne N.L., ca.1953

David R. Inglis enjoyed a distinguished career in nuclear physics that ranged from theoretical work on the structure of the nucleus in the 1930s to the development of the atomic bomb in the 1940s and work on renewable energy in the 1960s and 1970s. A Professor of Physics at UMass from 1969-1975, Inglis was a founding member of the Federation of American Scientists and from the mid-1940s on, he dedicated himself to informing public policy on the dangers of nuclear technologies.

The Inglis Papers offer a perspective on the life and career of a theoretical physicist who grew from an early involvement in the Manhattan Project to becoming a committed critic of nuclear weaponry and nuclear power. Although the collection is relatively sparse in unpublished scientific work, it includes valuable correspondence relating to Inglis’s efforts with the Federation of American Scientists and other organizations to influence public policy on issues relating to disarmament and nuclear power.

Subjects
  • Allegiance--United States
  • Argonne National Laboratories
  • Condon, Edward Uhler, 1902-1974
  • Federation of American Scientists
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory
  • Nuclear disarmament
  • Nuclear energy
  • Nuclear warfare
  • Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 1904-1967
  • Physics--Massachusetts
  • United States--History--1945-1953
  • United States--History--1953-1961
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst. Department of Physics
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst. Institute for Man and His Environment
  • World Association of World Federalists
  • World Federation of Scientific Workers
Contributors
  • Bohr, Aage
  • Inglis, David Rittenhouse, 1905-
  • Teller, Edward, 1908-2003
  • Wigner, Eugene Paul, 1902-1995
Types of material
  • Laboratory notes
  • Oral histories
  • Photographs

Lederer, Regina Berger, 1895-1988

Regina Lederer Oral History, 1984
1 envelope (0.1 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 358 bd

Regina Berger Lederer was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1895 into the family of a successful manufacturing chemist. Her singing career was promising, but never fully realized. With the rise of the Nazi Party and increase in oppression of Jews, she and her husband escaped by leaving for Italy and the United States in 1939. Settling in New York, she worked as a skilled sweater repairer for many years. She died in Maryland in 1988, where she had gone to live near her son Paul.

Transcript of an oral history of Lederer.

Subjects
  • Jewish women--United States--Interviews
  • Jews, Austrian--United States--Interviews
  • Jews--Austria--History--20th century--Sources
  • Knit goods--Repairing--New York (State)--New York
  • Refugees, Jewish--United States--Interviews
  • Sweater industry--New York (State)--New York--Employees--Interviews
Contributors
  • Lederer, Regina Berger, 1895-1988
Types of material
  • Oral histories
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