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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:

Our Hideaway

Our Hideaway Collection

1998-1999
1 box 0.5 linear feet
Call no.: MS 647

Founded in Chicopee, Massachusetts in 1949 under another name, Our Hideaway was the oldest women’s bar on the east coast, offering the local lesbian community a safe haven in which to socialize for fifty continuous years. Before the bar was forced to close after losing its lease in 1999, it was home to a diverse community of women from those known as “old timers,” comprised of women patronizing the bar for upwards of 25 years, to college students new to the area.

As part of a project to research the lesbian bar as a social institution, Smith College student Heather Rothenberg conducted interviews of the women who frequented Our Hideaway. During the course of her research an unexpected announcement was made: the bar was closing. As a result, Rothenberg’s efforts to document Our Hideaway extended far beyond her original intent, and she was able to capture the final days of the bar as both a physical place as well as a community of women assembled over five decades. The collection consists of interview transcripts, emails, photographs and Rothenberg’s written reports. Transcripts of the interviews were modified to protect the privacy of the women interviewed; the original transcripts are restricted.

Gift of Heather Rothenberg, Oct. 2009

Subjects

  • Lesbian bars--Massachusetts
  • Lesbian business enterprises--Massachusetts
  • Lesbian community--Massachusetts

Contributors

  • Rothenburg, Heather
Ozer Family

Ozer Family Papers

ca. 1935-2015
10 boxes 13 linear feet
Call no.: MS 1002
Ruth and Abe Ozer celebrating their 90th birthdays in 2010.
Ruth and Abe Ozer celebrating their 90th birthdays in 2010.

Both children of Jewish Eastern European immigrants, and born five days apart in June 1920 in Manhattan, Abraham Jay Ozer (born Abraham Ozersky) and Ruth Sydell Ozer (born Ruth Sydell Newman) married in 1947 after Abe returned from his army service in Australia, New Guinea, and the Philippines. Abe received the Purple Heart as a part of an Ordnance Company bringing supplies for the Battle of Leyte, where he was wounded by shrapnel from a kamikaze attack on his ship during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in 1944. Returning to New York, Abe and Ruth began their romance, after being friends before the war as part of a Workmen Circle teen group, and lived almost the entirety of the rest of their lives in the Amalgamated Housing Cooperative in the Bronx, the country’s oldest nonprofit housing cooperative. The Ozers were involved in the social, cultural, and financial community of the cooperative, originally founded by Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union members, and decidedly Jewish and progressive in its early decades. Working for RKO Pictures Inc. and as a substitute teacher at Walton High School, Ruth also volunteered at the local Amalgamated nursery school, which her daughters Alison and Stephanie attended as children. Self-employed in the insurance business, Abe served on several of the community’s boards and societies, and after early retirement volunteered as a dispatcher for ambulances in the Amalgamated, and as a tour guide at the Bronx Zoo. The two were also able to pursue their passion for travel, after being unable to take the intercontinental honeymoon of their dreams, making it only as far as Montreal, and having other commitments earlier in their lives. The couple finally began their travel adventures in 1969 with a trip to the United Kingdom. Over the next thirty-five years they would take more than fifty international and national trips, with Ruth writing as early as 1982, “We’ve roamed the globe. Europe, Eastern Europe and Russia, Central Asia, North Africa, the near East. We’ve visited ancient historic capitals, modern picturesque cities, jet-set resorts and spas and thousands of slides recall the sights, the sounds and encounters of our travels there.”

The Ozer Family Papers primarily document the lives of Abe and Ruth Ozer, including their high school and college years, their correspondence and other records from Abe’s military service in the 311th and then 168th Ordnance Depot Company, additional war correspondence between Ruth and other parties, and extensive documentation of the couple’s many years of travel, including selected slides, photographs, travel planning documents, and Ruth’s detailed travel journals for each trip from 1969 through 2005. Additional materials cover the Amalgamated Housing Cooperative, RKO Pictures Inc., and other aspects of the Ozer’s lives, including numerous oral history interviews and home movies on formats ranging from 8mm film to digital. The greater Ozer family is also represented, from a large family tree tracing the family and photographs back to Abe’s grandparents from Belorussia, to content and interviews with his mother, Sadie Uretsky, and several folders of clippings and mixed materials about Abe’s late brother, Bernard Ozer, an important figure in fashion forecasting and purchasing, and former vice-president of Associated Merchandising Corporation. Additional content on the Ozer’s children, grandchildren, and extended family rounds out the collection.

Gift of Alison Ozer, November 2017

Subjects

  • Bronx (New York, N.Y.)--Social life and customs
  • Housing, Cooperative
  • Hunter College--Students
  • Jews--New York (State)--New York
  • Leyte Gulf, Battle of, Philippines, 1944
  • Tourism
  • Travel
  • United States. Army. Ordnance Corps
  • World War, 1939-1945

Types of material

  • Letters (Correspondence)
  • Oral histories
  • Photographs
  • Slides (photographs)
Parents & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (Pioneer Valley, Mass.)

PFLAG Pioneer Valley Records

1987-1995
1 box 0.5 linear feet
Call no.: MS 397

The Pioneer Valley chapter of Parents & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) was established in 1986 by Jean and James Genasci, parents of a gay son and advocates of civil rights for gays and lesbians. As the group’s local coordinators, the Genascis conducted workshops on homosexuality and homophobia, and offered support to gays and lesbians and their families.

The collection consists chiefly of newspaper clippings containing articles about the work of PFLAG as well as announcements for upcoming meetings and events. Bulletins and newsletters issued by PFLAG document their activities, in particular their support of the 1989 Massachusetts gay rights bill, as do photographs featuring demonstrations and exhibits.

Subjects

  • Gay rights
  • Gays--Family relationships
  • Lesbians--Family relationships
  • Parents of gays--Massachusetts

Contributors

  • Parents & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (Pioneer Valley, Mass.)
Patagonia

Patagonian Rebellion Collection

1921-1965
1 box 0.5 linear feet
Call no.: MS 353

In 1921-1922, Chilean workers on sheep ranches in Patagonia rebelled violently against their conditions, egged on by anarchist agitators. Under pressure from Conservatives to act decisively, the Radical government in Buenos Aires ordered the 10th Cavalry Regiment under Hector Benigno Varela to quell the disturbance, which they did with a heavy hand.

The Patagonian Rebellion Collection consists of typescripts and photocopies of materials relating to the suppression of the workers’ revolt of 1921-1922. The most significant items include the official diaries and reports of cavalry officers sent to quell the uprising, but the collection also includes correspondence after the fact, news clippings documenting public reaction, and photocopies of photographs depicting the principle individuals involved and the damage wrought. .

Gift of Robert Potash, 1988
Language(s): Spanish

Subjects

  • Argentina--History
  • Argentina--History--Revolution
  • Varela, Hector B.

Contributors

  • Anello, Alfredo
  • Campos, Pedro E
  • Ibarra, Pedro Vinas

Types of material

  • Diaries
Peckham, Alford S.

Alford S. Peckham Collection

1940s-1990s
6 boxes 9 linear feet
Call no.: MS 707
Image of New England agricultural event
New England agricultural event

Born in Newport, Rhode Island in 1919, Alford S. Peckham attended Rhode Island College, graduating in 1941, before serving in the U.S. Army 1st Division until receiving a medical discharge. For twenty-one years he worked as the manager of public relations for the United Farmers of New England, a cooperative of dairy farmers. His interest and expertise in agricultural history continued even after he left the cooperative for the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston; he was appointed the Massachusetts state agricultural historian in July 1989 and amassed his own collection of historical resources in the hopes of developing a Massachusetts Agricultural History Society. Peckham died on December 20, 2005 in Newport, Rhode Island, his home since his retirement in 1984.

Consisting chiefly of subject files, the Alford S. Peckham Collection covers topics ranging from agricultural history and fairs to dairy farmers and animal rights. Also included are photographs of agricultural events around New England, such as the Massachusetts Dairy Festival (1958), the American Dairy Princess (1961), and the Big E (1950s).

Gift of Sean M. Fisher, DCR Archives, June 2011

Subjects

  • Agriculture--Massachusetts--History
  • Agriculture--New England--History
  • Dairy farms--Massachusetts--History
  • Farms--New England--History
People for Economic Survival

People for Economic Survival Records

1974-1977
3 boxes 1.5 linear feet
Call no.: MS 535

Established in October 1974, People for Economic Survival (PES) was a Socialist group based in Northampton, Massachusetts, first organized with the short-term goal of pressuring local banks to sell food stamps. The group’s vision for the longer term, however, was to stimulate change that would result in the replacement of an economy based on corporate profit with one based on people’s needs. After two and half years of community activity, including working for lower utility rates and against cutbacks in welfare, human services, and unemployment benefits, PES disbanded.

The PES collection consists of flyers, meeting minutes, and a full run of Take It, the group’s newsletter.

Gift of Jan Nettler, 2007

Subjects

  • Food stamps--Massachusetts
  • Northampton (Mass.)--Economic conditions
  • Northampton (Mass.)--History
  • Public welfare--Law and legislation--Massachusetts
  • Socialism--Massachusetts
  • Unemployment--Massachusetts

Contributors

  • People for Economic Survival
Perkins, Carol A.

Carol A. Perkins Collection

2001-2002
1 box 0.5 linear feet
Call no.: PH 033

Carol A. Perkins was born April 25, 1926 in Rochester, N.Y., where she attended Madison High School. Her father, Vernon Perkins, was a World War I Army Air Service photographer in France, and she became interested in photography through his photograph albums. She graduated from a correspondence program at the New York Institute of Photography and graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology School of Art in 1950. After matriculating from the Rochester General Hospital School of Medical Photography, she was employed at the Toledo Hospital Institute of Medical Research for twenty-two years, and then by the Medical College of Ohio for eleven years. While searching through New England graveyards for her Perkins ancestors, she became interested in gravestone studies and became a member of the Association for Gravestone Studies.

The Carol Perkins Collection consists of 1.5 linear feet of material, primarily color photographs of grave markers in Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Box 1 has two indices: one alphabetical by deceased’s surnames, and the other alphabetical by state, then town, then cemetery. Box 2 photographs include transcriptions of the deceased’s names, dates of birth/death, and inscriptions, and are organized by state, then town. The collection includes one folder of genealogical material and 20 black & white photographs of markers in England. Photographs taken at AGS conferences include some AGS members and were taken in the following years: 1980, 1981, 1982, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, and 2003.

Subjects

  • Gravestones--Connecticut
  • Gravestones--Indiana
  • Gravestones--Massachusetts
  • Gravestones--Michigan
  • Gravestones--New Hampshire
  • Gravestones--New York
  • Gravestones--Ohio
  • Gravestones--Vermont

Contributors

  • Association for Gravestone Studies
  • Perkins, Carol A

Types of material

  • Photographs
Perry, Cynthia Shepard

Cynthia Shepard Perry Papers

1946-2010
7 boxes 10.5 linear feet
Call no.: MS 842
Image of Cynthia Shepard Perry, ca.1986
Cynthia Shepard Perry, ca.1986

An educator, diplomat, and expert on Africa, Cynthia Shepard Perry was the first recipient of a PhD from of the Program in International Education at UMass Amherst (1972). Born in Burnett, Indiana, in 1928, Perry was raising a family when she set a twenty-five year goal of earning doctorate and entering international service. One year after earning a bachelor’s degree at Indiana State University in 1967, she arranged for her first trip to Africa, leading a secretarial training project at the University of Nairobi, and over succeeding decades, her connections to the continent deepened dramatically. On faculty at Texas Southern University (1971-1982), Perry served as Associate Director of the university’s Peace Corps Program, which resulted in her leading educational projects in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, and Kenya. In demand for the expertise she had gained, she worked as a consultant to the US Information Service in Kenya, Nigeria, and Zambia and as Staff Development Officer at the UN Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa. Having become a full professor and Dean of International Affairs, she left TSU in 1982 to take her first diplomatic post as an officer of the Africa Bureau of the US Agency for International Development, followed by successive appointments as Ambassador to Sierra Leone (1986-1989) and Burundi (1989-1993), as Honorary Consul General of Rwanda, and finally an appointment as U.S. Executive Director of the African Development Bank (1996-2001). Although officially retired, Perry remains active in supporting education and development in Africa from her home in Houston. Among many other awards she has received, Perry was the recipient of an honorary doctorate from UMass for her international work and was recognized by the Salute to Service Award.

A record of a life in international service in Africa, the Perry papers includes materials from Perry’s time as head of the African Development Bank and her two ambassadorial appointments, including speeches, some correspondence, and a handful of publications. The collection also includes a series of awards and plaques, some family photographs, and memorabilia.

Gift of Cynthia Shepard Perry, Oct., 2014

Subjects

  • Africa--Foreign relations--United States
  • Burundi--History
  • Sierra Leone--United States
  • United States--Foreign relations--Africa

Types of material

  • Memorabilia
  • Photographs
Perske, Robert

Robert and Martha Perske Papers

1964-2005
13 boxes 19.5 linear feet
Call no.: MS 772
Image of Bob and Martha Perske with their dog, Wolfie, 2004
Bob and Martha Perske with their dog, Wolfie, 2004

While serving with the U.S. Navy in the Philippines during World War II, the teenaged Bob Perske became aware of the vulnerable and disabled in society and turned his life toward advocacy on their behalf. Studying for the ministry after returning to civilian life, Perske was appointed chaplain at the Kansas Neurological Institute, serving children with intellectual disabilities for 11 years, after which he became a full-time street, court, and prison worker — a citizen advocate — laboring in the cause of deinstitutionalization and civil rights of persons with disabilities, particularly those caught in the legal system. After Bob married his wife Martha in 1971, the two became partners in work, with Martha often illustrating Bob’s numerous books and articles. In 2002, Perske was recognized by the American Bar Association as the only non-lawyer to ever receive the Paul Hearne Award for Services to Persons with Disabilities.

The Perske Papers contains a fifty year record of published and unpublished writings by Bob Perske on issues surrounding persons with disabilities, along with correspondence, photographs, and other materials relating to the Perskes’ activism. The correspondence includes a particularly rich set of letters with a fellow advocate for persons with disabilities, Robert R. Williams.

Gift of Robert and Martha Perske, 2013

Subjects

  • Mental retardation--Social aspects
  • People with disabilities--Deinstitutionalization
  • People with disabilities--Legal status, laws, etc.

Contributors

  • Perske, Martha
  • Williams, Robert R.

Types of material

  • Photographs