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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.

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:

Aronson, James

James Aronson Collection of W.E.B. Du Bois
1946-1983
2 boxes (1.5 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 292

Materials written by or pertaining to W.E.B. Du Bois, collected by James Aronson, who was executive editor of the “National Guardian” from 1948 to 1967. Includes correspondence, speeches by Du Bois in published form, articles by Du Bois, biographical sketches and tribute articles about Du Bois, photographs, and newspaper clippings.

Subjects
  • African Americans--Civil rights
  • African Americans--History--1877-1964
  • Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963--Death and burial
  • Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963--Views on Pan-Africanism
  • Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963--Views on democracy
  • Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963--Views on pacifism
  • Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963--Views on socialism
  • National Guardian
  • Socialism--Africa
Contributors
  • Du Bois, Shirley Graham, 1896-1977
  • Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963
Types of material
  • Photographs
  • Speeches

Bartlett, Simeon

Simeon Bartlett Account Books
1792-1867
2 vols. (0.5 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 175 bd

Freight hauler, farmer, sawmill owner, and possibly a hatmaker from Williamsburg, Massachusetts.

The first volume of Bartlett’s accounts includes records of Bartlett’s income, sales and exchange of goods and services, and details about his employees and family (such as family births, deaths, and marriages). Volume 2 contains lists of hat purchases, lists of teachers and their pay, his participation in town affairs, and a number of lyrics to Civil War songs.

Subjects
  • Clapp, Joseph
  • Hat trade--Massachusetts--South Hadley
  • Lyman, Joseph
  • Rice, Aaron
  • Songs
  • Songs, English
  • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Songs and music
  • Williamsburg (Mass.)--Economic conditions
Contributors
  • Bartlett, Simeon, b. 1764
Types of material
  • Account books

Barton, Thomas

Thomas Barton Papers
1947-1977 (Bulk: 1960-1974)
4 boxes (2 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 539
Image of YPSL logo
YPSL logo

In the early 1960s, Tom Barton (b. 1935) emerged as a leader in the Left-wing of the Young People’s Socialist League, the national youth affiliate of the Socialist Party. Deeply committed to the civil rights and antiwar struggles and to revolutionary organizing, Barton operated in Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York and was a delegate and National Secretary at the 1964 convention in which tensions within YPSL led to its dissolution.

A small, but rich collection, the Barton Papers provide a glimpse into the career of a long-time Socialist and activist. From Barton’s entry into the Young People’s Socialist League in the latest 1950s through his work with the Wildcat group in the early 1970s, the collection contains outstanding content on the civil rights and antiwar movements and the strategies for radical organizing. The collection is particularly rich on two periods of Barton’s career — his time in the YPSL and Student Peace Union (1960-1964) and in the Wildcat group (1968-1971) — and particularly for the events surrounding the dissolution of YPSL in 1964, following a heated debate over whether to support Lyndon Johnson for president. The collection includes correspondence with other young radicals such as Martin Oppenheimer, Lyndon Henry, Juan McIver, and Joe Weiner.

Subjects
  • Antiwar movements
  • Civil rights movements
  • Communists
  • Revolutionaries
  • Socialist Party of the United States of America
  • Socialists--United States
  • Student Peace Union
  • Students for a Democratic Society (U.S.)
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Protest movements
  • Wildcat
  • Young People's Socialist League
Contributors
  • Barton, Thomas
  • Gilbert, Carl
  • Henry, Lyndon
  • MacFadyen, Gavin
  • McIver, Juan
  • Oppenheimer, Martin
  • Shatkin, Joan
  • Shatkin, Norm
  • Verret, Joe
  • Weiner, Joe

Chamberlin, Judi, 1944-2010

Judi Chamberlin Papers
ca.1970-2010
38 boxes (57 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 768
Image of Judi Chamberlin, 2000
Judi Chamberlin, 2000

A pioneer in the psychiatric survivors’ movement, Judi Chamberlin spent four decades as an activist for the civil rights of mental patients. After several voluntary hospitalizations for depression as a young woman, Chamberlin was involuntarily committed for the only time in 1971, having been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Her experiences in the mental health system galvanized her to take action on patients’ rights, and after attending a meeting of the newly formed Mental Patients’ Liberation Project in New York, she helped found the Mental Patients’ Liberation Front in Cambridge, Mass. Explicitly modeled on civil rights organizations of the time, she became a tireless advocate for the patient’s perspective and for choice in treatment. Her book, On Our Own: Patient Controlled Alternatives to the Mental Health System (1978), is considered a key text in the intellectual development of the movement. Working internationally, she became an important figure in several other organizations, including the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilition at Boston University, the Ruby Rogers Advocacy Center, the National Disability Rights Network, and the National Empowerment Center. In recognition of her advocacy, she was awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities in 1992, the David J. Vail National Advocacy Award, and the 1995 Pike Prize, which honors those who have given outstanding service to people with disabilities. Chamberlin died of pulmonary disease at home in Arlington, Mass., in January 2010.

An important record of the development of the psychiatric survivors’ movement from its earliest days, the Chamberlin Papers include rich correspondence between Chamberlin, fellow activists, survivors, and medical professionals; records of her work with the MPLF and other rights organizations, conferences and meetings, and her efforts to build the movement internationally.

Gift of National Empowerment Center, 2012
Subjects
  • Antipsychiatry
  • Ex-mental patients
  • People with disabilities--Civil rights
  • People with disabilities--Legal status, laws, etc.
  • Psychiatric survivors movement
Contributors
  • Mental Patients Liberation Front
  • Mental Patients Liberation Project
  • National Empowerment Center
Types of material
  • Videotapes

Chase, Lot

Lot Chase Account Books
1837-1848
2 vols. (0.25 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 199

Mariner from Harwich, Massachusetts, who was involved in the cod and mackerel fishing industry in Barnstable County. Two account books include expenses, income, and final settlements with those involved with annual voyages of 1837 and 1848. They also contain lists of crew members and part owners, many of whom were members of the Chase family.

Subjects
  • Barnstable County (Mass.)--Economic conditions--19th century
  • Chase family
  • Cod fisheries--Massachusetts--Barnstable County--History
  • Fisheries--Massachusetts--Equipment and supplies--History
  • Fisheries--Massachusetts--Finance--History
  • Fishers--Massachusetts--History
  • Fishing--Economic aspects--Massachusetts
  • Harwich (Mass.)--History
  • Horace (Schooner)
  • Mackerel fisheries--Massachusetts--Barnstable County--History
Contributors
  • Chase, Lot
  • Chase, Nathaniel
Types of material
  • Account books

Colburn, Paul

Paul and Olive Colburn Collection
1894-2001
1 box (0.5 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 860
Image of Jonathan Dow marker, Eastern Cemetery, Portland, Me.
Jonathan Dow marker, Eastern Cemetery, Portland, Me.

Husband and wife Paul Francis and Olive (“Tommie” Fox) Colburn were active members of the Association for Gravestone Studies from the 1980s. Natives of Lowell, Mass., and long-time residents of Berwick, Me., the Colburns shared an interest in New England gravestones and marker symbolism, with Tommie enjoying a particular specialty in metal-based markers.

The Colburn collection represents a cross-section of the couple’s work documenting and lecturing about New England grave markers and marker symbolism as well as Victorian funerary practice. Of note are a small number of items reflecting Victorian mourning culture, including images of funeral wreaths and arrangements, three mourning handkerchiefs, and a funeral card.

Subjects
  • Gravestones--Connecticut
  • Gravestones--Maine
  • Gravestones--Massachusetts
  • Gravestones--New Hampshire
  • Gravestones--New York
  • Gravestones--Rhode Island
  • Gravestones--Vermont
Contributors
  • Colburn, Olive
Types of material
  • Handkerchiefs
  • Photographs

Ebert, Siegfried

Siegfried Ebert Papers
1933-1986
2 boxes (0.75 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 576
Image of Ebert in his studio, ca.1965
Ebert in his studio, ca.1965

The graphic artist Siegfried Ebert had an important influence on the visual language of East German television and animated motion pictures. Born in Eibau on July 20, 1926, Ebert was drafted into the Luftwaffe in 1943, but shortly after going on active duty, he was severely wounded and taken prisoner by the English. After his release, Ebert shifted course in life, studying commercial art at the Kunstgewerbeschule Zittau and film at the Hochschule für bildende und angewandte Kunst in Wiessensee. He became one of the earliest artists to specialize in the new medium of television, working for Deutscher Fernsehfunk, doing graphic design and animation. A member of the Verband Bildender Künstler Deutschlands, he later worked on animated films for the DEFA studios. Suffering from ill health for the last several years of his life, Ebert suffered a heart attack in November 1985, and died at home shortly after his sixtieth birthday in 1986.

The Ebert Collection includes a small assortment of correspondence, awards, and biographical materials, along with examples of his graphic work for television and film. Among other unusual items in the collection are attractive handbills (small posters) for Progress and DEFA films, some original sketches, photographs and mockups of his artwork for television, and an assortment of personal and professional ephemera.

Gift of James and Sibylle Fraser, 2007
Language(s): German
Subjects
  • Germany, East--Social life and customs
  • Graphic artists--Germany, East
  • Motion pictures--Germany, East
  • Prisoners of War--Germany
  • Television--Germany, East
  • World War, 1939-1945
Contributors
  • Ebert, Siegfried
  • Thorndike, Andrew
Types of material
  • Animation drawings
  • Ephemera
  • Handbills
  • Photographs
  • Posters

Gwin, Lucy

Lucy Gwin Papers
1982-2005
8 boxes (12 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 822

Born in Indiana, the writer Lucy Gwin (1943-2014) lived “a lot of lives,” in her own words, working in advertising, as a dairy farmer, civil rights activist, and deckhand on ships servicing oil rigs, all before the age of 40. While living in Rochester, N.Y., in 1989, however, her life took a sudden turn. After a head-on collision with a drunk driver left her with traumatic brain injury, Gwin was remanded for care to the New Medico Brain Rehabilitation Center, where she witnessed a world of isolation, patient abuse, and powerlessness. Never one to shrink from a challenge, she escaped from the Center and used her skills as an organizer and writer to expose conditions at New Medico and shut the facility down. Through her experiences, Gwin emerged as a powerful, often acerbic voice in all-disability rights advocacy, becoming the founder, designer, and editor of the influential Mouth Magazine in 1990.

Lucy Gwin’s papers document the advocacy of an important figure in the disability rights movement. The rich documentation for Mouth Magazine includes comprehensive editorial files arranged issue by issue, some correspondence with authors and supporters, and copies of the published issue. The balance of the collection contains Gwin’s other work as a writer, personal correspondence, and materials relating to her experiences with and campaign against New Medico.

Subjects
  • Disabled--Civil rights
  • Mouth Magazine

Hampshire Community Action Commission

Hampshire Community Action Commission Records
1965-1984
25 boxes (10.5 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 056

A private, non-profit corporation founded in 1965 in Northampton, Massachusetts to finance community action programs for eliminating poverty and assisting low income people. Programs included day care centers, Neighborhood Youth Corps, Summer Head Start, a drug addiction clinic at the jail, Legal Services, and the Foster Grandparent Program.

Records comprise bylaws and organizational charts, annual reports, board of directors minutes; administrative directors’ records, including correspondence with the federal agencies and state agencies granting funds, grant applications and awards, program plans, financial and legal documents, personnel records and staff training directives; the agency newsletter County Voice, Noticero Latina; and newsclippings about welfare programs.

Subjects
  • Hampshire Community Action Commission
  • Hampshire County (Mass.)--Social conditions
  • Social service--Massachusetts--Hampshire County
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