October 14th, 2013
Hearing someone describe their own experience of events in the past, as an eyewitness, provides an almost tangible connection to history, a connection that can be found missing when compared to reading second hand accounts of past events by historians and others. The immediacy of oral history interviews can make them a compelling resource for research, whether the subject is a veteran of World War II, a striking miner, or a mountaineer discussing folklore.
The West Virginia and Regional History Center possesses a large and diverse collection of oral history recordings. A catalog of this material is now available online for researchers. Most of the interviews in this collection were recorded from the 1940s to the 1980s. Some of the earliest interviews contain narratives that speak first-hand about life in the 1800s.
The content of the recordings is diverse, documenting the culture and history of West Virginia and the surrounding region. Topics include:
- industry (including agriculture, coal mining, glass, newspapers, railroads, timber, etc.);
- immigration (including Swiss in the town of Helvetia, Italians, Polish, etc.);
- labor history (including child labor, unions, strikes, mine disasters, “Mother Jones”, etc.);
- education, health care, social work, and religion;
- folk culture (including folklore, music, food, blacksmithing, etc.);
- utilities (including electricity, telephone, and water);
- West Virginia University;
- World War I;
- Great Depression;
- World War II; and
Originally on sound recording tape, the collection has been digitized to facilitate access and use, and to preserve the physical integrity of the original recording medium.
Blog post by Michael Ridderbusch.