The Wyoming State Historical Society is taking on a big project: hunting down as many oral histories that have been done in Wyoming as it can find.
With the help of a grant from the State Historical Records Advisory Board (SHRAB) and the historical website wyohistory.org, the Society plans to create a database of oral histories that can be made available to researchers online or at libraries, museums, colleges, and other institutions around the state.
“Recording people’s memories of historical events and experiences has been going on for a very long time,” explains WSHS President Rick Ewig. “And those memories are invaluable to historians, especially for reconstructing local and state history. But researchers often are not aware of the vast amount of information that has been recorded or they don’t know how to access it. That’s the purpose of this project: to locate and inventory these recorded memories and make the information available more broadly.”
The formal practice of oral history — interviewing people about their experiences — was developed in the late 1940s by professional historians. But it moved into popular practice in the 1970s, after African-American author Alex Haley drew upon his family’s oral traditions to tell their story in the book Roots.
Hundreds of communities around the country launched oral history projects to record personal memories of local events and people as well as regional and national experiences.
“These recordings are rich in memory,” explains project director Barbara Bogart. “They tell us not just what happened, but how people felt about what happened, how events affected them, even changed their lives. And they often give us insights into local history that simply aren’t available from any other source.”
Over the next 12 months, the Society will be surveying libraries, museums, local historical societies and colleges for their oral history collections and will begin to build a database of those collections.
For more information about the project or to provide information about oral histories that you know of, contact project director Barbara Bogart at [email protected] or Linda Fabian at Wyoming State Historical Society headquarters, [email protected] or 307-322-3014.