Tag Archives: Oral History

A Call to Record Veterans’ Histories


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Librarian of Congress James H. Billington has issued a call to action to all Americans. During the Veterans History Project’s 10th Anniversary Commemoration Sept. 29, he launched a new campaign asking America to “collect and preserve the story of at least one veteran” and to “pledge to preserve this important part of American history.” Time is of the essence, he added: “Help us gather in the accounts of 10,000 veterans by Veterans Day.”

Congress created The Veterans History Project in 2000 as a national documentation program of the American Folklife Center (www.loc.gov/folklife/) to record, preserve and make accessible the firsthand remembrances of American wartime veterans from World War I through the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war. More than 68,000 individual stories comprise the collection to date.

The project relies on volunteers to record veterans’ remembrances using guidelines accessible at www.loc.gov/vets/. Volunteer interviewers may request information at vohp@loc.gov or the toll-free message line at (888) 371-5848.

Ellis Island Museum Celebrates 20 Years


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September marks the 20th anniversary of the historic restoration of Ellis Island and the opening of its Immigration Museum on September 10, 1990, which was funded by the American people through The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation. This world class museum has quickly become one of the most popular tourist destinations in New York City, welcoming over 35 million visitors to date.

Just half a mile from the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, the museum’s exhibits highlight the growth of America during the peak immigration years of 1880-1924. The galleries illustrate the Ellis Island immigrant reception process, the immigrants’ arrival and settlement throughout the United States and feature their “Treasures From Home” – the cherished personal objects, photographs and papers they brought with them from their homelands. And the American Immigrant Wall of Honor celebrates the immigrant experience with the inscription of the names of over 700,000 individuals and families who have been honored by their descendants.

The Ellis Island Oral History Archive, created by the Foundation, contains the reminiscences of over 1700 individuals who either immigrated through or worked at Ellis Island during its heyday as the country’s largest immigration processing center. Excerpts from these oral histories are incorporated throughout the museum’s popular audio tour, which allows visitors to vividly relive the immigrant experience as if they were the “new arrival.”

The American Family Immigration History Center, which opened in 2001, offers easy access to the arrival records of more than 25 million immigrants, travelers and crewmembers who entered through the Port of New York and Ellis Island between 1892-1924, and is also available online at www.ellisisland.org.

The restoration of Ellis Island—the largest in U. S. history—began in 1984 as the second part of a multi-million dollar project by the Foundation, in partnership with the National Park Service/U.S. Department of the Interior, which included the Centennial restoration of the Statue of Liberty in 1986. All funds came from private donations, with more than 20 million Americans contributing to the cause.

The Museum is currently undergoing a $20 million expansion to be called The Peopling of America Center. Designed by ESI Design, this exciting new Center will enlarge the story currently told of the Ellis Island Era (1892-1954) to include the entire panorama of the American immigration experience, with exhibits dedicated to those who arrived before Ellis as well as those who arrived after it closed, right up to the present. “The Foundation is proud of what it has accomplished over the last 28 years with the support of the American people in raising over $550 million for the ongoing restoration and preservation of these two most beloved monuments to freedom and opportunity,” said Stephen A. Briganti, President and CEO of The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation. “With the Peopling of America Center scheduled to open in 2012, we will bring the ever-growing story of the populating of America to life, making the Ellis Island Museum both more relevant and a truly living testament to this Nation of Immigrants.”

For more information on the Ellis Island Immigration Museum visit www.ellisisland.org.

New Website Features Franklin County Mill Town


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There is a new website about the Reynolds Brothers Mill and Logging operation in the community of Reynoldston in the Township of Brandon (Franklin County) which was in operation from 1870 – 1940.

“We have created this website to document the history of this small community using oral history tapes and transcripts we created in 1969/70 as well as with historical photographs and a range of related historical documentation,” according to local historian and website volunteer Bill Langlois.

Reynoldston is one of the many logging centered communities in the Adirondacks that prospered during the cutting of local forests but disappeared when those same forests were clear cut.

The site already features oral history interviews, photographs and documents and is expected to expand to include material on Skerry in the Township of Brandon and the Bowen Mill as well as a wide range of other tapes and transcripts on the early history of Franklin County.

Oral History Books: Lost Voices from the Titantic


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On April 15, 1912, the HMS Titanic sank, killing 1,517 people and leaving the rest clinging to debris in the frozen waters of the North Atlantic awaiting rescue. In a new Oral History of the disaster, historian Nick Barratt provides a narrative of the disaster in the words of those involved — among them the designers and naval architects at the White Star Line; first-class aristocratic passengers and the families in third class and steerage; and the boards of inquiry.

Lost Voices from the Titanic: The Definitive Oral History combines tales of folly and courage. Barratt has gathered the aspirations of the owners, the efforts of the crew, and of course, the eyewitness accounts from those lucky enough to survive. Barratt was lucky enough to interview the last surviving passenger of the Titanic about the way the disaster had shaped her life.

The majority of the book however, relies on letters, newspaper articles, memoirs, correspondence, and a few large collections, such as those collated by the historian Walter Lord. In part because the work rests on the words of witnesses rather than a technical account of the sinking, the book uses a surprising amount of original heretofore unpublished material.

Nick Barratt is a columnist for the Daily Telegraph and writes for Ancestor magazine. He is a director of Firebird Media and is on the National Executive Board of the Federation of Family History Societies. He lives in London.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Residents of The Grinnell Launch Centennial Celebration


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The residents of The Grinnell, a land-marked nine-story, triangular cooperative apartment house at 800 Riverside Drive in the Audubon Park Historic District, will begin a year-long celebration of their building’s centennial on June 10, 2010.

Heralding the festivities is the launch of www.TheGrinnellat100.com, a website combining oral history, media clips, historical essays, and images spanning the building’s 100-year history. The year’s events will also include centennial logo and photography competitions, exhibitions in the Grinnell’s community room, apartment tours, a gardening project, and a birthday party. A calendar of events is available on the website.

Constructed between June 10, 1910 and July 23, 1911, the Grinnell sits on a triangular plot of land in Washington Heights where the family of George Blake Grinnell once pastured a few cows when the surrounding area was known as Audubon Park. “The Park,” a bucolic suburb that grew out of John James Audubon’s farm Minnie’s Land, remained suburban into the 20th Century, but became prime property for real estate development when the subway opened at 157th Street in November 1904. Six years later, when the extended Riverside Drive opened, its path crossing Audubon Park, the Grinnell heirs, led by eldest son George Bird Grinnell, sold their property. Developers quickly snapped it up and between 1909 and 1911 erected a group of Beaux Arts apartment houses. Noting the effects of rapid transit, newspaper commentators dubbed the two-year period Audubon Park’s “rapid transformation.”

Like neighboring apartment buildings, the Grinnell lured the prosperous middle-class uptown with amenities such as uniformed staff, spacious apartments “adapted to those accustomed to private houses,” enameled woodwork and paneled dining rooms, and proximity to the subway (“only 200 feet”) – all at prices “30% less than the Middle West Side.” Built around an airy courtyard, The Grinnell remained a fashionable building through the Great Depression, usually fully occupied. In the late 1940s, the Evangelist Daddy Grace bought the Grinnell, considering it and the Eldorado on Central Park West the prime properties in his real estate portfolio. Both were part of his estate when he died in 1960. Although Daddy Grace reputedly refused to integrate his properties, the actress, playwright, and author Alice Childress lived at the Grinnell from the 1950s into the 1970s, though in the ‘50s, she was certainly an exception, rather than the rule.

During the 1970s, the Grinnell suffered landlord neglect as did many apartment buildings in Manhattan. Grinnell tenants organized and demanded better services, eventually resorting to a rent strike to force the owner into providing basic amenities such as heat and hot water. When the landlord abandoned the Grinnell, owing large tax and utility bills, the residents began the arduous process of assuming management of the building, eventually buying it from New York City in 1982. The resulting co-op became The Grinnell, HDFC (Housing Development Finance Corporation).

During the ensuing three decades, determined boards of directors and dedicated residents revived what was virtually a dead building, replacing and upgrading building systems and restoring common areas to their original beauty. Individual co-op shareholders have restored their apartments, improving their personal investments as well as the co-op’s financial health.

The centennial events will celebrate these achievements as well as the diversity of the Grinnell’s population. From a homogenous population at the beginning of the 20th Century, the Grinnell has progressed to a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic population mirroring the city around it.

A theme running through the centennial celebration is the Grinnell’s place in its community. Grinnell residents actively supported the Audubon Park Historic District effort and are the first private participants in the Heritage Rose District of New York City, a project sponsored by Borough President Scott Stringer’s office. During the centennial year, the Grinnell garden committee will increase its heritage rose collection to thirty bushes, all of them fully visible to the neighborhood, and will dedicate its Heritage Rose Garden in June 2011. An exhibition in September 2010, “The Ground beneath Our Feet,” will trace the close ties between the Grinnell and land surrounding it. A photo competition and exhibition in February 2011 will focus on the Grinnell’s neighbors; submissions must be views of the neighborhood as seen from the Grinnell’s windows. All events, including the Grinnell’s birthday party on October 17, 2010, will be open to the public.

Saratoga: World War Two Vets Recount Their Stories


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The public is invited to a panel discussion this Sunday, December 6th, at 2:00 pm at the Saratoga Library (13650 Saratoga Avenue in Saratoga Springs). Saratoga Historical Foundation Historian Ray Cosyn will moderate as veterans from World War II recount their memories.

Participating in the panel will be George Cooper who flew P47’s in the European Theater with 77 missions; Herbert Kwart who flew a Flying Fortress as part of the 8th Air Force with 35 missions; Ed Pack, with the 59th Signal Battalion and later the 8th Corp part of those liberating the concentration camps; Bud Rideout, on of the Flying Tigers; and Mac McCaughey part of the 94th Division who landed on Omaha Beach.

Light refreshments will be served. The event is free to the public. The Saratoga History Museum is sponsoring the event.

Photo: USS Saratoga During World War Two. From the collections of the Library of Congress.

Senate House’s African American Culture and History Festival


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Scholar on African American history in the Hudson Valley, Professor A.J. Williams-Myers, of SUNY New Paltz, will give a talk looking at the specific contributions of Africans and African Americans to the Hudson Valley’s development entitled, “There is a River – A Mighty River: Social and Economic Contributions of Africans along the Hudson, from the Dutch Period to the American Revolution.” The talk, at 11:00 am on Saturday, October 3, is the kickoff event for an entire weekend of free programming: Senate House’s African American Culture and History Festival, which takes place from 11:00 am to 4:30 pm on Saturday and Sunday, October 3 and 4.

In his talk, Professor Williams-Myers examines the African at center stage in the unfolding of history along the Hudson River above New York City. Professor Williams-Myers notes: “Heretofore, the African has been marginal to that history, and his or her social, economic and military contributions have not been adequately integrated into the larger picture.” There is a River moves the African from out of the shadows of the margin and into the sunlight of center stage, while succinctly recounting his or her historical role in the unfolding of history along the mighty Hudson River.

Professor of Black Studies at the State University of New York at New Paltz, Williams-Myers is the author of numerous books, including, Long Hammering: Essays on the Forging of an African American Presence in the Hudson River Valley to the Early Twentieth Century (1994) and On the Morning Tide: African Americans, History and Methodology in the Historica (2003).

The lecture is part of a free, weekend-long festival celebrating the cultural contributions of African Americans to the Hudson River Valley, New York, and the nation. Saturday, October 3, and Sunday October 4 will include live music, dance, drama, and spoken word performances, as well as art, hands-on activities, food, and free tours of Senate House and free admission to the Senate House Museum. Some of the scheduled artists include Voices of Glory, a young a cappella threesome who are finalists on the TV show, America’s Got Talent; renowned performers Kim and Reggie Harris; The Voices of Praise choir; the Ulster County Community Choir, the Energy Dance Troupe; the SUNY New Paltz Step Dancers, Kibola Sougei African Dance Troupe, and historical dramatists Carolyn Evans (as Sojourner Truth) and Terry Gittens (as Bessie Mae).

Senate House will also debut its African American Oral History recordings, made recently in collaboration with the Ulstercorps Harvesting a Lifetime Oral History Project, conducted with residents of Ulster County, sharing with us their experiences over the past six decades.

Senate House State Historic Site is located at 296 Fair Street, Kingston, NY 12401. For more information please call (845) 338-2786, or visit the following website for more information: www.nysparks.state.ny.us.

Northern NY Discusses Interviewing and Oral History


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The Clinton-Essex Counties Roundtable will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 9, 2009 at the Northern New York American Canadian Genealogy Society, Keeseville Civic Center, 1802 Main St., Keeseville. The topic will be “Community Scholars Training: Interviewing & Oral History” and will be presented by Traditional Arts in Upstate New York (TAUNY) Executive Director Jill Breit.

Breit will share examples of successful oral history projects and demonstrate the many ways interviews can be used for different outcomes. She will focus on how to organize an oral history project, the basics of an oral history interview, the importance of field notes and follow-up interviews, recorders and other equipment for collecting oral history.

There will also be a tour of NNY American Canadian Genealogy Society Library and the Anderson Falls Heritage Society. Lunch will be provided at a cost of $5.00, payable at the roundtable.

The roundtable is provided free of charge to the public on behalf of the Northern New York Library Network, Potsdam, and Documentary Heritage Program. To register for this event contact the NNYLN at 315-265-1119, or sign up on-line at www.nnyln.org and click on “Classes.”

SUNY Albany Offers New History and Media MA Degree


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The University at Albany’s Department of History has introduced a new 36-credit History and Media concentration to its Masters program, allowing students to learn and apply specialized media skills — digital history and hypermedia authoring, photography and photoanalysis, documentary filmmaking, oral/video history, and aural history and audio documentary production — to the study of the past. The History and Media concentration builds on the Department’s strengths in academic and public history and its reputation as an innovator in the realm of digital and multimedia history.

Among the History and Media courses to be offered beginning in the fall of 2009 are: Introduction to Historical Documentary Media; Narrative in Historical Media; Readings and Practicum in Aural History and Audio Documentary Production; Readings and Practicum in Digital History and Hypermedia; Readings in the History and Theory of Documentary Filmmaking; Readings in Visual Media and Culture; Introduction to Oral and Video History; Research Seminar and Practicum in History and Media.

Instructors in the History and Media concentration will vary but will include a core faculty including: Gerald Zahavi, Professor; Amy Murrell Taylor, Associate Professor; Ray Sapirstein, Assistant Professor; Sheila Curran Bernard, Assistant Professor.

For more information, contact Gerald Zahavi, zahavi@albany.edu; 518-442-5427.

ORDA Creating New Sliding Sports Museum


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The New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) is looking to create the North American Sliding Sports Museum at Lake Placid’s historic Olympic Sports Complex. At this time, ORDA would like to call on all former bobsledders, lugers and skeleton athletes or family members of deceased athletes to come to Lake Placid during competition weekends in February. ORDA is calling on all former track workers or family members of deceased track workers who have kept their story and history alive. The Olympic Sports Complex is in the preliminary planning stage of creating a North America Sliding Sports Museum and ORDA would like to record the history, memories, stories and experiences of everyone affiliated with the Lake Placid tracks.

The goal of the North America Sliding Sports Museum is to tell the stories of athletes, to educate the public and inspire future athletes of these fast paced sports. Along with oral histories, ORDA is also accepting artifacts, programs, all images, uniforms, posters, club logos, club trophies, and more. By donating these items to the Olympic Museum, not only is the public memorializing special experiences but also contributing to a unique piece of history and everyone will be given a deed of gift to use at tax time.

The dates will be February 6-8, 20-22 and Feb. 26- March 1. Each person who donates or records an oral history will receive free admission to the world championships.
For more information on how to donate historical memorabilia, or to schedule an interview, please contact ORDA Corporate Development Assistant Alison Casey at (518) 523-1655 ext. 343 or email her at acasey@orda.org.

West Point Launches Center for Oral History Online


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The Military Academy at West Point has launched an ambitious Center for Oral History to serve as a living archive on the experiences of American soldiers in war and peace. The Center aims to be a powerful learning tool for West Point cadets and an important research center for historians, as well as a destination for the public to gain greater understanding of the essential and unique calling of the U.S. soldier. The Center for Oral History will exist largely online, with high definition video and digital audio files, easing access for everyone from campus cadets to scholars, journalists and interested students half a world away. The New York History blog recently reported on the demise of the New York State Veterans Oral History Project at the New York State Military History Museum and Veterans Research Center in Saratoga Springs.

One of the Center’s first projects has been to interview members of West Point’s Class of 1967, who, upon graduation, were sent almost immediately to the war in Vietnam. Another has been to interview soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of a comprehensive, anecdotal account of those current campaigns. Researchers are also gathering material from veterans of World War II, Vietnam and the so-called “forgotten war” in Korea. By definition, the Center will be a work in perpetual progress, continuously updated as history unfolds.

The objective is to assemble an unrivaled video, audio and text record of military life – in the field, as well as in the classroom and also the “war room,” since the Center hopes to include interviews with senior Pentagon strategists and former Secretaries of Defense and State who have helped shape military and foreign policy. But its core mission is to capture the personal narratives of those who have lived the military life.

The Center has the benefit of a Board of Advisers composed of military scholars, journalists, government officials and filmmakers to help set its agenda, develop new projects and content, and assist with fund-raising.

In addition to a number of military historians from around the country, board members include Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Brent Scowcroft, a 1947 West Point graduate whose long government career included serving as National Security Advisor to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush; Rick Atkinson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the Washington Post and author of several major accounts of American wars, including The Long Gray Line and An Army at Dawn; Martha Raddatz, longtime correspondent for ABC News, who covered the Pentagon for National Public Radio and authored The Long Road Home (2007), the account of a surprise attack on the Army’s First Calvary Division in Iraq; and Ken Burns, whose opus The Civil War heralded a new standard for multi-part documentaries, which he followed with Baseball, Jazz and The War.

Much of the credit for creating the Center goes to Col. Lance Betros, who took over as head of West Point’s history department in 2005 and marshaled resources to secure initial funding and recruited senior faculty to help develop some of the early content.

The Center will develop projects devoted to different aspects of soldiers’ lives – as well as different eras in soldiering. One of the highlights is that compilation of interviews with members of the West Point Class of 1967, young officers who entered active duty at a pivotal time in the Vietnam War and later returned to steer the Army’s course on behalf of a nation reeling from social unrest and political scandal. Other subjects expected to be tackled through the Center’s oral histories:

Wartime decisions of former Secretaries of Defense, State, and
the Army, along with key members of Congress; The place of religious faith in soldiers’ lives; Case studies on insurgency, bioterrorism, the surge in Iraq and other topical subjects of warfare based on cross-section; interviews with returning troops, military leaders and policy makers; the historic role of athletics among West Point cadets, through interviews with soldier-athletes and former coaches of the legendary Army football team and other sports teams, many of whose players went on to illustrious professional sports careers; retrospective views on World War I, the Civil War and other major American conflicts offered by visiting historians and West Point’s faculty; contemporary social changes as experienced at West
Point itself, through oral histories with the Academy’s former superintendents, deans, commandants, cadets, and others.

Also in the works are publishing and broadcasting projects based on the rich lode of content the Center gathers. Discussions are underway with the renowned Fred Friendly
Seminars, whose charged situational debates have been broadcast on PBS. Mr. Brewster is working to develop a Fred Friendly program at West Point to take on the subject of fighting insurgencies, bringing together a hypothetical cast of players ranging from the President and Secretary of Defense to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a policy maven and even a White House press officer.

In hoping to draw maximum traffic and general interest users in addition to scholars, the Center will utilize universal search technology so that anyone searching the web for primary source interviews with veterans and soldiers will see links to the West Point content. Like a true archive, the site will have virtual rooms and chapters dedicated to certain subjects and periods in military history, from the Civil War to Vietnam and Iraq. Links to other web sites offering veterans’ interviews will also be provided. The oral histories will be integrated into West Point’s own curriculum, so that professors can easily draw from interviews as part of their own course materials.

NYS Military Museum Abandons Oral History Project


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The Albany Times Union is reporting that the New York State Veterans Oral History Project is being abandoned by the leaders of the New York State Military History Museum and Veterans Research Center (which is run by the NYS Division of Military and Naval Affairs).

The man who had been running the oral history program from the basement of the Military Museum in Saratoga Springs, Michael Russert (cousin of the late broadcaster Tim Russert), retired at the end of June after having recorded nearly 1,500 interviews over the past eight years. His equipment was sold at a loss on eBay and the program’s space has been cleared out:

The state let it go for $1,200 without consulting staff after buying it for $14,000, Russert said.

“I was really crushed when I found the studio was going on eBay,” said Russert, a retired teacher who lives in Cambridge. “They looked at it as a waste of space, and that always bothered me because it was a very valuable program for the museum.”

The collection now contains 1,595 interviews, including talks with three World War I vets and three Medal of Honor recipients. The project aims to capture firsthand stories of veterans and make them accessible to historians and to the public.

The state Office of General Services sold the studio for the museum because it occupied prime exhibit space, museum Director Michael Aikey said. He wouldn’t say how much it was sold for, and an inquiry to OGS went unanswered…

The state is not rehiring for Russert’s position, said Lt. Col. Richard Goldenberg, a spokesman for the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs.

Wayne Clark, the program’s videographer, has taken on an expanded role that includes identifying vets, coordinating meetings, doing interviews and publicizing the program…

The lack of manpower is slowing the archiving of stories from the state’s veterans at a time when many World War II vets die every day and New York service members are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, Russert says.

The Military Museum is located on the web here, and the Veteran’s Oral History Program is located here. Neither sites have been updated recently (some stuff there dates from 2006, and there are currently no events scheduled for the museum). The museum has been closed for the past month while the heavy wooden doors on the building’s front entrance were replaced with new glass doors.