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Oral History Collections Research Guide: Mansfield Library Oral History Collections

This guide is a compilation of resources for conducting oral history interviews, as well as information related to select oral history collections available in the Archives and Special Collections of the Mansfield Library.

Spotlight Interview

"I hope 100 years from now we won’t even have this discussion about the value of feminism…I hope that in 100 years from now…it’ll just be an assumed thing that everybody is a feminist. That everybody sees women should have the same rights." - Byrony Schwan, feminist and environmentalist (OH 378-013)

Symbol for woman with a western landscape in the background.

This quote is from an interview with Byrony Schwan for the Montana Feminist History Oral History Project. In the interview Schwan describes how she came to champion environmentalism and feminism side-by-side and her involvement in the organization, Women's Voices for the Earth (WVE). Access the full interview audio and transcript online via ScholarWorks.

Your Librarian

Our Oral History Collection

Over 2,000 oral history recordings are available from the Mansfield Library's Archives and Special Collections. The majority of our oral histories can be found using the library's OneSearch or by using the search box on the Archives and Special Collections homepage. Audio recordings and transcripts for most of our oral histories are located in cabinets just outside the Montana Room and may be checked out from the library. Archives and Special Collections is located on the 4th floor of the Mansfield Library. To view a campus map, click here.

Tips for Locating Oral Histories on OneSearch

All of our oral history interviews consist of a call number that includes OH (for oral history) and a series of numbers 3 digits-3 digits. For example: OH 396-067. You can search our catalog for specific call numbers in the format mentioned above, or if you know the name of the interviewee, search their name followed by the word "interview". For example: Alec Hansen Interview. You can also search for oral histories using subjects, such as forestry, with interview as the title, limiting the material type to audio visual.

Digital Collections

Several of our oral history collections, including the Montana Feminist History project, the Star Quilts Oral History project, the Smokejumpers 1984 Reunion project, and Bob Brown Oral History project, are now available online via ScholarWorks.

Spotlight Collection

University of Montana Centennial Oral History Project (OH 270)

Group photo of four women and three men

First graduating class of the University of Montana-Missoula, 1898, Photo number: UM 94.0654

This collection includes 46 interviews detailing student and faculty life at the University of Montana from the 1930s to the 1980s. The interviews were conducted in 1991 by Annie Pontrelli in preparation for the University of Montana’s centennial in 1993. The interviewees discuss attending the University, the student organizations and activities in which they participated, their faculty colleagues, and former and current University presidents. The interviewees also provide advice to current students about how to make the most of their time at UM. The original interviews are held as Oral History collection OH 270 at Archives and Special Collections, Mansfield Library, University of Montana-Missoula.

Why Oral History?

As little as 40 years ago, many historians did not value oral histories or see them as valid primary sources. The reasoning varied but included the rationale that the interviews could be very subjective and the interviewees were rarely experts or trained observers. By the early 1970s recognition for cultural studies, with a particular focus on the voices and experiences of everyday people, began to take hold across the humanities and social sciences. As the focus of historians has broadened, increasing historical emphasis has been placed on the “common” people and other groups, large and small, rendered voiceless by traditional historical methodology.

One of the most influential oral historians in U.S. history was Studs Terkel, who interviewed thousands of public figures and everyday people.

Man with cigar in mouth

Terkel's focus on everyday people gave voice to individuals such as Native Americans, war veterans, laborers, and people who lived through the Great Depression to preserve the 20th century U.S. history. Terkel's catalog of interviews is available online through the Studs Terkel Radio Archive. He also published a number of books featuring his oral history interviews, including Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression.