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Oral History Research Guide

A compilation of resources on what oral history is, how to do oral history, and how to locate oral history interviews.

Finding Oral Histories at the Library

Over 2,100 oral history recordings are available from the Mansfield Library's Archives and Special Collections. Physical copies of many of our oral history sound recordings and transcripts are available for checkout and can be found using the library's online catalog, OneSearch.

Tips for Finding Oral Histories on OneSearch

  • If you know the name of the interviewee, search their name followed by the word "interview" or "oral history", then limiting to "audio visual" in the Resource Type field. For example: "Alec Hansen" and "interview". 
  • You can also search for oral histories using a subject keyword, such as "forestry" or "women's history" or "smokejumpers", in one search field, then the phrase "oral history" in a separate search field, and limiting to "audio visual" in the Resource Type field.

To learn more about using OneSearch, watch this short video.

Once you've located an oral history in OneSearch that you'd like to checkout, find the physical copy on Level 4 of the Mansfield Library, just outside the Montana Room. The transcripts and indexes are in separate file cabinets from the audio cassettes, but the cases are available to browse any time the library is open. To locate the Mansfield Library, view a campus map by clicking here. To locate Level 4 or Archives and Special Collections, view a library map by clicking here

Finding Oral Histories Available Online

Over 1,100 oral history interviews in the Mansfield Library's Archives and Special Collections are available online via ScholarWorks. Most of them have been transcribed so you can listen to the audio, or read a print version of it. The audio and / or transcripts on ScholarWorks may be downloaded for free.

To learn more about using ScholarWorks, watch this short video.

The oral history interviews available on ScholarWorks are organized alphabetically by the title of the specific oral history project or collection. The stand-alone oral histories have also been pulled together by topic such as Montana Dude RanchesMontana CommunitiesReligion in MontanaSettlers, Homesteaders, Ranchers, and FarmersMontana EducatorsLand Use, Forestry, and Conservation, and Montana Businesses.

To find individual interviews, click on the title of the project or collection in ScholarWorks. Then you will see a description of the interview, and can download the audio and / or transcript.

Finding Oral Histories in Print

There are a number of published oral history volumes at the Mansfield Library. While the topics vary and sound recordings typically don't accompany the volume, oral histories in print, which include excerpts or full transcripts of interviews, can help you access primary sources on a topic not covered by oral history interviews held at the Mansfield Library. You can find them in OneSearch by keyword searching your topic and the term "oral history". You can further limit your search to "Books (Print)" or "Books (Electronic)" in the Resource Type field. The example below was located in OneSearch by doing the following:

  1. Limiting the search to UM Physical Items.
  2. Searching the terms "World War", "atrocities", and "oral history".
  3. Further limiting the Resource Type to "Books (Print)".

Portelli, A. (2004). The Order Has Been Carried Out. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Locating Oral Histories by Keyword

Thinking of the right keywords when you're searching can help you locate materials more easily. If you're having difficulty finding good information, or any information, it may be because you aren't using the right keywords. Before searching for oral history interviews in the library catalog or on ScholarWorks brainstorm a variety of keywords for your topic. This is easier if you write down your thesis statement and locate the major terms in it. Then brainstorm as many ways as you can to say those terms. For example, if your topic is on homesteading in Montana, you might consider the following keywords: homesteading or homesteaders; poineers; settlers; early settlement; ranchers or ranch life; farmers or farm life.

More Keyword Tips

  • To narrow or expand your search, combine keywords using the search limiters AND, OR, NOT, which will narrow or expand your search.
  • Put quotation marks around a phrase, such as "ranch life" so that the library catalog will look for oral histories with the subject of ranch life, not oral histories that contain the words "ranch" and "life". There are a lot of oral history interviews with the word "life" that have nothing to do with ranches or homesteads.
  • Remember that word spellings and usage change over time. If you're looking for interviews about the Kootenai tribe, try both "Kootenai" and "Kutenai". Otherwise, you might miss interviews described with one spelling of the word, but not the other.