Tuesday, December 2, 2008

30 Years of Oral History

The following is a press release from Kathy Hodges, the oral historian for the Idaho State Historical Society:

The Idaho Oral History Center, an office within the Idaho State Historical Society, marked its 30th birthday earlier this year. Although the exact anniversary happened at some point during the summer, we didn’t want the year to get away without a celebration. Please drop in to the Public Archives and Research Library at 2205 Old Penitentiary Rd. in Boise on Wednesday, December 3 at 1:30 p.m. to share cake, coffee, and (of course!) reminiscences.

Oral history collecting in Idaho began in the 1960s, with an effort by the Idaho Historical Auxiliary to talk to elderly Idaho pioneers. By 1972, the Idaho Bicentennial Commission was supporting the efforts of several interviewers, who canvassed Idaho looking for residents with memories to share. Those two early efforts yielded some notable recordings. Narrators described Idaho life at the turn of the twentieth century. They told stories about an amazing array of topics, including Prohibition, lawyers, frontier life, school days, Chinese Americans, relationships between Indians and settlers, mining, ranching, notable Idaho characters, stagecoaches and sled dogs. At about the same time, historian and folklorist Sam Schrager was conducting lengthy interviews in Latah county, gathering great information about farming practices, social customs, and the lumber industry.

It was not until 1978 that resources were allocated to sorting out and preserving this colorful material. A statewide oral history conference was held, and an oral history coordinator and an assistant began to sort and catalog the State Historical Society’s collection. The Idaho Oral History Center was born. The next year, the IOHC conducted seven workshops around the state, offering technical assistance to local historians who wanted to embark on their own interviewing projects. We haven’t stopped since.

Oral historians for the Idaho State Historical Society have been:

Elizabeth Bryant-Merrill, oral history coordinator (1978-1979)

Madeline Kelley Buckendorf, oral historian (1979-1989)

Linda Morton-Keithley, oral historian (1989-1998)

Troy Reeves, oral historian (1999-2006)

Kathy Hodges, oral historian (2006-present)

If you happen to be in Boise tomorrow and have taken advantage of the research material available through the oral history program, pop in and say hello and show your appreciation for their work!

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