Many Paths, Many Voices:
Oral Histories from the University of Washington Special Collections
The University of Washington Special Collections began collecting oral histories in the 1960s as part of an effort to document the history and culture of our regional ethnic communities. Forging partnerships with local organizations, oral historians recorded interviews with members of the Scandinavian American, African American, Japanese American, and Jewish communities in Seattle and Washington State. Later, this effort broadened to document the Northwest arts community and spawned new projects such as the North Cascades History Project. Today, these oral histories represent the bulk of an ever-growing collection and stand as a rich resource for researchers from a variety of fields.
About Oral Histories and the Digitization Project
Oral histories are planned, pre-researched interviews with participants of past events. The term can include products such as audio or video recordings as well as electronic or print transcriptions of such an interview. Recording the recollections of first-hand participants in events, oral histories are a valuable primary source document in historical research. Often, oral histories reveal the unique stories of participants in larger events and can include different perspectives or more details than secondary source histories of the events.
In 2011, the Libraries Special Collection division began a pilot project to tackle the digitization of its oral histories. While the digitized interviews in this database represent only a fraction of the oral history collection, the goal is to eventually preserve all these voices in a digital format. This project has been a collaboration between the Libraries Special Collections and Digital Initiatives, with special thanks to the Washington State Jewish Historical Society for additional funding.
About the Collections
The oral histories in this collection were selected from manuscripts accessions located in the UW Libraries Special Collections division. Of special importance are the various ethnic projects started as early as 1958. They are considered of major importance because they constitute a significant part of the documentation of these communities. Additional oral histories emphasize regional labor history, mountaineering activities, and the history of the Northwest art scene.
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