South Asian Oral History Project

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The University of Washington Libraries greatly recognizes the importance of oral histories as an important primary source for historical narratives. This recognition has led to the South Asian Oral History Project (SAOHP) at the University of Washington Libraries. The SAOHP represents one of the first attempts in the U.S. to record pan-South Asian immigrant experiences in the Pacific Northwest using the medium of oral history. This initiative not only has the goal of preserving the history of South Asian immigration to the region, but also of making these historical resources/material available to everyone. This project began in 2005 through a generous grant to the UW Libraries Special Collections from Irene Joshi, the former South Asia Studies Librarian at UW Libraries. Her contribution of $7000 set in motion this exciting project of remembering and celebrating the achievements of South Asians.

The SAOHP has been conducted in three phases. Each phase is marked by key historical events that drew South Asians to the United States like the end of World War Two and the partition of India and Pakistan, the opening of U.S. immigration laws in 1965 to people from South Asia, and the growth of key technology industries in the region that attracted South Asian students and workers.

Taken together, these interviews make up a unique record of the lives of South Asians who have contributed greatly to the fabric and texture of the region. These interviews reflect religious, linguistic, occupational and gender diversity and provide rich insight into changing experiences of South Asians in the Pacific Northwest.

The full transcripts and recordings are housed in the UW Libraries Special Collection and will be available for research and study by faculty, students and the community interested in the South Asian Diaspora. The transcriptions and audio recordings from Phase 1 and the transcription and audio/video recordings from phase2 and 3 are also available digitally.

The phase 2 and 3 interviews were made possible through UW Librariesí 21st Century Grant, King County's 4Culture and additional grants and donations by the local South Asian organizations such as Indian Association of Western Washington, Indian American Education Foundation and private donors.

These interviews are now part of Ellis Island Exhibit. The History Channel, has been working with a firm called ESI Design on a new exhibit for the Ellis Island National Immigration History Museum in New York. The interviews have been used in an audio installation called "The Peopling of America Center" which will play short, spoken comments from migrants about their journeys to America, including the stories of South Asian immigrants. The excerpts will be read by a voice-over actor, in both Hindi and in English. This audio will stream continuously out of speakers embedded in the wall. The exhibit opened in July of 2011 and will stay open for 10 years. More information is available in the UWeek article entitled "Donation leads to database, exhibit and book -- all honoring the contribution of immigrants from South Asia".


Roots and Reflections

roots and ReflectionsDr. Amy Bhatt and Dr. Nalini Iyer worked with the University of Washington Press and University of Washington Libraries on a manuscript which is based on the South Asian Oral History Project. The book, entitled "Roots and Reflections: South Asians Map the Pacific Northwest," was published in December 2012. This book also has a foreword by Deepa Banerjee, the South Asian Studies Librarian.

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