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Collection Overview

Historical Note

Scope and Content Note


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Title:Dept. of History, Oral History Office records
Call Number:A21

Historical Note

Wayne Anderson, a lecturer in the history department at Northeastern University, introduced the oral history program as an independent study course at the graduate level in 1977.  Anderson's areas of historical study were twentieth century passenger shipping and maritime history; he began interviewing people involved in these ventures as a personal project. This led him to recognize the value of preserving history through the oral interview and prompted him to offer oral history as an independent study.  In 1979 the first undergraduate oral history course was offered.  Courses on both the undergraduate and graduate levels included discussion of the theory and practice of interviewing and analysis of the value of interviews as historical evidence.  As director of the Oral History Program, Anderson's responsibilities included developing, implementing, and managing interviewing projects; editing transcripts; supervising research; preparing users' guides for the interviews; and caring for the tape collection.

From 1977 to 1990, Anderson and his students participated in a variety of oral history projects.  Projects generally focused on themes of regional interest.  For example, between 1978 and 1990, projects included interviews with Massachusetts residents regarding the following topics:  a race-related shooting within a Cambridge public school, the lives of New England Fishermen, experiences of Episcopal Missionaries in China, histories recounted by twentieth-century immigrants to America, descriptions of work in the Lynn shoe industry, and interviews with World War I and II veterans.  Anderson also undertook several projects that were not directly affiliated with Northeastern.  He worked with several Massachusetts organizations and communities including the Cape Ann Historical Association, the Lincoln Historical Society, the Newton Free Library, and the Winchester Archival Center.  Anderson and his students hoped to collaborate on large projects to produce comprehensive sets of oral history interviews; however, some students elected to do unrelated projects, so the collection also includes several groupings of interviews with only one or two narrators for a given topic.

While the program enjoyed popularity for a few years, it was not strong enough to sustain itself within the history department.  Anderson's death in 1991 also contributed to the demise of the program.  Currently, though, oral history is included in a public history course.

Control File, Oral History Collection, A21.

McGee, Patrick. "Retired Professor of History, 48, Dies," The Northeastern News (February 20, 1991): 3.

"Oral History: A Living Record of the Past," The Northeastern Edition (June 28, 1979): 6.