Primary sources with pizzazz from the Oral History Center

If you’re an instructor looking for remote learning tools or a scholar or student looking for primary sources, you might just find it in our online archive.

Add some spice to your research papers, lectures, remote lessons

We’re sheltering in place, the libraries are closed, and we all need to adjust to this new “normal” of social distancing and remote learning and teaching. It may at times feel daunting to shift gears on such a tight timeline. A bit of good news in all this uncertainty: the UC Berkeley Oral History Center has an online archive of more than 4,000 interviews on a multitude of topics.

So if you’re…

  • A professor, teacher, or high school administrator looking for remote learning tools
  • A scholar, grad student, undergrad, or high school student looking for primary sources for your paper

…you might just find it in our online archive.

Primary sources with pizzazz — and ed tech

Transcripts on shelves
Transcripts of oral histories are stored in a room in The Bancroft Library and are available online. (Photo by Jami Smith for the UC Berkeley Library)

The Oral History Center (OHC) has oral history interviews on a countless number of topics, including science, engineering, medicine, business, politics, the environment, the economy, social movements, women’s rights, gay rights, art, music, literature, education, philanthropy, athletics, UC Berkeley history, and more.

The focus is on US history, California, and the West, plus some interviews with an international focus (such as global mining, communism). Information in interviews stretch back to the late 19th/early 20th century and also address some of our most recent social and political issues, including same-sex marriage and culturally competent medical care.

We’re committed to open access and all of our transcripts and interpretive materials are accessible online at no cost, whether you are a scholar, student, or member of the general public. We also have video and audio clips for many. Some transcripts are even synched to the full videotaped interview, specifically for the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front Collection (interviews with “View OHMS video” have this capability).

How to search the collection

There are several ways to search the vast collection.

Reid Soskin
Betty Reid Soskin is featured in our African American history collection guide.

If you know what you’re looking for, select Advanced Search and enter key words in the full text feature. Use quotation marks for an exact match. Check “Limit to records that include audio/video” if you want to be sure there’s video for the transcript. The full text search is particularly useful to find gems in our individual interviews on a myriad of topics. For example, seventy-seven oral histories mention the word “quarantine” and three “coronavirus.”

You can browse projects to see what’s in the entire collection by specific subjects.

You can scan our collection guides, for some guidance on locating interviews on topics that cross projects, such as African American history, veterans, and the Holocaust.

Podcasts

The OHC also has a podcast series, The Berkeley Remix, featuring audio recordings of our interviews on a wide range of topics, both historical and on current events, ideal for distance learning. Topics include:

AIDS and San Francisco: 6 episodes on the epidemic and community response
Engineering and Computer Science: on the microchip, open access, and Silicon Valley
Food: on the farm-to-table food movement
Parks and the Environment: 3 episodes on on preserving the land, women in non-traditional gender roles, and fighting the 1998 Oakland Hills Fire
Preserving the Coast: on saving Lighthouse Point in Santa Cruz
UC Berkeley student housing: on women’s equality, disabled student access, and desegregation
Women in Politics: 6 episodes on suffrage through the 1990s

Prestigious $500 prize for UC Berkeley undergrads

UC Berkeley undergrads who use OHC’s oral history interviews for a UC Berkeley class paper in any discipline are eligible for a $500 prize for outstanding primary source research. Students — you don’t need to write a separate paper; just submit one from a class where you have used the interviews. Instructors — if you’re teaching a UC Berkeley class where students need to write a research paper, please let them know about the Friesen Prize.

Photo montage
The Oral History Center has interviews on just about every topic imaginable, including architecture, the Port Chicago mutiny, the Chicano Studies movement, the Free Speech Movement, the World War II home front, women in politics, California politics, and much more. Top row from L to R: George Matsumoto, Jerry Brown, Mary Cohen with soldiers, Joe Small. Bottom row from L to R: Betty Reid Soskin, Free Speech march, Antonia Castaneda, March Fong Eu.