The Oral History Center has been as busy as ever this year, publishing hundreds of hours’ worth of interviews online. On top of making this wide range of voices available to the public, my colleagues have also used these collections of The Bancroft Library to interpret, frame and share new stories about our past. In November, the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives project was launched, featuring interviews with the descendants of the incarceration camps during World War II. Not only are the transcripts online, but there is also a podcast and a deeply moving work of graphic illustrations that draw meaning from the interviews. In October, Todd Holmes and Roger Eardley-Pryor designed, wrote, and launched a new museum exhibit, Voices for the Environment: A Century of Bay Area Activism at the Bancroft Library Gallery, which runs through November 2024. There is an accompanying digital exhibit, which will feature podcasts, mini-documentaries, and a curriculum guide for students and teachers that will live on long after the gallery exhibit closes.
Center staff showed great leadership in the field of oral history. There is always lots to say about our oral history education programs, but what was new this year was OHC participation in a pilot historical methods course for undergraduate majors of UC Berkeley’s history program. Oral historian Shanna Farrell took a seat this year on the council of the Oral History Association, and Amanda Tewes and Roger Eardley-Pryor also led panels and gave papers at the OHA annual meeting. Todd Holmes, together with our Advanced Institute alum Emi Kuboyama, won the Autry Prize from the Western History Association for their documentary on the redress of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Communications and editorial lead Jill Schlessinger created, oversaw, and updated our editorial process. On the back end of our production, David Dunham led the team that transferred and preserved almost two thousand hours of audio-video that was trapped on defunct recording formats. Of course, we couldn’t have done this work without the help we get from student employees in production, preservation, and communications. Finally, following a competitive national search, I would like to celebrate the arrival of the new historian of science, technology, and medicine, Liz Semler.
I want to thank every member of the OHC staff for a great year! From all of us, we wish you all a peaceful and magical holiday and a wonderful 2024!
–OHC Director Paul Burnett
OHC Staff Reflections
I am grateful to have celebrated my 21st year with the Oral History Center. It is a privilege to support the efforts of our interviewers in producing the array of oral histories produced this year. I relish the opportunity to work with student workers, undergraduate research apprenticeship program [URAP] participants, and librarian interns. Students are integral to our production and preservation processes, ensuring that our transcripts, audio, and video are accessible and preserved. They also bring new perspectives and insights into our oral histories. It’s a cliche to say win-win, but our student workers and interns consistently share how participating with the OHC enriches their academic, intellectual, professional, and human interests. We could not do a fraction of the work we do without them. Special thanks this year to the following students and interns that contributed in countless ways to the OHC: Max Afifi; Sadie Baldwin; Peter Beshay; Hue Bui; Mina Choi; Georgia Cutter; Jason de Haaff; Nikki Do; Ava Escobedo; Leah Freeman; Samantha Goodson; Meiya Gujjalu; Anthony Lin; Lina Matine; Solomon Nichols; Guisselle Salazar; Mela Seyoum; Joe Sison; Manyi Tang; Kate Trout; Erin Vinson; and Cathy Zhang.
My fifth year at OHC was the busiest yet! I’m especially grateful for exceptional and collaborative colleagues at OHC. This past year, we curated our first oral-history-focused gallery exhibit with videos and a podcast; we promoted our innovative Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives project, including graphic art and a superlative podcast; and we continued conducting and publishing outstanding oral history interviews. I’m also grateful that our new colleague, Liz, joined the OHC team. I hope you and yours celebrate all that’s good at the end of this year, and that next year is even better.
What a year 2023 has been! While I’ve had the privilege of working on several projects this past year, I’m very proud of working with Roger Eardley-Pryor and Amanda Tewes on the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives project, which launched in November. We interviewed 23 survivors and descendants of WWII-era site of Japanese American incarceration, and produced a podcast and commissioned an artist to make graphic illustrations based on these oral histories. It’s been an extremely meaningful project to be a part of, and I’m grateful for the collaborative efforts of my colleagues to bring it to fruition.
Looking back on the year of 2023, I am struck by the power of collaboration. This year the Oral History Center curated the multimedia exhibit, Voices for the Environment: A Century of Bay Area Activism, at The Bancroft Gallery, a collaborative effort that was beyond rewarding. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to do this work and collaborate with an amazing cast of colleagues.
I look forward every year to this opportunity to acknowledge the talented team of student editors that make the pace of our work possible. They do the work of professional editors, create abstracts for oral histories with missing metadata, write articles about our narrators and projects, and provide invaluable suggestions in our department’s quest for continuous improvement of our workflow and processes. We said farewell to some long-term employees who recently graduated: Mollie Appel-Turner, William Cooke, Adam Hagen, Serena Ingalls, and Shannon White; I’d like to say thank you to our ongoing editor, Timothy Yue; and welcome two new staff, Nikhil Jagota and Lauren von Aspen. My favorite memory from 2023 was learning about how the experience of working with oral history has had a profound impact on how our student employees see things. I hope you will enjoy reading about their reflections as much as I did in this article, Connection, Insight, Inspiration, Truth: Berkeley undergraduates reflect on oral history.
This past year has been a wild ride! I said goodbye to multi-year projects, moved across the country, and started a position at the Oral History Center in October. Although it’s only been a few months, I’ve already learned much in my new role, including technical details like how to use video recording equipment and more broadly about UC Berkeley and the surrounding area. As with any big change, sometimes I feel overwhelmed with the new-ness of it all. But change brings opportunity! I’m grateful for the chance to forge a new path as an interviewer and historian here at the Oral History Center and am excited to discover what the upcoming year holds.
In November 2023, I was honored to be a part of a great team (along with Roger Eardley-Pryor and Shanna Farrell) that launched the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project, featuring 100 hours of oral history interviews with 23 Japanese American narrators who are survivors and descendants of two World War II-era sites of incarceration: Manzanar in California and Topaz in Utah. This public launch highlighted the release of most of the 23 oral history interviews, a four-part podcast series based on these original interviews, and graphic art inspired by the stories and themes from the interviews. It has truly been a meaningful experience to be a part of such important work about intergenerational memory and healing. Many thanks to the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant for funding this phase of the project!