Listen to this: Listen to excerpts of three oral history interviews.
Murphy Library-Special Collections, in cooperation with the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse History Department and the Oral History Program, stores and maintains over 3,000 hours of taped oral histories. This oral history collection originated in 1968 when Howard Fredricks of the UW-L History Department began a 13 year career as a oral historian. There is now an Oral History Program under the direction of an Oral History Board. Professor Chuck Lee, UW-L History, is the executive director.
The Oral History Program conducts oral history interviews and oversees projects that focus on the history of La Crosse and contiguous areas. It places special emphasis on the five counties served by the UW-La Crosse Area Research Center (Jackson, La Crosse, Monroe, Trempealeau, and Vernon counties). The current collection and interviewing program focuses on two major themes: community and the history of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. The collection is regionally and nationally significant in several areas including Hmong refugee experience; European ethnic groups; turn of the century small city manners and daily life; Midwestern rural life and culture; women’s experience; and the UW-La Crosse.
The program’s collection includes over 1,200 reels of taped interviews, many of them transcribed. The tapes and transcripts are housed in Special Collections in Murphy Library. Arrangement is alphabetical by name of interviewee.
In 2000, Murphy Library was awarded a one-year grant by the National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC) to improve access to the oral history collection. The one-year grant provided $48,000 in matching funds to hire a cataloger and student assistants to catalog and preserve the tapes in the oral history collection.
During the course of the grant, 300 interviews were cataloged and entered into the Murphy Library online catalog. They are fully searchable by author, subject, keyword, date, format, and other criteria. An in-house guide for cataloging oral history material was also developed during the of the grant. Murphy Library staff will catalog new additions to the oral history collection according to these procedures.
In addition to improved access, another goal of the NHPRC grant was to ensure the physical preservation of the original reel-to-reel tapes, some of which dated back to 1968. Over 900 user cassette copies have been made so far from the master reel-to-reel tapes. All original reel-to-reel tapes records prior to 1972 were copied onto new reel-to-reel tapes. Preservation procedures were established during the grant and these protocols will ensure continuing preservation.