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Oral Histories

Founded in 1964, the American West Center is the oldest regional studies center of its type. Oral history has been at the core of the Center’s work from the beginning. The University of Utah was one of only six institutions to receive a grant from the tobacco heiress Doris Duke to record the oral histories of Native peoples. Over a five-year period beginning in 1966, American West Center staff conducted interviews in six western states. Ultimately the Doris Duke Indian Oral History collection totaled 1,458 interviews and as of today the Center has conducted 2,000 total interviews with Native peoples.

The center has also recorded the experiences of other ethnic groups beginning with Japanese Americans and Utah’s Latino/a citizens. In 1999, the Center launched a major Veterans oral history initiative that now includes interviews with veterans of World War II, Korea, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In July 2014 the Center will launch a new Veterans Vietnam-specific collection. Other oral history programs included the University of Utah History Project, Utah Outdoor Recreation Oral Histories, Pacific Worlds, Utah Environmentalism, Polio survivors, and the Center’s newest project, Saline Stories: An Oral History of Great Salt Lake. All told, the American West Center has recorded, processed, and preserved over 7,000 oral history interviews over the past half century.

 

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Saline Stories:  An Oral History of the Great Salt Lake

In August of 2013 the American West Center launched a new project focused on creating a comprehensive oral history collection that documents human engagement with Great Salt Lake. The interviews tell the stories of a broad spectrum of user groups and stakeholders including people engaged in scientific research, government/land management, recreation, art, industry, and conservation. The final collection, projected to include over one hundred interviews, will bring a humanities perspective to research on the lake and remain a valuable public and scholarly resource for generations to come.

Saving the Legacy:  An Oral History of Utah's Veterans

Every veteran has a unique story to tell of his or her experience. Each story is a vital part of the larger story of our nation's history. A record of these stories is critical to understanding our past. If we do not offer an opportunity to preserve these stories, they will be lost forever. The American West Center at the University of Utah and the Fort Douglas Military Museum administer an oral history project called Saving the Legacy:  An Oral History of Utah's Veterans. Veterans, living in Utah, from all of the services and ranks, and all wars* are being interviewed by university researchers. More than 600 veterans have already been interviewed. The interviews are recorded, then transcribed and stored in the Special Collections Department of the Marriott Library at the University of Utah. They will be available to the public (or can be kept anonymous), including veterans' families and friends, and historians, for posterity. Saving the Legacy is funded entirely through private donations and grants; it receives no funding from the University, and we do not charge to do interviews. The number of veterans we can interview is determined by the amount of funding we can collect. If you would like to contribute to this effort to preserve the legacy of our veterans, please call the Center at (801) 581-7611 or you may make a secure online donation through the University of Utah Online Giving Form.

Vietnam Veterans Oral History Project

On this, the 50th Anniversary of the Second Tonkin Gulf Incident, the American West Center is proud to announce the launch of the Vietnam War Oral History Project. Using interviews, the project will document how American involvement in Southeast Asia changed Utah and the United States. The Center has begun interviewing veterans, members of the Vietnamese community, civilians, and government personnel—people involved in any way with the Vietnam War. We invite the Utah community to contribute their stories and help us preserve the legacy of this important period in our history. The Vietnam War Oral History Project marks a new chapter in the Center’s long-standing commitment to documenting the service of Utah’s veterans.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Oral History Project

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Oral History Project was created in 2008 as an extension of Saving the Legacy: An Oral History of Utah’s Veterans. Over the previous decade Saving the Legacy oral historians recorded over 500 interviews with World War II veterans as well as a handful of interviews with veterans of the Korean War and the American War in Vietnam. The Iraq and Afghanistan veterans project builds on this experience and on that garnered from the almost 10,000 interviews Center researchers have taken over the last 40 years. Click here to browse histories or search the database.

If you are a veteran and would like to be interviewed please contact the Center at (801) 581-7611. If you know any veterans, please pass this information on to them.

* The World War II veterans project was completed in 2012.

This project, supported by both the American West Center and Special Collections of the J. Willard Marriott Library, concerns the history of mountain climbing and ski mountaineering in Utah, primarily within the Wasatch Mountain Range.

The history of recreation is not a new topic for either the American West Center or Special Collections; in the late 1980s the now-renowned Utah Ski Archives was just taking shape. Part of the library’s Joe Quinney Recreation Archives, the Ski Archives are an excellent source for those interested in the development of ski resorts and lift-serviced skiing. The Outdoor Recreation Project will add the story of self-powered “ski touring” and trace the development of Wasatch rock climbing. This work will benefit scholars across academic disciplines, including environmental history, cultural studies, and geography.


The American West Center is pleased to announce its new partnership with YourStory: Record and Remember. YourStory initially grew out of a course taught by Professor Meg Brady of the Department of English and the Ethnic Studies Program at the University of Utah. As the 2003-2004 University Professor, Brady developed a new course, Folklore Genres: “The Life Story,” which trains students in interviewing strategies and the narrative genres of memoir and life history. The course prepares students to carry out the important work of life story preservation and creates a vital link between the students’ university experiences and their service to the larger community.

Students in this course have collected the life stories of individuals at the Multi-Ethnic Senior High-rise, the Indian Walk-In Center and patients at Care Source Hospice in Salt Lake City. Students use the transcribed interviews to create life stories that are then bound in book form and with the accompanying CDs of the interviews themselves presented to the narrators and their families; they are also archived in the University of Utah’s Marriott Library’s Special Collections.

Out of this class experience has grown the YourStory program. After completing the initial course, it was simply impossible for Brady or her students to stop recording life stories; the experience had changed their lives forever. Devoted to the recording and preservation of the life stories of all Utahns, the YourStory program has a recording studio in the Chase Home inside the Museum of Utah Folk Art in Liberty Park, where a trained facilitator guides individuals in telling their stories and takes care of all the technical aspects of making a recording. With permission, these narratives are also archived at the Marriott Library, where family members can access them for generations to come.

Since opening in January of 2005, we have recorded well over 500 life stories. In August of 2005 we added a second location at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Funded by a generous grant from HCI, YourStory offers the same services in a quiet living room setting for cancer patients and their families. In addition, our facilitators also record at the Huntsman Cancer Hospital and in the Bone Marrow Transplant unit at the University Hospital, as well as traveling to the homes of cancer patients who are homebound. We have also trained hospice volunteers in several hospice organizations around the Salt Lake Valley to record life stories of their patients; we then assist them in making these recordings available to the patients’ families. We are now in the process of opening another location in collaboration with the Ogden Union Station museum.

In August of 2007 YourStory joined forces with the American West Center, which has a long and distinguished history of recording oral histories of hundreds of Utahns over the last forty years. For more information, visit the YourStory website.

In October and November 2011 American West Center graduate student oral historians and undergraduates from the Gender Studies Program's "Movements and Protests" course teamed to record interviews with Occupy SLC activists. Those interviews will be housed at Marriott Library Special Collections and also will be available at the Occupy Archive website: occupyslc.org

The Utah Environmentalist Oral History Project, in cooperation with the American West Center, the Environmental Humanities program, and the J. Willard Marriott Library of the University of Utah, is an effort to record the voices of the people who have forged a connection with the land, and who have worked to preserve and protect that land for future generations.

This project aims to collect oral histories from Utah citizens involved in the conservation of the environment over the past century. These interviews will trace the history of the Utahns’ environmental thought and action and serve as the foundation for an oral archive for students, staff, and the public. Some topic areas include, but are not limited to: the expansion of Utah’s human population and its effect on the local environment; the impact of nuclear testing and its aftermath on Utah’s citizenry; environmental activism throughout each decade; the formation and conservation of state and federal lands; industrial and economic impacts on the environment and their effect on the private sector; the relationship between the state’s hunting/fishing tradition and the preservation of wildlife habitat; the role of water in the West from the creation of “Lake” Powell to the state of Nevada’s controversial bid to pump water from the Snake Valley; tensions between the conservation of critical wetland areas of the Great Salt Lake and the pressures of a rapidly expanding urban and suburban population; the significance of Utah’s rural heritage in determining/effecting conservation praxis; and religion and the environment.

 This oral history project focuses on documenting the stories of people involved in the controversies over nuclear technologies (uranium mining, nuclear testing, and nuclear waste storage) in the American West. Although there are some oral history collections that address uranium mining and nuclear testing in the West, there are no collections that address nuclear waste siting. As such, this project is primarily concerned with collecting oral histories related to nuclear waste siting from affected American Indian tribes, activist organizations, corporations, employees, and federal and state governments. This project also complements extant oral history collections by collecting the stories of people involved with uranium mining or nuclear testing who have not yet told their stories.

For more information contact project director Danielle Endres, Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication, at danielle.endres@utah.edu.

Recording and preserving the stories of people in its community is an important part of the University of Utah’s mission. Sensing that Utah’s business leaders have important lessons to share with students, faculty in the David Eccles School of Business began to capture the life stories of senior Utah business leaders. This captured the imagination of researchers at the American West Center, which provided office space and technical support for the collaboration. 

This project tells the stories of Utah business persons—past and present—through videotaped interviews. The products of the Utah business leaders history project is an in-depth data base of company and individual histories, the raw material for the writing of case situations, potential development of an undergraduate course in Utah Business History, an interactive video display to be exhibited in the lobby of the new business school building, and documentation of historical information critical to any future academic research in history, business, political science, or related fields.  By collecting the histories of the heads of selected Utah companies, researchers attained new evidence for investigating the personal factors which make the Utah economy, its businesses, and its business educators professionally successful. Hearing life stories may help students translate personal values into credos of business conduct. 

For more information, contact project director Anne Palmer at (801) 587-9577 or Anne.Palmer@utah.edu

Please click here to access the digitized interviews at Marriott Library.

 As part of its Pacific Initiative the American West Center is collecting the stories of the Pacific communities that have long called Utah home. For more information or to discuss ways to get involved with this project please contact the Center at 801.581.7611.
 The New Energy Foundation, the Special Collections Department of the J. Willard Marriott Library, and the American West Center have partnered to create the Cold Fusion Oral History Collection, a collection of interviews with the scientists, researchers, administrators, journalists, and key figures whose work influenced research in condensed matter nuclear sciences, or "cold fusion." Selections from the interviews will be published by the New Energy Foundation, and the entire collection will behoused at Special Collections. For more details and contact information, see the New Energy Foundation's press release.

Polio Survivors

The Polio Oral History Project was dedicated to Documenting Treatment, Outcomes, and Effects of Polio.

During the first half of the 20th Century, the terror known as Polio afflicted between 13,000 to 20,000 people per year in the US. In Utah, during one particularly virulent six-week period, more than 200 confirmed cases of polio were reported. This dreaded disease struck mostly young people, with no discrimination of race, sex or socio-economic status. Until 1955, when a vaccine first became available, treatment methods for polio victims varied and outcomes were unpredictable. Many survivors led lives without apparent disability; some did not. Nearly all survivors, however, developed post-polio syndrome later in life, a condition characterized by unaccustomed fatigue, muscle weakness and atrophy.Although the disease was declared eradicated in the US in 1994, Polio still poses a health threat in certain locations worldwide, and among those not vaccinated. It also serves as a touchstone for any contemporary discussions of epidemics and they are approached.

In an effort to document the social and cultural history of polio locally – especially the course, treatment and long-term outcomes of Polio victims – the American West Center at the University of Utah developed an oral history record of polio survivors and clinicians who treated polio. The materials gathered is available to clinicians, researchers and the general public through the Special Collections Department of the University of Utah’s Marriott Library.

In 1964 the American West Center at the University of Utah was founded as a research organization devoted to the study, collection and dissemination of knowledge about issues affecting Western America. The Center has participated in a number of important research projects. Most notably, the Center has collected more than 7,000 oral history interviews covering varied topics including ethnic populations and minority communities, Utah war veterans, and environmental policy issues. Research materials generated through the American West Center are available to scholars and the general public alike.

Those looking for more information on Post-Polio Syndrome may wish to examine the Salk Institute's "www.PolioToday.org" website.

 

 

Last Updated: 6/6/17