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.