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Amelia Fry interviews Helen Gahagan; both are seated at a table piled with papers, teacups, and a microphone.

Oral History Center : About us

Recording and preserving the history of California and our interconnected world

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library documents the history of California, the nation, and our interconnected world. The OHC produces carefully researched, audio- and video-recorded, and transcribed oral histories and interpretative historical materials for the widest possible use.

Documenting our world

History

Oral history at The Bancroft Library had its beginnings in the work of Hubert Howe Bancroft, who recognized that living memories were essential to understanding history. Bancroft recognized that missing from his vast collection of books, journals, maps, and manuscripts on western North America were the living memories of many of the participants in the development of California and the West. In the 1860s he launched an ambitious project to interview and create biographies of a diverse group of Californians.

Since 1953, the Oral History Center has continued the tradition of Hubert Howe Bancroft, putting information and viewpoints in the historical record that might otherwise be lost. The OHC has conducted more than 4,000 oral histories, which totals tens of thousands of interview hours. Nearly every interview that has been transcribed is available for the public to read on the OHC website.

You might see us mentioned under our previous names, the Regional Cultural History Office and the Regional Oral History Office (ROHO).

Activities

The Oral History Center preserves voices of people from all walks of life, with varying political perspectives, national origins, and ethnic backgrounds. We are committed to open access and our oral histories and interpretive materials are available online at no cost to scholars and the public.

We’ve conducted interviews in a variety of major subject areas, which include politics and government; law and jurisprudence; arts and letters; business and labor; social and community history; University of California history; natural resources and the environment; and science, medicine, and technology.  

The oral history process includes extensive archival research and pre-interviews with family, friends, colleagues, and even the interviewees themselves, jogging memories that might otherwise be forgotten. The research phase is followed by formal interviews, often conducted over many hours in multiple sessions. We work with interviewees to facilitate the best possible telling of their stories. The interviews are transcribed, lightly edited for accuracy and clarity, and reviewed by the interviewees, who may augment or correct their spoken words. Then we provide these raw materials to the public so that anyone interested can develop their own interpretations of history based on these first-person testimonies. Archival copies are placed in The Bancroft Library. The Bancroft Library also houses the original audio and video recordings, many of which can be accessed in the library’s reading room.

Interviews have been used by academic scholars, journalists, teachers, students, and the general public as primary source materials for books, documentaries, podcasts, articles, stage productions, radio programs, and more. 

In addition to conducting interviews and producing transcripts, the OHC historians are productive scholars who publish their oral history-based research in the field’s top journals and academic presses; moreover, they write articles for lay audiences and are featured on radio programs and video documentaries. The OHC’s historians also actively participate in the teaching mission of the university. Along with regularly speaking at conferences and organizing symposia, OHC staff host educational programs that attract scholars, public historians, and others from around the world interested in learning oral history methodology. 

Staff

Current

Paul Burnett is the director of the Oral History Center. He joined OHC in 2013 from the Science and Technology Studies Programme at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick, Canada, where he was an Assistant Professor. Before that, Paul spent a year in Philadelphia researching and producing museum exhibits for the American Philosophical Society. He completed his PhD at the Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania in 2008, where he developed his research on the politics of expertise—how scientists and experts of all kinds establish their credibility, and how people choose between different kinds of expertise to try to solve complex social, political, scientific, and technical problems. He is currently writing a book on agricultural economics, neoliberalism, and development.

Caroline Crawford is a part time interviewer with OHC. A native Californian, she received a BA from Stanford University, an MA from the University of Geneva, and a keyboard degree from Royal Colleges of Musicians, London. From 1972 to 1981 she was the staff writer for the San Francisco Opera, managed the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players from 1981 to 1985, and that year joined the OHC staff as music interviewer. Among the nearly forty music projects she has carried out are a jazz/blues series of histories, including subjects Dave Brubeck, John Handy and Norma Teagarden, and a series on contemporary American composers. Her blues documentary film entitled “Jimmy Sings the Blues” won the first jury prize at the Marin County Film Festival in 2005. Since 1975 she has written music reviews and published photographs in a number of newspapers and magazines, including Christian Science MonitorNew York TimesSan Francisco Chronicle, and Opera News.

David Dunham is the technology lead for the OHC and serves as website manager, video editor, and project interviewer. Since 2002, David has overseen the OHC website, leading efforts to digitize sixty years of oral history transcripts; he also coordinates transcription, equipment, and audio/video production and editing. He is OHC’s primary liaison with the Library Systems Office, coordinating preservation, digitization, and online content. David manages the Rosie the Riveter / World War II Home Front Oral History Project in collaboration with the National Park Service. He has participated in and contributed to numerous project-related community events, including talks recruiting narrators, programs sharing results of the interviews, video presentations, tours, and exhibits. He is a documentary film maker and editor, film festival manager, teacher, and “Entotainment Guru” of the Bay Area.

Roger Eardley-Pryor earned his Ph.D. in History from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) in 2014. At UCSB, he became a National Science Foundation graduate fellow in the Center for Nanotechnology in Society. Prior to that, Roger earned his B.Phil. in Interdisciplinary Studies from Miami University in Ohio. As a historian of science, technology, and the environment, Roger taught courses at Portland State University, at Linfield College in Oregon, and at Washington State University in Vancouver, Washington. From 2015-2018, Roger held a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in the Center for Oral History at the Science History Institute (formerly the Chemical Heritage Foundation). His work there explored ways that twentieth and twenty-first-century scientists and engineers, culture-makers, and political actors have imagined, confronted, or cohered with nature at various scales, from the atomic to the planetary. In 2018, Roger joined the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley.

Shanna Farrell is a Historian/Interviewer and Associate Academic Specialist. She joined OHC in 2013 and her background is in environmental history and now specializes in cocktail and food history. She is the project lead for the West Coast Cocktails oral history project and has worked on the Rosie the Riveter, university history, and California firefighters projects. In addition to interviewing, she leads OHC’s educational initiatives, including our Introductory Workshops and our Advanced Summer Institute. She holds a MA in Oral History from Columbia University, an Interdisciplinary MA from New York University, and a BS in Music from Northeastern University. Her writing has appeared in Edible East Bay, PUNCH, Distilled Stories: California Artisans Behind the Spirits, and The Oral History Review.

Todd Holmes is a Historian/Interviewer and Associate Academic Specialist. Todd earned a BA and MA in history from California State University, Sacramento, and a PhD in history from Yale University. From 2013 to 2016 he was a postdoctoral scholar with the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University, where he has served as the lead historian and researcher on the Center’s Rural West and California Coastal Commission initiatives. He joined OHC in April 2016. A native Californian, he has written extensively on the history of California and the American West, and is the author of the forthcoming book on Ronald Reagan’s governorship, The Fruits of Fracture: The Corporate West, The United Farm Workers’ Movement, and the Rise of Reaganism in American Politics.

​Jill Schlessinger likes to help people learn and grow, share what they have to offer, and organize stuff. That’s how she ended up working for many years in communications and higher education management at UC Berkeley, the UC Office of the President, and Kaiser Permanente. Throughout her career, Jill has had the opportunity to teach and train young talent, work on issues like access to higher education and equitable health care for underserved communities, and provide people (including students, parents, health care workers, philanthropists, and politicians) with the information they needed to make informed decisions. Since Jill joined the Oral History Center in 2019, she’s worked to improve workflow and processes, mentor undergraduate editorial assistants, and share the marvelous work of the Center’s interviewers with scholars and the public. Jill received her PhD from UC Berkeley in U.S. history, with a focus on social history and women’s history at the turn of the 20th century.  

Amanda Tewes is a Historian/Interviewer and Associate Academic Specialist. She joined the OHC in February 2018. She earned her BA from University of California, Santa Barbara; MA from California State University, Fullerton; and PhD in history from University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she studied modern US history, public history, and the history of the American West. Her dissertation examined Old West theme parks in California as sites of public memory and historic preservation. She previously worked as an oral historian at the San Diego History Center and the Center for Oral and Public History at California State University, Fullerton.

Retired 

Sally Smith Hughes (retired) is a Historian of Science and Academic Specialist, Emerita. Over her thirty-plus year career at the OHC, she was project director and interviewer for several hundred oral histories in basic science, biotechnology, public health, and AIDS history. A major research interest is the complex process through which basic science is commercialized, as featured in interviews with scientists at UC San Francisco, UC Berkeley, and Stanford, and with administrators and scientists at Genentech, Chiron, and Amgen. An interview series with early Bay Area venture capitalists extends the theme of commercializing science. She also conducted interviews on the response of the San Francisco medical and nursing professions to the early AIDS epidemic. With a University of London doctorate in the history of science and medicine, she published The Concept of the Virus: A History and Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech, as well as articles in IsisThe Bulletin of the History of Medicine, and The Oral History Review, as well as numerous book reviews.

Ann Lage (retired) is an affiliate scholar and Academic Specialist, Emerita. She retired in 2011 as a research interviewer in the fields of natural resources and the environment; California political and social history; and the history of the University of California. She directed projects on the disability rights movement, the Department of History at Berkeley, the Berkeley Office of the President, the Sierra Club, and the Point Reyes National Seashore. Ann served as associate director of the Regional Oral History Office from 1994 to 2000 and acting director in 2000-2001. She holds a BA and MA in History from Berkeley.

Martin Meeker (retired) was with OHC from 2003, when he was a Social Science Research Council postdoctoral fellow, until his retirement in 2022. Between 2004 and 2012, Meeker served as an interviewer/historian with the center and conducted interviews in several areas, including the history of politics and public policy, health care delivery systems and medical research, and wine and foodways. Between 2012 and 2016, Meeker was associate director of the center and from 2016 to 2022 he served as the center’s fifth director. After receiving his doctorate in U.S. history from the University of Southern California, Meeker taught at San Francisco State University and at UC Berkeley. He has published numerous reviews and encyclopedia articles and has essays published in Pacific Historical Review, Journal of the History of Sexuality, and Journal of Women’s History. Meeker’s books include The Oakland Army Base: An Oral History (2010) and Contacts Desired: Gay and Lesbian Communications and Community, 1940s-1970s (2006).

Lisa Rubens (retired) is a Historian and Academic Specialist, Emerita. While at OHC, she worked on a wide range of projects including Women at UC Berkeley, social movements and community politics in the Bay Area [Berkeley’s 1964 Free Speech Movement; The Oakland Army Base; and Affordable Housing], and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Her own research has centered on the interpretation and reception of mass culture and the role of women, labor and students in social movements and politics. Rubens taught for ten years at the community and state college levels before receiving her PhD in U.S. history from UC Berkeley in 1997. Her dissertation on San Francisco’s 1939 World’s Fair is a cultural and political history of race and regionalism, currently under review for publication by the University of Pennsylvania Press. She has written monographs reviews as well as curriculum about labor and California women’s history, and served on the advisory board of the California Museum of History, Women and the Arts. Dr. Rubens created the Advanced Oral History Summer Institute for OHC in 2002, serving as director until 2009. Contact Lisa Rubens at lrubens@berkeley.edu.

Don Warrin (retired) is a Historian/Interviewer. He began work at OHC in 2002 and served as Associate Director from 2003-2005. He then continued as an oral historian for the next decade. His specialty was the Portuguese community of California. His PhD in Portuguese was earned in 1975 from New York University. Subsequently he was a professor of Portuguese and Spanish at Cal State East Bay until his early retirement. Over the years his research and publications shifted from literature to history, leading to books such as Land As Far As the Eye Can See: Portuguese in the Old West and So Ends This Day: The Portuguese in American Whaling.

Why donate

Your support makes our work possible

Your support enables us to capture and preserve a wide range of perspectives on the world’s most pressing issues. While we receive modest institutional support, we are a predominantly self-funded research unit of The Bancroft Library. We must raise the funds to cover the cost of each oral history. For our more comprehensive projects, we undertake ambitious fundraising campaigns. We rely on support from foundations and other institutions, but most of our funding comes from generous individuals who believe in the power of oral history. Thank you for investing in this work and giving us the honor of preserving these remarkable first-person accounts.

Ways to support the Oral History Center

There are numerous ways you can support our work of documenting, preserving, and sharing first-person testimonies that would otherwise be lost to the historical record. You can support us by funding:

  • Individual life history interviews
  • Projects with multiple interviews about a specific topic or issue
  • Educational initiatives such as our Advanced Institute
  • Digitization and preservation
  • Endowments for research areas
  • Endowments for staff positions

You can give online, or contact us at ohc@berkeley.edu for more information about our funding needs for present and future projects.
 

seal of the University of California, Berkeley

Newsletter

Sign up for our monthly newsletter and mailing list, featuring think pieces, new releases, podcasts, Q&As, and everything oral history. 

You can access all our articles from the Oral History Center blog home. From this page, you can scroll through the OHC articles one by one. If you are looking for an article on a specific topic, click on the search icon and enter your desired search terms. You can use an author’s or interviewee’s name, or a keyword related to your topic, such as environment, penicillin, or agrarian studies. Results will include all posts on the UC Berkeley Library blog. 

Newsletter archive

Please note, the Oral History Center changed its name from the Regional Oral History Office (ROHO) in 2015, so those archived newsletters refer to the previous name.

2022

March

February

January

2021

December

November

October

September

June / July

May

April

March

February

2020

December

October

July Special Edition 2020 Commencement 

May

April

March

February

January

2019

December

November

October

September

July / August

June

May

April

March

February

January

2018

December

November

October

September

August

July

June

2017

December

July

March

2016

December

September

June

March

2015

December

Spring 

2014

Winter

Fall

Summer

Spring

2013

Winter

Fall

Summer

Spring

2012

Winter

Brochure

Brochure

The Oral History Center brochure is forthcoming.

Photo credits

Oral History Center brochure trifold

Cover photo 
California congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas is interviewed by Amelia Fry circa 1974. The Bancroft Library, BANC PIC 1983.102. Title: Portraits of Helen Gahagan Douglas. Interview photo by Catherine Harroun. 

Interior photos
A personal interview at the Manzanar War Relocation Center is photographed by Oral History Center interviewee Dorothea Lange in 1942. The Bancroft Library. Title: Japanese American relocation center views. BANC PIC 1986.012--PIC. Photo by Dorothea Lange.

California congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas is interviewed by Amelia Fry circa 1974. The Bancroft Library. Title: Portraits of Helen Gahagan Douglas. Interview photo by Catherine Harroun. BANC PIC 1983.102. 

Chicana studies scholar Antonia Castañeda is interviewed by the OHC in 2018. Photo by Stephen Pitti, Professor of History and of American Studies, Yale University. Photo courtesy of Todd Holmes, interviewer.

The OHC’s extensive archive comprises thousands of oral histories preserved in blue clothbound volumes. Photographed on Aug. 7, 2018. Photo by Jami Smith for the UC Berkeley Library.

Betty Reid Soskin. Photo courtesy of Betty Reid Soskin.

Samuel Barondes. Photo courtesy of Samuel Barondes.

Chang-Lin Tien. Photo by John Blaustein/UC Berkeley.

Ansel Adams. Portrait File of The Bancroft Library. Creator: Grainey, Ed. California Cornerstones: Selected Images from The Bancroft Library Pictorial Collection. BANC PIC 1905.00002.

Joey Terrill. Title: 2017 photo reciting my story at Taboo Tales workshop facilitated by
Groundlings Theater. Photo courtesy of Joey Terrill. 

Mary Cohen. Photo courtesy of Mary Cohen.

Ed Roberts. The Bancroft Library. Edward V. Roberts Photograph collection. BANC PIC 2015.010--PIC.

Vicki Ruiz. Photo by Ralph Alswang, courtesy National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

Ruth Asawa. The Bancroft Library. Ruth Asawa in 1961. San Francisco Examiner Photograph Archive. BANC PIC 2006.029: 136837.01.01--NEG.

Oral History Center — Educational initiatives

Attendees participate in a group discussion at the Advanced Oral History Institute. Photo by Jami Smith for the UC Berkeley Library.

The Advanced Oral History Institute features sessions on all aspects of interviewing. Photo by Jami Smith for the UC Berkeley Library.

Oral History Center — Thank you for your support  

Gary Rogers and Rick Cronk. Photo courtesy of Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream. 

Robert Kendrick. Bob Kendrick, parade for 23-mile Burro Race over Mosquito Pass, 1951. Photo courtesy of Robert Kendrick.

Willie Brown. The Bancroft Library. Willie Brown talks to students on Commons. Peter Breinig, photographer. African Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area collection. BANC PIC 1985.079:041--AX.

Ethel Duffy Turner with husband. The Bancroft Library. California Faces: Selections from The Bancroft Library Portrait Collection. Photograph by Maxwell & Mudge, Fresno, Cal. March 15, 1905. Title: Mr. and Mrs. John Kenneth Turner. [Former Ms. Ethel Duffy.] POR: Turner, Ethel Duffy:1.

Mary Newson. Mary Newson with co-workers. Photo courtesy of Mary Newson.

Yori Wada, Ira Michael Heyman, David P. Gardner. The Bancroft Library. Charter Day, 1984. Chairman of the Board of Regents Yori Wada, Chancellor Ira Michael Heyman, President David P. Gardner. Days of Cal collection, University Archives. UARC PIC 4:1068.

Judith Heumannn. The Bancroft Library. Judy Heumann in a wheelchair, which is being lifted by police officers. Frame 22. Fang family San Francisco examiner photograph archive negative files. BANC PIC 2006.029:144333_01_072--NEG.

Evan Wolfson (right) with Marc Solomon. Photo courtesy of Freedom to Marry.

Aaon Mair. Photo courtesy of Aaron Mair.

Albert Camarillo. Photo courtesy of Albert Camarillo.

March Fong Eu. Photo courtesy of The Bancroft Library. 

Joan Jeanrenaud. Photo courtesy of Joan Jeanrenaud.

Kali Reis. Photo courtesy of Kali Reis.

Junko Kimura. Junko home from Violin Lesson. Photo Courtesy of Junko Kimura.

Edumand Brown and Jerry Brown. The Bancroft Library. Photographs from the Edmund G. Brown papers. BANC PIC 1968.011--PIC.

Ronald Reagan with Nancy Reagan.  UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, Box 951575. Los Angeles Times Photographic Archives.

Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front. The Bancroft Library. Gladys Griffen (third from left) winner of the Miss Victory contest, Marin Shipyards, 1942. BANC PIC 1959.010--NEG Pt. 2, Box 096:77804.4:4.

Jeanne Rose. Jeanne Rose doing a television demonstration for KPIX Channel 5 with Helen Bentley. Photo by Ken Howard, March 5, 1973. Photo courtesy of Jeanne Rose.