"Oral History Inteviews" was the topic for our November general society meeting, held the 3rd of this month at the Spokane Public Library. The presentation was given by EWGS Historian John Ellingson, who is also the chairman of the local Oral History Association at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (MAC). Since 1984, he has been interviewing local residents, and helping to archive and preserve the oral interviews at the MAC.
John showed an interesting PowerPoint presentation to accompany his syllabus, "Handy Tips for Compiling an Oral History Interview." He recommended the following five resources for furthering one's learning about oral histories: Transcribing and Editing Oral History by Willa K. Baum; Oral History from Tape to Type by Cullom Davis; Record and Remember by Ellen Epstein and William Hartley; An Oral History Primer by Gary Shumway and Rona Mendelsohn; and How to Tape Instant Oral Biographies by William Zimmerman. He also played various recordings to demonstrate good--and poor--quality interviews, as examples.
Some of the oral histories that are available at the MAC include interviews of those in the Spokane Jewish community, the Japanese-American community, and those who were paramount in EXPO '74. There are 70 World War II-era interviews, as part of the Veterans History Project. Louis Livingston, born in 1900 and one of the oldest living Americans who registered for the World War I Draft (he never did serve) and who resides in Spokane, interviewed over 50 famous Inland Empire residents. These interviews are also stored at the MAC, but cannot be released to the public until after Livingston's death. This statement brought about quite a few laughs, since the 107-year-old veteran appears to be living forever! Not as Briefed: From the Doolittle Raid to a German Stalag by local WW II USAAF bomber pilot William J. O'Dwyer was published as a result of his giving oral interviews, along with excerpts from his personal diary.
Mr. Ellingson shared that one of his most memorable interviews involved an elderly woman who tired after about a half-hour of sharing her personal history. "Come back in the morning and we'll finish then," she told him. When he arrived the next morning, he learned she had passed away during the night. Her family was very grateful for the transcribed interview he gave them, and they used it as part of her memorial service. John's presentation was excellent and thorough, giving us not only tools to do our own oral history interviews, but local history lessons and interesting facts about local residents. He urged us to record our family stories and interview our relatives as soon as possible. "What are you waiting for?" this 86-year-young historian has challenged us!