By Cullom Davis
Oral history and this university (originally Sangamon State University) grew up together. Both gained institutional standing as products of the turbulent 1960s, which called for drastic reforms in historical methodology and higher education. It should therefore be no surprise that the practice of oral history flourished on the campus of an upstart university that welcomed new ideas and encouraged entrepreneurialism.
This comfortable convergence helped define the purpose and shape theodus operandi of SSU's Oral History Office, which was established in 1971,uring the university's first academic year. As practiced here, oral historyecame an extension and expression of the school's educational mission.nnovativeness permeated both, as did a commitment to serving both theommunity and the region. An emphasis upon public affairs research andtudy also characterized both, as did an egalitarian outlook, creating people's history for a people's university.
Perhaps the Oral History Office's most distinctive feature was its heavyependence upon a student staff of interviewers and editors. This, too,rew upon the university's commitment to experiential learning as a centerpiecef the curriculum. The project's co-founder was James Krohe, an enterprisingraduate assistant. Thereafter a succession of gifted graduate studentsomprised the staff of student employees, graduate assistants, and grant-funded personnel. It is fitting here to acknowledge the extraordinary contributionsade by Barbara (Bobbe) Herndon, Kay MacLean, Kathryn Back, Kitty Wrigley,orace Waggoner, Linda Jett, Judith Haynes, Francie Staggs, Lee Nickelson,arilyn Huff, Sandra Luebking, Peggy Boyer Long, Tim Jones and Kay Bush.hey were my professional collaborators at every stage and on every task,rom building and managing the collection, to conceiving and conductingrant projects, to offering community workshops, to writing a popular oralistory textbook, and to teaching an advanced course. Many of them deservedlyarned careers and freelance stature either in oral history or a relatedocation.
Another early and steady source of help was a cadre of community volunteersho performed many vital services. Meriting special recognition are Byronooth, Eugenia Eberle, Florence Hardin, Glenn Kniss, Margaret Munn, Joaner, Genevieve Toigo and James Williams.
For nearly 25 years I taught a graduate course in oral history method.ts hallmark was my insistence that students produce and process oral historiesf significant technical quality and substantive import to be accessionedn the permanent collection. Consequently, most of the 1,200 interviews,,000 tape hours and 100,000 pages represented in this catalog were createdy students, an impressive testament to experiential learning. The 200tudents who were our unpaid interviewers, transcriptionists and editorslso deserve recognition for their collective enterprise.
From the beginning we chose project topics that could most benefit fromyewitness documentation in central Illinois and beyond. Accordingly, weought and received grant and contract funds to document such subjectss ethnic groups, coal mining, minority and women's history, agriculture,ocal commerce and labor, historic preservation, World War II, and state politics and government. This last project, under the rubric "Illinoistatecraft," became our most ambitious and celebrated effort. Therefore,he university's oral history holdings, reinforced by duplicate sets donatedo Lincoln (Springfield Public) Library and the Illinois State Historicalibrary, comprise a large body of unique historical evidence.
The true measure of a source collection, however, lies not in the quantity produced but in the extent used. It is premature, after only 25 or lessears, to make a definitive judgment on this larger issue, but alreadyhere are citations and quotations from these oral histories in dozensf serious books and articles. In a few instances the memoirs made a studyeasible and were the principal date source. Oral histories of Springfield'sfrican-American citizens even were introduced as trial evidence in a successfulederal lawsuit challenging the city's electoral system. If these earlyesults are indicative, the UIS oral history collection promises to bef substantial and enduring value.
When I resigned as director in 1988, plans already were underway toedirect our energy somewhat from simply building a collection to catalogingnd transferring it to an appropriate archival facility. Both of theseital steps have occurred over the past five years.
Under University Archivist Tom Wood the collection is in good hands.e also deserves credit for designing and supervising the production ofhis invaluable and comprehensive catalog. On behalf of the thousands of arrators and interviewers whose incalculable contributions are now moreisible and accessible, I extend congratulations and thanks to Tom andis assistants.
Founding Director, SSU Oral History Office
Professor of History Emeritus