About the UIS Oral History Collection

The Oral History Office at Sangamon State University opened under the direction of Cullom Davis in 1971 and closed in the summer of 1991. Students in Davis's oral history classes collected many of the memoirs, as did a number of volunteers, but grant-funded personnel also created several series of memoirs, notably the interviews of coal miners and Illinois political figures. While many regions of the U.S. and many other nations are represented in the collection, the lives of most of the narrators are centered on Springfield and central Illinois. Donations of material from individuals and institutions, such as John Knoepfle's "River Tapes" and Columbia University's Adlai Stevenson Project and Institute of Inter-American Affairs series, significantly enriched the collection.

Most of the tapes, memoirs, and collateral files making up the Office's collection were transferred to the University Archives in 1990-91. When it was received by the Archives, the collection consisted of 1,135 interviews on 2,960 hours of audio tape, and 97,165 transcribed pages. In the twenty years of its existence, the office collected the memories of an impressive array of people, including coal miners, members of the African - American, Italian - American, Jewish and other ethnic communities in and around Springfield, Illinois legislators and politicians, farm families, WWII conscientious objectors and prisoners of war, members of Springfield churches and clubs, teachers in rural one room schools, and many others. The collection is a vital record of life in Illinois and beyond from the late 19th century to the present, and preserves the memories of many individuals whose experiences would not otherwise be recorded.

Abstracts of Transcribed Memoirs

The main body of this Guide consists of descriptive entries of the memoirs and tapes that make up the Oral History Collection housed in the Archives of the University of Illinois at Springfield. These abstracts are arranged alphabetically by the surnames of the narrators, or by the titles of projects. Cutter numbers (e.g.AA76, M176) were added for ease of reference and indexing. When the same narrator provided two separate memoirs, they are numbered (e.g.M393.1 Masters,M393.2 Masters). Cutter numbers with an added letter (e.g.B287H Bartscht,B287R Bartscht) indicate married couples, siblings, and other related (or, in a few cases, unrelated) persons with the same surname.

Projects and Series

Many memoirs were created as part of a project or series: the largest of these include "Illinois Coal: The Legacy of an Industrial Society," "Illinois Statecraft," "The Illinois General Assembly Oral History Program," and John Knoepfle's "Steamboats and Inland Rivers Project." Entries included in these projects feature a capitalized heading (e.g. FIRST CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH). See the listing of oral history projects.

Collateral Files

Most memoirs are accompanied by a collateral file, typically including interviewers' notes, basic biographical information on the narrators, copyright release forms, timing sheets of the contents of the tapes, and a master copy of the transcribed memoir. Expanded listings are included for collateral files containing additional types of material (correspondence with the narrator, copies of relevant photographs and documents, publications, etc.)


In most cases, narrators signed a legal release assigning copyright to their memoirs to the University. These memoirs may be used freely for research and scholarly purposes and are indicated by the word OPEN. Items are indicated as RESTRICTED when no such release exists, or the narrator reserved certain rights. Details of these restrictions are listed in the entries when possible.

References to Related Collections in the UIS Archives

Material related to some memoirs is included in collections housed in the Archives of the University of Illinois at Springfield. For example, material collected by Barbara Herndon related to coal mining may be found in record series J9/5/24; and papers of Mayor Nelson O. Howarth (see H837, H837.2*) may be found in record series MC77.


The Appendix consists of taped interviews for which there is no transcribed memoir, or only a partial one. The Appendix includes a few items which are closed and unavailable for use, and also a few incomplete transcripts for which no tapes exist. Items in the Appendix are indicated by Cutter numbers in normal font with an asterisk (e.g. AL25*, M134*).


The Index includes names, places, and subjects that play a prominent role in each memoir. This is not an exhaustive index of the contents of each memoir. Entries with boldface Cutter numbers (AA76 Aarup) refer to transcribed memoirs included in the main body of the Guide. Entries in normal font with an asterisk (AL25*Alepra) refer to untranscribed tapes included in the Appendix.

Index ofInterviewers

The index of interviewers lists the names of individuals who conducted the interviews included in the collection. As in the main index, boldface Cutter numbers (AA76 Aarup) refer to transcribed memoirs listed in the main section of the Guide. Cutters in regular font with an asterisk (AL25* Alepra) refer to untranscribed tapes listed in the Appendix.

Sangamon State University / University of Illinois at Springfield

There are numerous references to Sangamon State University throughout the Guide. SSU became the University of Illinois at Springfield on July 1, 1995. References to this University in items created before that date use the name Sangamon State University (SSU).

Use of the UIS Oral History Collection

The Oral History Collection is housed in the Archives of the University of Illinois at Springfield, in Brookens Library, Room 144. Most oral history memoirs have circulating copies, but tapes and restricted memoirs may only be used in Brookens Library. Unrestricted memoirs and tapes may be reproduced, with permission, for research purposes. Inquiries regarding the collection should be directed to:


Archives/Special Collections
University of Illinois at Springfield
One University Plaza, MS BRK 140
Springfield IL 62703-5407



The Illinois Statecraft and Illinois General Assembly series were published, and are available in many libraries in Illinois and elsewhere.


Most memoirs in the collection produced from 1976 to 1982 were published on microfiche by the Microfilming Company of America for the New York Times oral history program. These memoirs on fiche are listed in the library catalog.

Many of the memoirs from the collection concerning the Springfield area are also available in the Sangamon Valley Collection at Lincoln Library (326 S. Seventh St., Springfield IL 62701; 217-753-4910).

Using the Digitized Oral History Memoirs

In 2004 the UIS Archives received a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) Grant from the Illinois State Library that provided funds to scan and digitize the entire collection of oral history memoirs and collateral files. This allowed the unrestricted memoirs (793 volumes) to be made available in full text on this website and at IDA, the Illinois State Library's Digital Archives (see

The digitized memoirs are in searchable PDF format. To open the files, Adobe Reader software is required. It may be obtained at no charge at

The original oral history memoirs were produced on a variety of old typewriters and early computer printers, and therefore the optical character recognition (OCR) in the digitized copy is imperfect. Searching the full text either in the search box at or within the files themselves will bring good, but not perfect results.

Users should keep in mind that some of these PDF files are quite large and may take considerable time to download, particularly with a dial-up internet connection.

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