Throwback Thursday…Oral historians at work in 1981

Follow our weekly series, Throwback Thursday, designed to help celebrate 50 years of OHA. We’ll profile a year in the life of the organization each week with photos, logos, and highlights taken from the Oral History Association Newsletter. We welcome your memories, photos, and comments at

OHA in 1981…

1981 small

Shirley Stephenson, Stephen Stern, and Stephen Colston, charter members and officers of SOHA

President: James W. Hammack, Jr., Murray State University
Site of the Annual Colloquium: Burlington, Vermont
Newsletter: Tom Charlton, editor; L. Katherine Cook, Adelaide S. Darling, Rebecca S. Jiménez, Margaret L. S. Miller, associates; David B. Stricklin, contributing editor
Editorial office: Baylor University, Waco, Texas
Annual individual membership: $15

Highlights of the year from the Oral History Association newsletter:

  • Nancy Whistler, project director of OHA’s education and outreach study funded by NEH, reported the results of her six-month, nationwide survey identifying persons and institutions involved in efforts to bring coherence and standardized training to oral history. The study led to the conclusion that “oral history training services in the United States lack both standardization and criteria for selection of teaching faculty.” Other items noted were the “random selection and development of instructional manuals and the frequent changes in locations of workshops.” OHA was planning a future grant application to address those needs.
  • The organizational meeting of the Southwest Oral History Association (SOHA) occurred on June 6, 1981, in Pasadena, CA. Members elected officers and adopted a constitution.
  • An article called “Reaganomics Hits OHA” described the impact of the Reagan transition on speakers for the 1981 Colloquium. Carter-appointed leaders of a certain government agency had approved a request for funding to bring several international oral historians to Burlington, Vermont. When “Reagan’s new broom went to work”… the government staff was gone and so was the funding. “But with a typical government quirk, there was a bit of money for more esoteric purposes: we could bring someone from Antarctica or Outer Mongolia who specialized in non-literate societies, for example.” Colloquium organizers decided to pass on that opportunity.
  • The Urban Archives “Discovering Community History Project” was highlighted in an article by Charles Hardy reprinted from Reel to Reel: Pennsylvania Oral History Newsletter. Hardy described the project, sponsored by Temple University, “designed as an experiment aimed at democratizing history by enabling the residents of three very different Philadelphia neighbors to explore and document their communities’ past.” The article examined the lesson learned from working with community residents in the neighborhoods of Haddington, Wynnefield, and Whitman.

1981 recorder

Burt Tietje interviews Mrs. Ward A. Davis for the Jefferson Davis Parish: An Oral and Visual History project, Louisiana.
Note the 1981 technology in use…

Who we were interviewing in 1981?

  • Regional Oral History Office (ROHO) at Berkeley — completed their eight volume, 2,948-page suffragists project which includes “the only lengthy interview with Alice Paul, leader of the militant National Women’s Party and sponsor of the first Equal Rights Amendment.”
  • United Negro College Fund — several original college presidents and a longtime volunteer workers for the first phase of a project documenting higher education.
  • Radio Free Georgia — interviews with a wide spectrum of Atlantans for a fifty-part oral history documentary entitled “Living Atlanta.”
  • The Amalgamated Textile Workers’ Union in San Antonio — garment workers of South Texas for an oral history project called “Threads.”


Check back next week for 1982…

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