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Oral histories

This page has some ideas and sources for finding sources that contain or talk about oral histories. It may be helpful for students in courses such as HIST 451 or for anyone who is looking for this type of resource. 

If you need help, please contact Baharak Yousefi, Librarian for History, International Studies, Liberal Studies, & Political Science at 778.782.5033 or byousefi@sfu.ca or Ask a librarian.

Finding oral histories

    Oral history databases

    These databases often deal with histories from a specific time, place, or population. For a full list of oral history databases held by SFU, see here.

    • Oral History Online
      English language oral histories from around the world. It includes Ellis Island oral history narratives, rare Black Panther Party interviews, and more.

    • SFU Indo-Canadian Oral History Collection
      Interviews with newcomers discussing topics such as reasons for immigration to Canada; work and living experiences once in Canada; labour, legal and political issues that affected the immigrants; relations with other racial and ethnic groups; family life and adjustment to Canadian society; and ongoing links to their country of origin. Almost all interviews are in Punjabi, with a few in English and Hindi.

    • BC Labour Heritage Centre Oral History Collection
      This collection is comprised of full-length interviews with notable activists in British Columbia's labour movement on topics ranging from experiences at work, picket lines, strikes and rallies, to organizing unions and negotiating and bargaining collective agreements, as well as shorter interviews based on historic labour events in B.C.

    • Japanese Canadian Oral History Collection
      Interviews conducted by the National Nikkei Museum & Heritage Centre with Japanese Canadians on topics ranging from early immigration; their participation in pre-World War II industries including fishing, farming, and the lumber industries; and their internment during World War II. The majority of audio files are in English, but some are in Japanese.

    • Burnaby's Oral History Collection
      Oral history interviews captured by the Burnaby Historical Society. These interviews were conducted predominantly throughout the 1970s and 1980s and were recorded by Simon Fraser University students, Burnaby Village Museum staff members and volunteers from the Burnaby Historical Society. 

    Oral history websites

    Many non-profits and public institutions may host oral histories on their websites, which can be found with search engines. Depending on what you are searching for, you may find it helpful to add additional limiters to focus your search. For instance, adding site:*.edu to your search will show results from American educational institutions, and site:*.org will limit your search to mainly non-commercial organizations.

    Here are some examples of what can be found on outside websites:

    • Oral Histories of the First World War:  Veterans 1913-1918
      Library and Archives Canada (LAC), in partnership with Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), presents Oral Histories of the First World War: Veterans 1914-1918.  The Web exhibition is based on the CBC's radio broadcast In Flanders Fields, a series of one-on-one interviews with veterans of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, which aired from November 11, 1964 to March 7, 1965. These first-hand accounts, which can be listened to or read via the retyped transcripts, provide the personal insights on the experience of war by one of the greatest generations that Canada has ever produced.
       
    • Oral Histories of the American South
      A three-year project to select, digitize and make available 500 oral history interviews gathered by the Southern Oral History Program (SOHP). These 500 are being selected from a collection of over 4,000 interviews, housed at the Southern Historical Collection, that cover a range of fascinating topics. This project is made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
       
    • African Oral Narratives
      A free, open access digital library containing 6 collections of oral and life histories, folklore, and songs from Ethiopia, Ghana, and South Africa that capture the voices and experiences of ordinary men and women.
       
    • Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project
      This multi-media web site brings the vital history of Seattle's civil rights movements to life with scores of video oral histories, hundreds of rare photographs, documents, movement histories, and personal biographies, more than 300 pages in all.
       
    • Samuel Proctor Oral History Program Digital Collection
      With over 5,000 interviews and more than 150,000 pages of transcribed material, the SPOHP collection is one of the largest oral history archives in the South and one of the top collections in the country. Major holdings include projects featuring members of the Seminole, Cherokee, and Muscogee nations, African Americans in Florida, and 1960s civil rights actions in St. Augustine..
       
    • ACT UP Oral History Project
      The ACT UP Oral History Project is a collection of interviews with surviving members of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, New York.

    Finding materials about oral histories

    This section outlines some tips and strategies you can use when searching specifically for materials about creating and transcribing your own oral histories and interviews. To get more ideas about searching in general, see the Library Catalogue search guide or the general Help pages.

    Generating search terms

    When searching for these materials, consider adding search terms that are about the kind of resource you want to find. Examples here might include oral history, interview, or methodology.

    Using subject headings

    Subject headings are specific phrases that have been assigned to items. Browsing and searching for subject headings, or adding them to your searches, can often give more relevant results than searching by keyword alone.

    You can find and click on subject headings in the catalogue records for many items. You can also search for subject headings using the Advanced Search in the Library Catalogue and in many databases. Here are a few examples of subject heading searches for this area: