Oral History Archive

The Oral History Archive began in 1968, founded by Oscar O. Winther as an initiative to collect the history of Indiana University for its Sesquicentennial. The enormous potential of oral history as a research and pedagogical tool was quickly apparent, and the project expanded as other research studies added to the archive. When John Bodnar became the project’s director in 1981, he changed the Oral History Project’s name to the Oral History Research Center to reflect its broadened scope and its mission to preserve, collect, and interpret 20th-century history through the medium of first-person testimony. The center’s mission encompassed archival, pedagogical, and research goals in the field of oral history, with particular emphasis on the history of Indiana and the Midwest. In 2002, the Center again expanded its mission when it became the Center for the Study of History and Memory to address the growing interdisciplinary field of memory studies, of which oral history is one important facet. The archive became part of the Center for Documentary Research and Practice when the two centers merged in 2015.

The archive’s analog recordings are being digitized by the IU Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative. The interviews are a unique resource for research, education, and documentary projects on a wide range of topics. A video clip from our life history project on Congressman Lee Hamilton can be viewed on our YouTube channel. The archive is a legacy and resource for the current Indiana University Bicentennial Oral History Project, a signature project of the IU Office of the Bicentennial. The archive is also one of IU’s Special Collections.

To learn more about doing an oral history project, you can read our guide on this site. You can also consult with the center’s assistant director, Dr. Barbara Truesdell, who can provide guidance on best practices.

Copy Costs & Policies

Transcript copies (hard copy or PDF): 10 cents per page

Note: Please contact our office prior to sending payment to check on the accessibility of the materials you want copied.

Copy costs are payable by check or money order made out to “Indiana University” and mailed to: Center for Documentary Research and Practice, Indiana University, Franklin Hall 0030B, 601 E. Kirkwood Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47405.

The CDRP’s Oral History Archive collection is open to the use of researchers and educators. The collection of oral history interviews is indexed in our online finding aid, and the accessibility of interviews is dependent on the copyright release for each interview.

Scholars must honor any restrictions the interviewee placed on the use of an interview. Since some of our earlier (pre-computer) transcripts do not yet exist in final form, any editing marks in a transcript (deletions, additions, corrections) are to be quoted as marked. Audio files may not be copied for patrons unless the copyright release permits it. Because many of our interviewees edit their transcripts, the transcript (if one exists) is the only version of the interview that may be quoted for publication. Interviews may not be reproduced in full for any public use, but excerpted quotes may be used as long as scholars fully cite the quotation.

Suggested citation method (may be adapted to be consistent to one’s citation style):

Interview with John Smith, p. 23. Conducted by Jane Doe, 10 April 1994, Bloomington, Indiana. Indiana University Center for Documentary Research and Practice, #94-022.

Oral History Techniques

Oral history interviewing is one more tool in the larger repertoire of anyone interested in history, anthropology, and folklore. It collects information about the past from observers and participants in that past. It gathers data not available in written records about events, people, decisions, and processes. Oral history interviews are grounded in memory, and memory is a subjective instrument for recording the past, always shaped by the present moment and the individual psyche. Oral history can reveal how individual values and actions shaped the past, and how the past shapes present-day values and actions.

Every interviewing experience is unique; this is part of the charm of fieldwork. So while there is some validity in the adage, “The only way to learn how to do it is to do it,” there are things you can do before, during, and after your interview to make every interview more successful. This page links to a PDF version of the “Oral History Interviewing Techniques,” which you are welcome to save and print. Please contact the Center if you have additional questions.

Download the CDRP Oral History Techniques