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Oral history at The Bancroft Library had its beginnings in the work of its founder, Hubert Howe Bancroft. Bancroft recognized that missing from his vast collection of books and manuscripts were the living memories of many of the participants in the development of California and the West. In the 1860s he launched an ambitious project to interview and create biographies of a diverse group of Californians, resulting in hundreds of oral histories, termed dictations.
In 1954, The Bancroft Library established the Regional Oral History Office to conduct interviews with leading citizens of the West. It was renamed as Oral History Center (OHC) in 2014. The OHC has carried out interviews in a variety of major subject areas, which include: politics and government; law and jurisprudence; arts and letters; business and labor; social and community history; University of California history; natural resources and the environment; and science, medicine, and technology.
Interviews are conducted with the goal of eliciting from each participant a full and accurate account of the events central to their lives and to the broader world. The interviews are transcribed, lightly edited for accuracy and clarity, and reviewed by the interviewees, who may augment or correct their spoken words. The reviewed and corrected transcripts are printed and bound, often with photographs and illustrative materials. Archival copies, along with the original audio and video recordings, are placed in The Bancroft Library.
The Bancroft Library also holds many donated oral histories recorded by other agencies or individuals. In addition, duplicate transcripts of interviews conducted by UCLA’s Center for Oral History Research are part of the collection.
The Rosie the Riveter World War II American Homefront Oral Histories comprise an OHC project that interviewed Bay Area residents about their wartime experiences during World War II. A handful of these interviews focus on the Richmond’s Santa Fe Indian Village, established in the early 1920s. As part of a verbal agreement between the Santa Fe Railroad company and the Laguna people of New Mexico, members of the tribe would move to California to work in the Richmond rail yard if the company would refrain from laying tracks too close to their reservation. The railroad company agreed to give these workers and their families a place to live but at first provided only boxcars as housing. Track homes were later erected, but power was ultimately shut off in the village in 1982, forcing the residents to leave.
First page of Irwin Shiosee's oral history transcript
Image citation: Irvin Shiosee: oral history transcript, BANC MSS 2008/110, no.59, p.1, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
Interviews that form the basis for the publication, Surviving in Two Worlds: Contemporary Native American Voices, make up a small part of Bancroft's Donated Oral History Collection. These oral histories are of twenty-six Native American leaders who come from a variety of tribal backgrounds, and range from traditional elders and healers to doctors, lawyers, artists, and college presidents. The interviews are grouped around the themes of tradition, history and politics, healing, education, and culture.
Audio cassette of Christopher Peters' interview
Image citation: Christopher Peters interview, Surviving in two worlds, Phonotape 2926 C, no.28, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
First page of Christopher Peters' oral history transcript
Image citation: Christopher Peters interview transcript, Surviving in two worlds, BANC MSS 98/144, Folder 21, p.1, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
Rosie the Riveter World War II American homefront oral history collection
BANC MSS 2008/110 (PDFs of transcripts available online via UC Library Search)
This collection contains interviews with residents of the Bay Area, primarily Richmond and the East Bay, about their wartime experiences during World War II. Interviews of interest are the following:
► no.12: Emily DeCory (Santa Fe/Richmond Indian Village)
► no.56: Nellie Sarracino (Santa Fe/Richmond Indian Village)
► no.57: Ruth Ann Hopper Sarracino (Santa Fe/Richmond Indian Village)
► no.59: Irvin Shiosee (Santa Fe/Richmond Indian Village)
► no.61: Frank and Mary Shutiva (Santa Fe/Richmond Indian Village)
► no.70: Faith Traversie (Mare Island Shipyard/American Indian Movement)
Excerpts of the original video interviews of the interviewees above are complied in the Youtube video Richmond Indian Boxcar Village.
American Indian Community History Center records
BANC MSS 2008/108
This collection documents the efforts of the Community History Project, a program of the Intertribal Friendship House, to collect and preserve the history of the San Francisco Bay Area urban American Indian community. A portion of the collection is devoted to oral histories of community members.
► Collection Finding Aid (the bulk of the oral histories are in Cartons 2, 3, and 15)
Surviving in two worlds : oral history transcripts : contemporary Native American voices
BANC MSS 98/144
This donated oral history collection contains the interview cassette tapes and transcripts of twenty-six Native Americans leaders, discussing a variety of issues affecting Native Americans in contemporary American society. These interviews form the basis for the resulting book, Surviving in Two Worlds: Contemporary Native American Voices.
Alison Owings collection of materials on Native Americans
BANC MSS 2012/164
Used in writing her book Indian Voices: Listening to Native Americans, Owings' collection contains audio copies and transcripts of thirty-nine interviews, related files and correspondence, general files on Native American-related events and topics, newspaper clippings, and photographs.
The West on videotape
Motion Picture 350 D
The West on Videotape documents 40 interviewees who have been significantly involved in the history and folk culture of the Western United States. The intention of this collection is to demonstrate the value of videotape in preserving local history. The collection contains unedited, original master videotapes, most of which are in color. Interviews of interest are the following:
► Videotape 2: "Paiute Medicine Man" Ray Stone: Water, the Land, and Paiute Religion
► Videotape 17: "Hot Springs" Paiute-Shoshone Elders Council: The Struggle for Access to Cultural Resources
► Collection Finding Aid
UCLA American Indian Studies Oral Histories
Interviewees in this series were actively involved in American Indian studies from the late sixties to the present time. The series is designed to document the development of American Indian studies, the American Indian Studies Center, and the American Indian Studies Interdepartmental Program at UCLA.
► Kenneth Lincoln
► Paul V. Kroskrity
► Gary B. Nash
► Duane Champagne
► Norris C. Hundley
The easiest way to find relevant oral histories through the Advanced Search module in UC Library Search:
► In the Search for: menu at the top, select UC Berkeley special collections and archives
► In the first search filter line, select Subject and use the search term "oral histories"
► In the second line, select Any Field and use the search term indian*
Please note, this method will also capture a handful of material with records mentioning Indiana and the peoples of India.
Not all of Bancroft's recent oral histories have been added to UC Library Search. Augment your research by using the Search the Oral History Center feature. Once you submit your search term, available online transcripts will appear via the UC Berkeley Library Digital Collections database. On the left side of the search results page, you can toggle the Fulltext Search button to On to expand your initial search.