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. The Bancroft Library also holds many donated oral histories recorded by other agencies and individuals. In addition, duplicate transcripts of interviews conducted by UCLA’s Center for Oral History Research are part of the collection.
Hubert Howe Bancroft and his team of scribes interviewed hundreds of people who had made their home in the West, ranging from pioneers to Californios, from all walks of life. Of particular interest to Bancroft were the leaders, both past and present, of the new state of California. In addition to local city mayors and state governors and senators, he captured the recollections of past Mexican leaders, including Don Pio Pico, the last governor of Alta California under Mexican rule. While the focus of many dictations is on California, leading politicians from other western regions such as Nevada and Wyoming are also represented.
George Hyde Dictation
Image citation: Statement of historical facts on California, BANC MSS C-D 107, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
Oral history 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.
Audiovisual media (phonodiscs, cassettes, CDs, VHS, and DVDs) of OHC interviews are restricted. However, bound copies of interview transcripts are available at The Bancroft Library and are discoverable through UC Library Search, UC Berkeley's online catalog. Many have been digitized, and if a PDF is available, a link will appear in the UC Library Search record. For recent interviews that have not been entered into the catalog yet, transcripts are available through the Oral History Center website.
Earl Warren Oral History Tapes and Transcript
Image citation: Conversations with Earl Warren on California government, Phonotape 1495 A:1, Phonotape 1495 C:14, BANC 83/137 v.1, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
Select video excerpts of recent interviews are hosted on the Oral History Center's Youtube channel.
In 1969, the use of oral history techniques to document California state government was initiated by The Bancroft Library's Oral History Center in the Governmental History Documentation Project. This ambitious three-part series captured interviews from the Earl Warren, Goodwin Knight and Edmund G. Brown, and Ronald Reagan gubernatorial eras.
In 1985, the California State Legislature passed A.B. 2104 (Chapter 965, Statutes of 1985), establishing the State Government Oral History Program "to provide through the use of oral history a continuing documentation of state policy development as reflected in California's legislative and executive history." Under the administration of the California State Archives, oral history programs at UC Berkeley (OHC), UCLA, CSU Fullerton, CSU Sacramento, and Claremont Graduate School contribute to the preservation and documentation of the state's governmental history. While most of OCH's interview transcripts are available online, The Bancroft Library holds the papers copies of their and other institutional transcripts.
Both the Governmental History Documentation Program and the State Government Oral History Program interviews are indexed on the California State Archives website, and are linked to PDFs of the transcripts where available.
Shelf of transcripts from the California State Government Oral History Program
The Bancroft Library holds many donated oral histories that have been conducted by individuals, organizations, and other institutional oral history programs. Also in the collection are interviews conducted by classes at local schools, including UC Berkeley, San Francisco State University, Vista College, and Martin Luther King Junior High School in Berkeley. While Bancroft has transcripts for many of these oral histories, some only exist as sound recordings in obsolete formats and require conversion to listen to.
Mary Jean Potts oral history tape and transcript from UC Berkeley's History 103D class
Image citation: Women workers in World War I, BANC MSS 80/85, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley