Learning by Listening: Oral History in the NPS
Oral history interviews help Park Service rangers
document the history of park sites
and interpret them for visitors.
Personal stories are among the most valuable resources that the National Park Service preserves and protects for future generations. We learn about the past by listening to the people who made history at our sites and in the Park Service itself.
Need help with an oral history project or want to know how parks are putting oral history into practice?
Here's the place to begin.
Want to learn how to plan and design a successful oral history project, choose recording equipment, conduct interviews, process and archive recordings, and use oral histories for interpretive programming? The Oral History SharePoint Site is available to Park Service personnel and features NPS oral history training materials in the Shared Documents folder.
• For useful “how to” essays on all phases of an oral history project by some of the best oral history practitioners at work today, check out Oral History in the Digital Age.
• The Park Service has supported scores of oral history projects. Read about them in Directory of Oral History in the National Park Service (July 2010)
• Informed consent is an important part of the oral history process. It’s essential that narrators sign an Oral History Legal Release Form (2009).
• The Oral History Association (OHA) serves a diverse range of people interested in oral history as a way of collecting and interpreting human memories. Practitioners from many fields find that the OHA provides professional guidance and a friendly environment for sharing ideas. Its Web site features a wealth of useful information as you plan an oral history project.
- The OHA encourages standards of excellence in the collection, preservation, dissemination and uses of oral testimony. See General Principles of Oral History and Best Practices for Oral History (2009).
- Oral history is everywhere. Find Oral history centers and collections contacts for regional and international oral history organizations here. There may be people who can help you close by.
Have questions about oral history or need help planning a project? Contact Lu Ann Jones, staff historian, Park History Program, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-354-2219.
Students in the 2012 "Effective Oral History" course interview Michael Watson, former superintendent at Mather Training Center, in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
- Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site features the students who pioneered school desegregation efforts in 1957.
- Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park asks natives and newcomers to the San Francisco Bay area to describe changes in work, family life, and community life during the war.
- Yosemite National Park is recording the stories of people who grew up, lived and worked in the park.
- Minuteman Missile National Historic Site preserves the reminiscences of Air Force personnel who maintained and operated a nuclear weapons system and of western South Dakota residents who grew up in the shadows of the missile field.
- Harry S Truman National Historic Site documents the stories of family, friends and neighbors associated with the former president and his family during their time in Missouri.
- Gateway National Recreation Area features people who worked for the U.S. Army, Coast Guard, Lighthouse Service and Life-Saving Service at Sandy Hook, New Jersey.
- Lowell National Historic Park shares interviews about how life and labor have changed in the New England town.
- Shenandoah National Park offers stories told by veterans of Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps.
- Alaska parks—Denali, Katmai, Lake Clark, Sitka, and Yukon-Charley Rivers—have collaborated with the oral history program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Find interviews, photographs and other resources at Project Jukebox.
- An Interview with Robert M. Utley on the History of Historic Preservation in the National Park Service, 1947-1980 brings to life major changes in historic preservation policy and practice.
- LuAnn Jones, "Capturing the Spirit of History: Oral History in the National Park Service" (2010) offers a brief overview of oral history’s long history in the NPS.
- Janet M. McDonnell, "Documenting Cultural and Historical Memory: Oral History in the National Park Service" surveys how oral history has shaped interpretation, education, and cultural resources management in the NPS. (Copyright 2003 by the Oral History Association. Reprinted by permission of the University of California Press.)
- J. Todd Moye, "The Tuskegee Airmen Oral History Project and Oral History in the National Park Service" focuses on one of the agency’s most ambitious projects. (Copyright 2002 by the Organization of American Historians. Reprinted by permission of The Journal of American History.)
- Heidi Ridgley, "P. O. Box 1142: World War II: The Lost Chapter" describes how the NPS is using oral history to tell the story of a secret Virginia facility whose personnel helped secure victory in World War II.
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