Kentucky Excels in Oral History Work

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Kim Lady Smith, right, interviews Lena Stephens of McCreary County, 1982.

By Allison Tracy, oral history administrator

Kentucky has a long tradition of exceptional oral history work.

By 1973, Kentucky saw the creation of the Murray State University Forrest C. Pogue Oral History Institute, the University of Kentucky Oral History Center (later renamed the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History) and the University of Louisville Oral History Center. Today, Eastern Kentucky University serves as the home for the William Berge Oral History Center, and more than 100 Kentucky institutions, including Western Kentucky University and the Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, serve as repositories for oral history collections. Another important contributor in the state, the Kentucky Oral History Commission (KOHC – the only commission of its kind in the United States), celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2016.

In 1976, Kentucky journalists Al Smith and John Ed Pearce conceived of the KOHC as an oral history project to honor the nation’s bicentennial. It quickly grew into a permanent commission working to foster and support the documentation of Kentucky history through oral history interviews. It continues to offer grants and technical assistance to individuals and organizations. KOHC operated independently during its early years, but, since 1992, has been housed at the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS). KOHC has become an integral part of KHS, and together they provide Kentuckians with the tools and resources needed to study and preserve Kentucky’s history.

KOHC’s grant program has evolved significantly over the last 40 years as best practices and fieldwork have changed. One constant has been to ensure that both seasoned oral history practitioners and folks just getting started can benefit from KOHC’s work. Today the commission offers monetary grants that support oral history projects, the transcription and indexing of existing interviews and the preservation of oral history audio. KOHC also offers non-monetary grants of training, recording equipment and audio digitization equipment. KOHC is accepting applications for its spring 2016 grant cycle. The submission deadline is March 7, 2016.

In honor of KOHC’s 40th anniversary, KHS will highlight KOHC, the projects and people it has supported, and collections across Kentucky it has helped to create and preserve through monthly blog posts. Our hope is to provide insight into oral history work across the Commonwealth through a close examination of project outcomes, the planning and work invested by project staff, the challenges faced by those doing oral history work, the ways oral history has helped us to better understand Kentucky’s history, and, finally, how Kentucky has become a national leader in the field of oral history.

Chronicle

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