Where is history in your community?

Group of kids look at map of Kentucky.

Exploring Kentucky through its Oral Histories

What do you know about Kentucky’s rich heritage in oral histories?  Did you know that interviews exist with well-known Kentuckians in addition to people like your grandma, uncle or neighbor?  Kentucky’s oral histories cover a range of topics including classic Kentucky themes of horses, bourbon and tobacco and topics such as the displacement of people, civil rights, sports, arts and gambling.  Plus all of Kentucky’s 120 counties are represented by the state’s oral histories.  Whatever the topic may be, a related oral history most likely exists.

Kentucky’s oral histories date back to 1970 when the Appalachian Oral History Project was started at Alice Lloyd College and Lees College.  In that same year, the Western Kentucky University’s Folklife Archives was also established followed by the establishment of oral history programs at Murray State University, University of Kentucky and University of Louisville in 1973 and at Eastern Kentucky University in 1976.  The Kentucky Oral History Commission was also established in 1976 as an innovative way to support oral history at the state level and Kentucky continues to be the only state with a state oral history office.  With this solid foundation, oral histories have thrived in Kentucky with the creation of over 900 collections and an estimated 35,000 oral history interviews across the state.

So how do you find out what oral histories exist related to your particular interests?

Because the interviews are located in so many different museums, archives and libraries throughout the state, the Kentucky Oral History Commission, administered by the Kentucky Historical Society since 1992, wanted to provide an easy way to find what oral histories are accessible throughout the state and connect you to the places where you can access them.  Building upon 1991 and 2000 statewide oral history surveys, a 2008 survey of Kentucky’s county libraries and input from advisors helped to develop Kentucky’s new, online, oral history discovery tool called Pass the Word.

Pass the Word serves as a centralized database for oral history collections publicly accessible through Kentucky libraries, museums and archives.  This project seeks to make Kentucky’s oral history collections more visible and accessible by providing a single portal of access to all the oral history collections in the state as well as provide a unified portal to gather oral history news and resource information from Kentucky and around the U.S. Pass the Word makes oral history easy to locate,  just search a name, a place or a topic and see what you find!

Are you ready for your first challenge?  To help you discover all the repositories participating in Pass the Word, Week 1’s challenge is to locate the library, museum or archive closest to your home that has oral histories on Pass the Word.


Chronicle|Pass The Word

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