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Oral History

A guide to oral history resources at the Southwest Collection and beyond.

What is Oral History?

According to the Oral History Association

Oral history refers to both the interview process and the products that result from a recorded spoken interview (whether audio, video, or other formats). In order to gather and preserve meaningful information about the past, oral historians might record interviews focused on narrators’ life histories or topical interviews in which narrators are selected for their knowledge of a particular historical subject or event. Once completed, an interview, if it is placed in an archive, can be used beyond its initial purpose with the permission of both the interviewer and narrator.

What is the Southwest Collection's Oral History Program?

The Southwest Collection's oral history collection dates back to the archive's founding in 1955, when field historians began conducting interviews to collect unique stories and perspective that preserve the social history and everyday life of South Plains and West Texas residents. We have over 6,700 interviews conducted by SWC staff; in addition to documenting our manuscript archival holdings and university history, some of our notable legacy projects include: tent shows, dust bowl recollections (including stories about cattle shooting practices), Fort Worth and Denver Railway, the 1970 Lubbock tornado, and interviews with affiliates of Coach Pete Cawton and Texas governor Preston Smith. The Southwest Collection continues to actively document the histories of underrepresented voices, including the African American and Hispanic communities of the South Plains. Additionally, some of the more recent active interview series include: fine arts, sports, wind energy, agriculture (including series with members of the American Agriculture Movement and employees of the Soil Conservation Service), and the Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball. Every year since the mid2000s, we have worked with the College Baseball Hall of Fame, conducting interviews with their inductees. Abstracts of our interviews are available on our oral history wiki site, and newer interview transcripts are posted on our dspace digital repository. The Southwest Collection also is the archival home to interview projects from outside interviewers and organizations; as of 2022 we have nearly 7,000 interviews that are part of our audio/visual and manuscript holdings. Inventories for those series and collections, when available, can be found on Texas Archival Resources Online.

Why do we conduct oral history interviews?

  • Capture untold stories, unedited and unfiltered
  • Elevate underrepresented voices and histories
  • Learn from eye witnesses to historical events
  • Preserve family and genealogical information
  • Find value in ordinary, everyday stories

Utilizing this Guide and Further Information

This guide provides a broad overview into oral history at the Southwest Collection. On the left side, you'll see three main areas: information on our archival holdings, general principles for those interested in conducting oral history interviews, and further resources for those interested in expanding their knowledge of oral history. Please feel free to contact the SWC's oral history assistant archivist with any questions or suggestions. 

Please note that this page is a work in progress, not meant to be comprehensive, and will be updated regularly.