We tell stories to children to teach them values that are important to us (“The Little Engine that Could”). Our grandparents tell us stories about our family so we know who we are. And when we come to the University, we tell stories about ourselves so people will know us. Everyone has a story.
Southern Methodist University has been involved in gathering stories and recording oral histories since the 1960s—both formally and informally. Hastings Harrison became a fundraiser for Southern Methodist University in 1959 and created and told his stories about SMU on tape. Those 15 reel-to-reel tapes with his memories await digitization and transcription.
As a part of our University’s 75th anniversary in 1986, the SMU Woman’s Club interviewed 49 alumni, faculty, and staff. Those tapes and some transcripts are available for research in the DeGolyer Library.
History professor Ron Davis was a prolific oral historian interviewing more than 475 people. His interviews focused on the vaudeville and show business community. The bound transcripts are also accessible at the DeGolyer Library.
The SMU Video Archive Series contains videotaped oral histories with leading administrators, faculty, and staff whose careers spanned many decades at SMU. The series was created by Central University Libraries to capture the extensive knowledge base of SMU retirees. The 72 interviews were created between 2000 and 2005.
And now, I am so pleased to be involved in this program, “The Voices of SMU.” These oral histories are conducted by students and are focusing on those folks who don’t always show up in the SMU Archives. Alumni and staff from underrepresented communities can be found, but it is more difficult. There may be a sentence here–or a paragraph there. Finally, SMU Archives has begun to document their stories with the Voices of SMU Oral History Project. To date, we have done over 130 interviews with alumni! I am proud to be a small part of this project.
The difference between this new oral history project and past oral history programs is digital. Students do the interviews using digital video–and sometimes remotely using Zoom technology. The transcripts of the interview are done online using digital technologies, instead of listening to tape and typing each word—as was done with the past. The videos are shared to the world on a digital platform. There are only three old-fashioned parts to this project: 1) researching in the Bridwell and DeGolyer Libraries, 2) interviewing people face-to-face, and 3) connecting to people to let them tell their story.