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Institute of Oral History celebrates 35 years

Nov. 16, 2005

By TASHA CLARK, reporter

Baylor will celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Institute for Oral History by sponsoring a lecture at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Mayborn Museum.

Dr. Edward Linenthal from Indiana University will speak on "Historical Memory and the African American Landscape." Linenthal is the editor of the Journal of American History.

"He looks at historical memory and controversies. He worked with the people putting together the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.," said Dr. M. Rebecca Sharpless, director of the Institute for Oral History.

For 35 years, the Institute for Oral History has conducted interviews for a variety of projects.

Associate Director Lois E. Myers worked on the Rule of Church project, where she interviewed members of churches dating back to 1886.

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Courtesy photo
Student workers for the Institute of Oral History edit and transcribe oral history tapes on the third floor of Carroll Library.
"It was wonderful to meet those people and to find out about their lives and their faith and why they've kept their churches going all these years, some of them up to almost 150 years," Myers said.

From this project, researchers compiled the information into a book, Rock Beneath the Sand. Myers said many books come from professors receiving a stipend for training and equipment to conduct interviews for the institute's records.

Researchers add transcripts from interviews to the Texas Collection so people can use the interviews for future reference.

Baylor funds the institute's projects through grants offered to faculty and researchers.

Each year since 1971, members from the institute sponsor one faculty member for the Baylor Faculty Research Fellows.

Sharpless, who started as a student worker with the institute in 1978, has also interviewed numerous people for projects.

"Since the institute has been around since 1970, we actually have interviews with people who remember life in the 1880s. I interviewed a brother and sister almost 20 years ago when they were in their upper 90s and they remembered Rufus Burleson," Sharpless said.

Currently there are four graduate and six undergraduate students that work at the institute. Some of these students conduct interviews, but most transcribe interviews. Jasper senior Jennifer Dean said that some of these interviews take days to transcribe correctly.

"Transcribing has definitely been a new thing for me. I've learned a lot already just in the few that I've done," Dean said.

Dean said she learned a lot about the history of McLennan County through interviews with people who have worked in the fire department and city management.

Houston junior Jennifer Szutu has worked with the institute for over a year and a half.

"I transcribed a lot of the segregation ones. It really hit home to me that segregation was real and that it had affected a lot of people, especially people in Waco," Szutu said.

Myers said she looks forward to the information that Linenthal will give professors and students of history.

"He's a very personable speaker, very easy to listen to. I've heard him once at an Oral History Association meeting," Myers said. "His work as editor of the Journal of American History places him at the center of scholarship in American history."

Sharpless said Linenthal might discuss topics including recent discussions on creating a national monument for the Tuskegee Airmen and in Waco the more controversial topic of lynchings that occurred over the past century.

Sharpless said it's important to "remember these acts of violence."