Our History

1970 - 1982

BUILDING COLLECTIONS, CONNECTIONS, & CURRICULUM

The PROGRAM FOR ORAL HISTORY was established in 1970 by a group of interested faculty members who recognized a shift in the historical profession, with increasing emphasis on nontraditional history. Members of the founding faculty committee were Lyle C. Brown (Political Science), Thomas L. Charlton (History), Erwin A. Elias (School of Law), Glenn O. Hilburn (Religion), Burke A. Parsons (Economic), and Rufus B. Spain (History). Their work received enthusiastic support from then Executive Vice President Herbert H. Reynolds and President Abner V. McCall.

Under the leadership of Thomas L. Charlton, then a new assistant professor of history, the Program from its inception followed professional and ethical standards of oral history research established by the Oral History Association (OHA). Its fundamental purpose was to collect oral history interviews, transcribe and edit them, and create finding aids for their use. From its beginning, the Program established a close working relationship with The Texas Collection archives division, which performs the public service operations of the oral history process, making the interviews available to researchers in accordance with legal agreements governing the use of each interview.

During the Program's first twelve years, research projects reflected existing strengths at Baylor -- law, religion, and business -- as well as the history of the university itself. Thus, the initial oral history interviews conducted by Baylor faculty established the Texas Judicial Systems Project, Religion and Culture Project, Texas Economic History Project, and Baylor University Project. Many of the interviews gathered the stories of the people of Texas and the Southwest.

In 1974, funding from the Madison A. and Martha Roane Cooper Foundation of Waco enabled the creation of the Waco-McLennan County Project. In the following years, additional funding for local history came from a grant from the Fentress Foundation (1975)and from contracts with the Junior League of Waco (1975-1976, Woman in Waco Project) and the Waco-McLennan County Library (1981, Waco Tornado Project).

In 1976, the Baptist General Convention of Texas provided funding to foster the Texas Baptist Oral History Consortium, and two years later the Mexican Baptist Convention contracted with the Program to process interviews with its leaders for the Mexican Baptist Project.

The amount of interviewing and editing in the early days was remarkable, indicative of the enthusiasm of the first participants. In the first three years, the Program produced more than two hundred interviews, all recorded on open-reel tape recorders and transcribed by talented staff members on electric typewriters with carbon paper. Early field interviewers were Baylor faculty members from several departments, a practice so successful that since that time, more than sixty Baylor faculty members have served as interviewers, some individually responsible for producing close to one hundred interviews.

With a firm foundation established, the Program reached beyond interviewing to professional and academic service. Charlton rose quickly to leadership roles in the Oral History Association, in 1974 becoming editor of the Oral History Association Newsletter, a quarterly publication that remained at Baylor for eighteen years, and in 1975 serving as a national conference program chair. Charlton also assisted the Texas Historical Commission and the Southern Baptist Historical Commission with a series of oral history workshops. In 1971, Charlton received $46,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to develop undergraduate and graduate curriculum offerings in oral history. The graduate seminar in oral history, cross listed in history and American studies (HIS/AMS 5367), was first offered in the early 1970s and continues to develop strong oral historians through the present.

In 1981, the Texas Historical Commission (THC) published the first edition of Charlton's book, Oral History for Texans, providing a strong introduction to oral history interviewing and project management to the state's county historical commissions and local history organizations. THC published the second, updated edition of the book in 1985, as a project for the 1986 sesquicentennial of Texas independence.

 


1982 - 1993

GROWING AN INTERNATIONAL REPUTATION

In 1982, with the approval of President Herbert H. Reynolds, the Program for Oral History became the INSTITUTE FOR ORAL HISTORY, authorized to broaden its research and professional scope. By 1986, three staff positions were converted to faculty slots in recognition of the increasing professionalism of Institute personnel.

Oral memoirs gathered by Baylor faculty continued to reflect the basic project directions established during the Institute's early years, but the topics within many projects broadened, touching on national and international topics. The Religion and Culture Project grew with the addition of projects focusing on Baptist responses to women in ministry and to the civil rights movement. Institute faculty members recorded the experiences of people involved in various church-sponsored programs providing aid to Central Americans entering the U.S. without government sanction in the wake of civil wars in Guatemala and El Salvador. The local history project received a contract to document the founding of Texas State Technical Institute to mark TSTI's twenty-fifth anniversary.

In 1982, Director Tom Charlton became the founding president of the Texas Oral History Association (TOHA), with its headquarters at Baylor, where it remains today. Rebecca Sharpless served as TOHA's first secretary-treasurer (1982 -1987), and Lois Myers assumed that position in 1987. From 1983-1985 Institute personnel organized and led seventeen oral history workshops throughout Texas, collaborating under a grant from the Texas Committee for the Humanities with TOHA, the Texas 1986 Sesquicentennial Commission, the Texas Historical Commission, and the Texas State Library. Through the workshops, the Institute gained lasting alliances with oral historians in all parts of Texas.

In 1985, the Institute completed a fourteen-year project taping, transcribing, and editing the oral memoirs of Baylor alumnus and former U.S. Rep. W. R. "Bob" Poage. In July representatives from the Institute presented the five-volume, 1,646 page memoir, transcribed from forty-nine hours of taped interviews, to David J. Boorstin, librarian of Congress. At the time, the Poage memoirs were considered the largest oral history series on a former congressman ever presented by a university to the Library of Congress.

Also in 1985, in celebration of its fifteenth anniversary, the Institute initiated a series of interdisciplinary symposia with The Past Meets the Present, a two-day conference bringing to Baylor a host of nationally known speakers, followed by publication of the proceedings through the University Press of America. This first national symposium featured Barbara Allen, Cullom Davis, William W. Moss, Vivian Perlis, and Eliot Wigginton. In 1988, the second symposium, entitled Memory and History, brought together oral historians Paul Thompson (the Institute's first international speaker), Karen E. Fields, Michael Frisch, and Alice Hoffman with a panel of psychologists, including Elizabeth F. Loftus, Marigold Linton, and Howard S. Hoffman. The proceedings, also titled Memory and History, edited by Jaclyn Jeffrey and Glenace Edwall, were published in 1994 by University Press of America. The 1991 symposium, History in Film and Television, demonstrated the impact of oral memoirs in media and highlighted interactive panels of humanities scholars and media documentarians, including Ken Burns, Betty Sue Flowers, Ron Grele, Rosemary Gooden, Henry Hampton, Sylvia Komatsu, Judy F. Richardson, Nicholas R. Spitzer, and George C. Wright. The symposium culminated with a teleconference, allowing viewers at thirty-six sites in twenty-four states to enter the discussion.

The late 1980s brought ventures into electronic media. In 1987, a grant from the Texas Committee for the Humanities assisted Institute personnel in production of a PBS radio program entitled "Lincolnville at Moccasin Bend: Black Families on the Texas Frontier," based on interviews conducted in Coryell County. This project helped launch the Family Life and Community History Project. Subsequently, the Institute recorded the stories of many aspects of rural life in Texas, including the historic Stoner Ranch in Uvalde County, a significant cotton gin cooperative in Washington County, rural African American communities along the Brazos River south of Waco, and the experiences of farm women on the Blackland Prairie.

In 1989, the Institute brought filmmakers Allen and Cynthia Mondell to Baylor's Distinguished Lecturers Series to discuss their documentary films on the JFK assassination. The following year, the Institute sponsored a public lecture on oral history and popular media, presented by documentary filmmaker Allen E. Tullos. With funding from the Madison A. and Martha Roane Cooper Foundation, the Institute presented to the public in 1991 its television production, Crossroads, which revealed the interplay between the land and people that formed the history and culture of Waco, Texas. Crossroads appeared on public television and on the local community cable access station.

Students in the graduate seminar in oral history gained intensive oral history experience during Charlton's 1989 summer field school, in which students lived among the people in Blanco and Gillespie Counties and recorded memories of Lyndon Baines Johnson's life and times.

The Baylor Institute faculty members continued to contribute their time and expertise to various Oral History Association committees and initiatives, and from 1983 to 1989, Charlton and Sharpless each served three years on the executive council. Beginning in 1990, Charlton served an active three-year stint at the top leadership of OHA, as vice president, president, and past president. Baylor played an integral part of staging the 1991 OHA annual meeting in Snowbird, Utah. In conjunction with the OHA, the Institute brought its second international speaker in 1991, as Irina Scherbakova visited Baylor from Russia.

 


1993 - 2007

STRENGTHENING SCHOLARSHIP & ACCESSIBILITY

In 1992, while still directing the Institute, Thomas L. Charlton became Baylor's Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs. By summer 1993, his administrative responsibilities in the Division of Academic Affairs increased to full-time, and in the twenty-third year of the Institute he founded, Dr. Charlton resigned as director. Fortunately, the opening of the director's position coincided with the availability of Rebecca Sharpless, the Institute's former Assistant Director, and she then became the Institute's second director. Institute personnel realized a long-awaited hope later that year when the Institute moved from the basement of Tidwell Bible Building to the top floor of Carroll Library, overlooking the historic Burleson Quadrangle at the heart of the Baylor campus.

Under Dr. Sharpless's leadership, the Institute entered several contract agreements for oral history services, including researching and writing historical narratives of state parks for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission; interviews with division directors of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia; interviews to document the life and work of Bob Bullock, former Texas Lieutenant Governor; and interviews with pioneers in population careers for a Hewlett Foundation-University of New Mexico grant.

In 1996, a prominent outside consultant evaluated the Institute's work and determined that it ranked with the three most-respected programs in the United States: Columbia University, the University of California, Berkeley, and UCLA. Upon his recommendation, the Institute began stretching itself beyond creating oral histories for other scholars to interpret and entered into a major research project with the purpose of publishing the findings. The result was the 2003 publication of Rock Beneath the Sand: Country Churches in Texas, an exploration of the persistence of the rural church in Central Texas through oral history and photography.

The Institute continued its supporting roles with the national and regional oral history associations, with personnel chairing various committees and moderating panels and presenting papers at its annual meetings. From 1993-1995 the Institute hosted the headquarters for the American Studies Association of Texas, with Lois Myers serving as secretary and managing editor of the association's journal. From 1995 through May 1999, the Institute served as headquarters for the Oral History Association, with Rebecca Sharpless in the position of Executive Secretary. In the mid-nineties, then, the Institute hosted three major organizations: the Oral History Association, Texas Oral History Association, and American Studies Association of Texas. Professional participation increasingly became global, with Institute faculty participating in meetings of the International Oral History Association in Oxford (1987), New York (1994), Sweden (1996), Turkey (2000), and South Africa (2002). In 2003, Rebecca Sharpless began a three-year commitment to OHA culminating in her becoming the association's president in 2005-2006.

In 1995, the Institute celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary by hosting a special lecture for the campus and community by civil rights activist and distinguished oral historian Julian Bond. In 2000, two guest lecturers helped the Institute announce its thirtieth anniversary. Alistair Thomson of the University of Sussex brought Australian and English perspectives to Baylor, and in the fall, Vicki Ruiz of Arizona State University opened to Baylor students the topic of Mexican women in the twentieth-century United States. In 2005, to mark the Institute's thirty-fifth anniversary, historian and religion studies scholar Edward Linenthal presented a well-received lecture on historical memory and the African American landscape.

As from the beginning, the Baylor oral history collection benefited from the research work of faculty members from across the university. Through the years, Oral History Faculty Fellowships have funded research by Baylor faculty members on a broad range of topics, from the history of Baylor's School of Music to Turkish earthquake victims. Other faculty research included projects on accomplished vocal pedagogues, Texas swing music, Depression-era photography, the assassination of Medgar Evers, and church-state views of Baptist fundamentalists.

Increasingly, Institute for Oral History faculty members assisted the university through classroom teaching. Institute faculty members also taught outside the academy as well, conducting at least four workshops every year, mostly in Texas but occasionally on a national level. From 2004-2006, Institute faculty introduced classroom teachers to oral history techniques during the Crossroads in American History Summer Institutes, funded by a Teaching American History grant.

In 2000, the Institute offered its first Visiting Research Fellowship, which brings scholars to campus for two weeks each year to study materials in Baylor's oral history collection. Ph.D. candidates and seasoned scholars alike have benefited from researching the diverse topics in the collection, including interviews on rural life, southern culture and religion, Western swing music, economics and politics, Baptist fundamentalism, the civil rights movement, and public education.

During the 1990s, the Institute kept pace with rapidly changing technology by developing a Web site which included, in addition to information about the Institute, the Workshop on the Web and a searchable database of abstracts of its oral history collection. Accessibility grew in importance with the development of online library catalogs, and the Institute assisted Baylor Libraries with the process of adding the oral history collection to the BearCat online catalog. The gradual transition from analog to digital recording and transcribing began in 2005.

In early 2006, the Institute celebrated the publication of a volume of essays by leading theorists and practitioners of the oral history craft, including articles by three Baylor faculty members. The Handbook of Oral History (AltaMira Press) was co-edited by Thomas L. Charlton, Lois E. Myers, and Rebecca Sharpless, with editorial assistance from Leslie Ballard. In 2007, two textbooks, with selected articles from the Handbook, appeared: History of Oral History: Foundations and Methods and Thinking about Oral History: Theories and Applications.

At the end of July 2006, Rebecca Sharpless left Baylor to pursue full-time teaching and writing at Texas Christian University. Over the following months as an interdisciplinary faculty committee conducted a national search for an Institute director, Lois E. Myers served as the Interim Director.

Also in spring 2007, the Institute provided two weeks of training and consultation for a developing oral history center at Oklahoma State University by hosting Big 12 Faculty Fellow Tanya Finchum.

 


2007 - Present

EXPANDING HORIZONS IN THE DIGITAL AGE

In August 2007, Baylor University welcomed Stephen Sloan as assistant professor in the Department of History and director of the Institute for Oral History. Dr. Sloan brought to Baylor a broad background in teaching and research, in addition to rich experience in oral history practice and program management.

Dr. Sloan maintained the former directors' legacies for creating a broad, yet significant oral history collection, contributing new knowledge to the field, and serving the oral history profession through leadership in its primary organizations. Baylor's oral history collection has grown considerably since 2007, as we opened wide the doors for accessioning interview recordings from new external sources, including additional Baylor faculty and students, community volunteers, and independent oral historians seeking a repository for their research. We kept on refining and updating our online workshop materials, including our Style Guide, while also branching out into content-rich Web-based publications.

BUIOH continued to host Texas Oral History Association and provide leadership to the Oral History Association. In 2013, Dr. Sloan became OHA president, having served OHA as first vice president and vice president the previous two years. He represented Baylor oral history research at International Oral History Association meetings in Mexico, Czech Republic, Turkey, and Argentina, and will participate in the 2014 meeting in Spain. Other international organizations in the UK and Italy invited him to take part in oral history conferences. With his encouragement, Baylor faculty, staff, and graduate students became active presenters in oral history conferences. BUIOH staff made presentations at TOHA, OHA, and IOHA and served as OHA committee members.

Dr. Sloan also took up the mantle as professor for Baylor's oral history graduate seminar. His teaching in the Department of History and his research and publications earned him the position of associate professor in 2013. For spring 2014, he introduced a new undergraduate course in public and oral history.

As our fundamental work prospered, new initiatives abounded under Dr. Sloan's energetic guidance. Below are a few highlights of new projects undertaken by the Institute since 2007. Additional significant events in our history over the past few years are available in our news archives.

 

Increasing preservation & accessibility of the collection
From the start, Dr. Sloan initiated measures to guide the Institute fully into the digital age, toward the goal of providing online access to sound files and transcripts gathered since 1970. Tremendous progress has been made.

• In 2008, under the direction of Senior Editor Elinor Mazé, the Institute celebrated the inclusion of its collection finding aid within Baylor Library's Digital Collections. Over the next year, 350 memoir volumes comprising 50,500 typescript pages were digitized through the generous support of Baylor's Ray I. Riley Digitization Center. By February 2009, users of the Baylor oral history collection were able to access transcripts via Baylor's ContentDM online database. This milestone marked the historic shift of the Institute to a full-service reference and research center, adding end-user assistance to our collecting, processing, teaching, studying, and publishing activities.

• Beginning in 2008, under the guidance of Baylor Electronic Library's audio engineer, Institute staff assessed the condition of our entire collection of analog sound recordings to prepare for the ultimate digitization of open-reel and cassette tapes. The first prototype workflow for the massive transfer job, which included creation of metadata files and a preservation master as well as access copies, came into being. That workflow has grown tremendously, and the Institute now employs two students with proven technological skills as dedicated processing techs. By the end of 2013, Baylor's oral history collection of five thousand interviews included two thousand born-digital or digitzed-from-analog files. Work continues toward digitization of the remaining three-fifths. In October 2013, the first full-length recordings became available alongside their corresponding transcripts in the online database. Progress toward adding other selected recordings to the online collection continues, with anticipation of large-scale inclusion of audio files by 2016.

• In 2012, the Institute accepted the invitation and challenge to beta test OHMS, the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer, created by Doug Boyd and the University of Kentucky Louis B. Nunn Center. OHMS provides synchronized Web-based access to transcripts and recordings in an attractive format that also includes a topical index to locate testimony clips on specific topics within an interview recording. Steven Sielaff, a former graduate assistant who joined the staff full-time in fall 2013, took the initiative to learn OHMS and investigate ways to integrate the Institute's transcripts and audio files into the software. The launch of Baylor's own localized OHMS system is anticipated for spring 2014.

 

Fostering partnerships to document, interpret, and present oral history
Under Dr. Sloan's leadership, BUIOH has enabled and equipped a host of oral historians, from those new to the craft to others who are proven leaders in the field. Dozens of workshops led by the Institute trained novice oral historians and refreshed experienced ones. Collaborative projects were developed to provide funding and processing support for nonprofit community organizations as well as seasoned individual scholars. Below are representative examples of our new partnerships over the past few years.

• In January 2009, the Institute welcomed eighty-five guests from across Texas and the US to Future Perfect: Retooling Oral History in the Digital Age. The one-day workshop offered expert training in digital audio and video recording, digitization, digital object management for access and preservation, and digital production. Also that month, the Institute launched its Digital Oral History Workshop within the Workshop on the Web.

• From the spring of 2008 to January 2010, the Institute conducted twenty-three oral history workshops under contract with the Texas Historical Commission's Military Sites Program. Titled "Here and There: Recollections of World War II," the workshops were held in sites throughout Texas, including the towns of Center, Paris, Del Rio, Panhandle, San Angelo, Frisco, Fort Worth, Amarillo, Alpine, Tyler, Midland, Brownwood, College Station, Corpus Christi, Sweetwater, San Antonio, Lubbock, Brownsville, Houston, Waco, Palestine, Victoria, and El Paso. Along with the training workshops, the Institute gathered interviews with veterans of World War II and with witnesses to the Texas home front during the war. Leadership in this statewide initiative earned the Institute the Texas Historical Commission's 2011 Award of Excellence in Preserving History and the American Association for State and Local History's 2011 Award of Merit.

• In July 2009, BUIOH conducted its first online workshop, "Getting Started with Oral History." Enthusiastic responses from every participant, a waiting list of people in line for our next online training, and our own assessment that the online workshop was just plain fun encouraged BUIOH to offer the two-session, interactive, online introductory workshops twice yearly. By early 2014, 207 men and women, hailing from Texas and thirty other states, had taken part in nine workshops, along with international attendees from three Canadian provinces, Panama, Israel, Egypt, Australia, Jamaica, and the Virgin Islands.

• Baylor faculty members from various disciplines continued to produce valuable contributions for our oral history collection through our annual Faculty Research Fellow grants. Their research expanded the collection in several new directions. Two additional research grants were added to serve oral historians beyond our campus. Through the annual Community Oral History Grant, initiated in 2010, the Institute enables Texas nonprofit organizations to realize their goals for beginning an oral history collection for their local area. The Charlton Research Grant, first awarded in 2011, provides us an opportunity to collaborate with a peer scholar.

 

Creating new public programming
• In 2008, BUIOH received a grant from the Madison A. and Martha Roane Cooper Foundation to study the proliferation and impact of local philanthropy on the Waco community. The project was twofold: revisit the founding of the Cooper Foundation and its enigmatic benefactor, Madison Cooper Jr., and interview modern day philanthropists to discuss their philanthropic philosophies, interests and impacts. With content provided from a series of interviews for each of these foci, Steven Sielaff designed a web portal titled For the Greater Good. Included on each interviewee's page are biographical details as well as samplings from their interviews in both text and audio form.

• From 2011 through 2013, Stephen Sloan was the principal investigator and interviewer for the Texas Liberators Project, a major grant funded by the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission. Baylor graduate student Robert DeBoard assisted in identifying and contacting veterans living in Texas who were liberators of German concentration camps at the end of World War II, video-recorded the interviews with nineteen liberators, and assisted with the transcript processing. Graduate assistant Steven Sielaff served as video editor for the project, creating short trailer clips from the interviews and preserving the digital video. During the process, Steven helped draft a new Institute policy for the preservation of digital video. In addition to the future availability of transcripts through Baylor's digital library, public dissemination of the project results included depositing bound transcript memoirs in major Holocaust-related museums throughout the state and displaying the video trailers on the Texas Liberators web portal.

• From August 2010 through December 2013, BUIOH produced one hundred public radio programs based on its oral history collection. Aired on KWBU-FM 103.3 in Waco, the program was titled Living Stories. The creator of the series, our editor, Michelle Holland, also developed the Living Stories web site to archive the programs.