Dr. Thad Sitton epitomizes the scholar practitioner oral historian. Sitton, a native of East Texas and Ph.D. graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, is not a newcomer to oral history. Intrigued as a doctoral student at UT-Austin in the 1970s with the Foxfire approach to engaging high school students in writing and research, he wrote his dissertation on using oral history in the classroom, research which he subsequently expanded into a book entitled Oral History: A Guide for Teachers and Others (1983). The book has gone through several printings, instructing and inspiring both professional and beginner oral historians in Texas and elsewhere on the theory and practice of oral history.
With countless interviews to his credit, from elite interviews like Lady Bird Johnson to moonshiner and boat builder Wyatt Moore of Caddo Lake, and contract work conducted for The Lower Colorado River Authority, H.E.B. Corporation, Prewitt and Associates (for the U.S. Army), and Baylor University, he has tape recorded the life stories of Texans for over two decades.
These interviews—most running to multiple sessions—represent only part of his contribution to oral history. Joining forces with Baylor University, in 1983 Thad Sitton participated in the establishment of the Texas Oral History Association. Then, as information director of the Texas 1986 Sesquicentennial Commission, from 1980 to 1986, Sitton in cooperation with TOHA and Baylor University coordinated a statewide series of oral history workshops to introduce preservation groups and local historians to the techniques, art, and value of taping memoirists. Held in the major metropolitan centers of Texas over a two-year period, utilizing experienced oral historians, the workshops reached thousands of individuals and resulted in the start of many oral history projects across the state. As an instructor at the New College, St. Edwards University, and at other venues of public programming and instruction, Sitton consistently promotes the virtues of saving personal recollections and utilizing them in historical research.
Yet Sitton’s crowning claim to distinction as an oral historian must ultimately rest on his literary achievement and scholarship utilizing oral histories for grist for his numerous historical monographs. His books include the following: The Loblolly Book (1983), Oral History: A Guide for Teachers and Others (1983), Every Sun That Rises: Wyatt Moore of Caddo Lake (1985), Loblolly II (1986), Ringing the Children in: Texas Country Schools (1987), Texas High Sheriffs (1988), Austin’s Hyde Park: The First Fifty Years, 1891-1941 (1991), Backwoodsmen: Stockmen and Hunters Along a Big Thicket River Valley (1995), From Can See to Can’t: Texas Cotton Farmers on the Southern Prairies (1997), Nameless Towns, Texas Sawmill Communities, 1880-1942 (1998), and The Texas Sheriff: Lord of the County Line (2000). These works incorporate oral history as a major element in their texts and demonstrate in the best possible way the validity of oral narratives as historical evidence in modern social history.
Sitton’s scholarship has been recognized by professional organizations. Two of his books won the prestigious T. R. Fehrenbach Award from Texas Historical Commission: Ringing the Children In: Texas Country Schools, in 1987, and Nameless Towns, Texas Sawmill Communities, 1880-1942, in 1998. In 1986 the East Texas Historical Association awarded Sitton’s Every Sun That Rises: Wyatt Moore of Caddo Lake its annual Otis Locke Award for Best Book. In addition, he has to his credit the requisite number of scholarly papers and academic publications, and equally impressive is a long list of articles in more popular publications such as The Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine.
For excellence in scholarly and consistent use of oral history interview in his writing, Thad Sitton ranks among the nation’s most respected oral historians.
TOHA Board of Directors 2001