Dr. James H. Conrad is essentially the face and voice of the oral history movement in East Texas—and has been for more than twenty years. Like most good oral historians, Conrad is quiet, unassuming, and intent on listening to what others have to say rather than promoting himself. His work on behalf of and using oral history, however, speaks for itself, and in the process speaks volumes.
Conrad received his B.A. from Wittenburg University, Springfield, Ohio, in 1962; his M.A. and Ph.D. from Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, in 1966 and 1974 respectively; and his Masters of Library Science from Texas Woman’s University, Denton, Texas, in 1975. He taught history at East Texas State University from 1967 to 1970 and again from 1972 through 1974. In 1976, he was appointed university archivist at the James G. Gee Library on the ETSU campus, a position he still holds.
At ETSU—now Texas A&M University-Commerce—Conrad has shaped the oral history program in a significant way. The program was begun by Joe Fred Cox of the Department of History in 1970, but Conrad assumed supervision over the program in 1976 and began interviewing individuals to add to the growing collection and also instituting procedures to make the interviews more accessible to researchers. Today there are more than 530 interviews in the collection.
In addition to serving as both university archivist and oral historian, Conrad has promoted oral history to historical societies, genealogical groups, professional organizations, and schools for the past two decades. For example, he has presented oral history workshops for such diverse groups as the Dallas Bar Association, Hunt County Historical Commission, Hopkins County Genealogical Society, American Cotton Museum, and the Maxey House Museum, just to mention a few.
Much of Conrad’s scholarship incorporates the techniques of oral history to study and give meaning to the events, trends, and people of the past. His excellent book, Every Sun That Rises: Wyatt Moore of Caddo Lake, co-authored with Thad Sitton (the 2001 Charlton Lifetime Achievement Award recipient), uses oral history interviews to examine the colorful and extraordinary life of Wyatt Moore, a longtime Caddo Lake resident. The book has received numerous awards. Another of Conrad’s books, Nameless Towns: Texas Sawmill Communities, 1880-1942, also co-authored by Sitton, is largely based on oral history interviews as well. Conrad’s book Developing Local History Programs in Community Libraries includes an important and prescriptive chapter on how to do oral history aimed at librarians who administer local history collections. Conrad has used oral history techniques in many of his other publications as well, studying such diverse topics as a Texas planked pirogue and the James G. Gee Library.
Conrad is active in both professional and community organizations. He is a charter member of the Texas Oral History Association and attended the organizational meeting for the association in San Antonio in 1982. Conrad has served TOHA in several different capacities, including two terms as board member, 1985-1988 and 1995-2001; vice president, 1996-1997; and president, 1997-1998. He has also served on the TOHA Lifetime Achievement Award Committee. In addition, Conrad has been on boards of the South Sulphur Regional Development Association, East Texas Historical Association, Hunt County Museum, and the Hunt County Historical Commission, where he served as chairman, 1987-1989. Conrad is active in the Oral History Association and has made several presentations at annual meetings.
Conrad’s scholarship using oral history, his professional expertise, his advocacy of oral history to both professional and avocational audiences, and his willingness to serve the association when called upon make him an ideal selection for the Thomas L. Charlton Lifetime Achievement Award.
TOHA Board of Directors 2002
Tai Kreidler, President
Gerald Saxon, Vice President
Suzanne Campbell, George R. Gause
Shelly Henley Kelly, Karen Riles, Jo Ann Stiles