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  • "It's no secret," said T. Harry Williams, "that I am a great believer in oral history. Trained researchers using a tape recorder ought to interview people to get the information that is in their heads and no place else." For the past decade, the T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History, keeping with this mandate, has been collecting, preserving, disseminating the valuable information found in first-person narratives.

    Established in August 1991 to document the history of Louisiana State University, the Williams Center's mission and scope have grown dramatically over the years. A department of LSU Libraries Special Collections, the Center now conducts and collects interviews on Louisiana's social, political, cultural, and economic history. Our staff and affiliated researchers come from diverse academic backgrounds, including history, anthropology, folklore, creative writing, psychology, education, landscape architecture, African-American studies, and sociology. Although their research topics may vary, everyone who comes to the Center believes that oral history is a meaningful research tool.

    Our collection reflects the interdisciplinary nature of the Center, and our holdings range from interviews with folk artists involved in the Acadian Handicrafts Project to prominent Louisiana politicians. The Center's largest holdings document LSU history, the African-American experience in Baton Rouge, Louisiana politics, and World War Two. In the past fifteen years, we have added nearly 2,500 interviews to our collection, and researchers can access them in LSU Libraries Special Collections Hill Memorial Library.

    Besides conducting and collecting interviews, we teach groups and individuals from LSU and from around the state how to use oral history as both a research and an educational tool. The Williams Center staff also conducts workshops for and consults with researchers, university and secondary school teachers, and community groups and helps them to establish their own oral history projects.

    During the past fifteen years, the Center has also spread the word about oral history in other ways. We published three books: A Guide to Oral History Collections in Louisiana, Louisiana Voices: Remembering World War II, and Talking Gumbo: An Oral History Manual for Secondary Teachers. We have created and helped to create multiple digital audio digital exhibits featuring excerpts from various series including "'Old Ways No More:' An Oral History of the 1953 Baton Rouge Bus Boycott," "'A Grown Man Does this and Gets Paid for It!' The Williams Center Presents William Haag, Jr.," "'We Just Kept Saying Equal!' Oral Narratives of Women Who Integrated LSU, 1964-1973," "Waking up to War: The Shock of Pearl Harbor," "'I Been Here a Long Time:' Oral Histories of West Feliciana's African-American Community," "Leaving Vietnam: Excerpts from Interviews by Dudley R. Meyer, Jr., 1975,"and "'A Lady in the South Could Only Do Certain Things:' LSU Home Management Residence, 1935-1945." Our staff also maintains an extensive web site that lists all of the interviews in our collection. Some of our tapes, transcripts, and publications are available online though LSU's Digital Library.

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The T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History | LSU Libraries Special Collections
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