In the Archives: Preserving Memory through Oral Histories

Author: Jack Ott, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the American Studies MA Program at UMass Boston

Oral histories and recollections can provide priceless and often otherwise transitory narratives about the politics and emotional labor invested in belonging to a community. Organizations such as the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Cumann na Gaeilge i mBoston (The Irish Language Society of Boston), and The South End Seniors recognize and celebrate the importance of personal interaction while conducting historical research, and UMass Boston is proud to include oral history projects sponsored by these groups, as well as many others, in its digital archives.

UMass Boston’s University Archives and Special Collection is fortunate to hold a range of oral history projects and collections, and a full list and brief descriptions of each collection can be found here. Through video and audio interviews, as well as written transcripts, researchers can explore personal histories shared by members of the UMass Boston community, the greater Boston community, and beyond. In these personal histories, we can learn not only about the Cape Verdean community in Roxbury and North Dorchester in the post WWII years from the Neighbor Voices project, for example, but also about how that past has been internalized, remembered, and shared with future generations.

Adalberto Teixeira wearing a cap and jacket with buildings in the background
Adalberto Teixeira, November 21, 2016. Teixeira was born in Fogo, Cape Verde and moved to Roxbury in 1976 where he got a job as a welder at the Quincy shipyard and as a teaching aide at the Madison Park Public School before becoming a community organizer and constituent services worker for the city.

From humorous anecdotes such as Inishbarra, Ireland native Johnny Chóilín Choilmín’s first taste of a hot dog on his 1955 transatlantic voyage to America (he was expecting a breakfast sausage…and was unimpressed), to the resilience and ingenuity of Alice Inamoto Takemoto crafting homemade buttons from peach pits as a 15-year-old interned in the Santa Anita assembly center in 1942, the oral histories in this collection transform historical records into vivid and deeply personal narratives. In so doing, oral histories testify to the epistemological value of reflection and challenge dominant standards of who controls how history is recorded and preserved. State records may tell us how many Japanese Americans were relocated to assembly centers and then moved on to internment camps, but oral histories such as Alice Inamoto Takemoto’s ensure that memories like lying in an army cot as it sinks into freshly poured tar melting in the California summer heat are not lost to posterity.

Alice Setsuko Inamoto Takemoto sitting at a piano, smiling with her hands folded in her lap
Alice Setsuko Inamoto Takemoto, June 24, 2011. Takemoto was born in Garden Grove, California. A lifelong musician, she attended Oberlin College on a full scholarship after being released from the Jerome interment camp.

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