Oral History Collections

Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) is one of the few cultural institutions in Brooklyn that maintains an oral history program.  Begun in 1973, BHS’s oral history collections now include over 1,200 interviews. These interviews bring the voices of history to broad audiences through exhibitions, digital humanities projects, K-12 and post-secondary curricula, public programs, and via the BHS blog and Flatbush + Main podcast.

The collections provide a wealth of historical evidence about the lives of twentieth-century and twenty-first-century Brooklyn residents, and reveal how diverse individuals and communities have sought to preserve vital social, political, religious, and cultural traditions as Brooklynites, New Yorkers, and Americans. The collections contain interviews conducted in English, Spanish, Cantonese, and Mandarin, with narrators born as early as 1880.

In coordination with the Library & Archives, access to oral history collections is enhanced with rich description in a user-friendly research interface. Recording the voices of today’s and yesterday’s Brooklynites and making them broadly accessible are some of the ways that BHS fulfills its mission to make the vibrant history of Brooklyn tangible, relevant, and meaningful for today’s diverse communities, and for generations to come.

Oral History Portal

Brooklyn Historical Society’s oral history portal uses the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS) (developed by the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries) to provide users with a time-correlated transcript or index, connecting specific points in an interview transcript or index to the corresponding moment in the interview’s audio.

The portal’s foundation is descriptive metadata imported as XML into a WordPress Storehouse plugin that is retrieved and displayed using the associated WordPress Client plugin.  This process allows BHS to make our collections available in a variety of dynamic WordPress page templates.  The plugins are freely available via github.

For a comprehensive listing of all BHS’s oral history collections, please visit the Emma Catablog.

Guidelines for Use

Oral histories are intimate conversations between and among people who have generously agreed to share these recordings with BHS’s archives and researchers. Please listen in the spirit with which these were shared. BHS abides by the General Principles & Best Practices for Oral History as agreed upon by the Oral History Association and expects that use of this material will be done with respect for these professional ethics.

Every oral history relies on the memories, views, and opinions of the narrator. Because of the personal nature of oral history, listeners may find some viewpoints or language of the recorded participants to be objectionable. In keeping with its mission of preservation and unfettered access whenever possible, BHS presents these views as recorded.

The audio recording should be considered the primary source for each interview. Where provided, transcripts created prior to 2008 or commissioned by a third party other than BHS, serve as a guide to the interview and are not considered verbatim. More recent transcripts commissioned by BHS are nearly verbatim copies of the recorded interview, and as such may contain the natural false starts, verbal stumbles, misspeaks, and repetitions that are common in conversation. The decision for their inclusion was made because BHS gives primacy to the audible voice and also because some researchers do find useful information in these verbal patterns. Unless these verbal patterns are germane to your scholarly work, when quoting from this material researchers are encouraged to correct the grammar and make other modifications maintaining the flavor of the narrator’s speech while editing the material for the standards of print.

All citations must be attributed to Brooklyn Historical Society:

[Last name, First name], Oral history interview conducted by [Interviewer’s First name Last name], [Month DD, YYYY], [Title of Collection], [Call #]; Brooklyn Historical Society.

These interviews are made available for research purposes only. For more information about other kinds of usage and permissions, see BHS’s rights and reproductions policy.

Takedown Policy

In an attempt to make the library and archival collections available to the widest audience possible, Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) has placed images and audio recordings from our collections online. For each item, we have tried to make sure that we have secured all necessary rights. If you believe that we have made a mistake, please contact us so that we can correct it.

Sponsorship

Online access to Brooklyn Historical Society’s oral history collections is made possible through generous grants by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) and The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation for Voices of Generations: Investigating Brooklyn’s Cultural Identity; and the New York Community Trust and the Nissan Foundation for Voices of Crown Heights

Voices of Generations: Investigating Brooklyn’s Cultural Identity is a project to digitize, process, catalog, and make accessible interviews from BHS’s earliest oral history collections that document the histories of Brooklyn’s diverse ethnic and cultural communities. Launched in 2016, Voices of Crown Heights is a two-year project to immerse diverse audiences in the unheard voices of the past and present of the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights. Together, these two projects have provided the inaugural collections featured in this portal, which will grow to include additional oral history collections as they are recorded or acquired and processed.

Project Staff

Zaheer Ali, Oral Historian & Project Co-Director
Julie I. May, Managing Director of Library & Archives & Project Co-Director
Brett Dion, Oral History Project Archivist
Meredith Duncan, Senior Communications & Programs Manager
Julie Golia, Director of Public History
Tess Colwell, Digital Asset Associate

Special thanks to Sady Sullivan, former BHS Oral Historian, 2006-2014

Oral History Interns and Volunteers

Harunobu Coryne
Mariama Diallo
Ted Kerr
Margaret May
Museum of the Chinese in America’s staff and interns
Emeka Nwani
Cristina Fontanez Rodriguez
Maria Santiago
Joe Teutonico
Nilaja Troy
Meghan Valdes