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Mohammed Fayaz, An Ummah, In Conversation, 2018

Brooklyn Historical Society is the only cultural institution in Brooklyn that maintains a permanent oral history program.

Begun in 1973, Brooklyn Historical Society’s oral history collections now include over 1,200 interviews. Through an integrated description program with the Library & Archives, these oral histories 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- 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.

Recording the voices of today’s and yesterday’s Brooklynites is just one 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.

Many oral histories are available through our Oral History Portal, and additional interviews can be accessed through a workstation in the library reading room.

History of BHS’s Oral History Collections

Brooklyn Historical Society’s oral history collecting has always been forward thinking. The institution’s first oral history initiative, the Puerto Rican Oral History Project (1973 – 1975), was the first large-scale Puerto Rican studies project undertaken in the U.S. mainland. BHS began documenting the effect of the AIDS crisis on Brooklynites in 1992, the year AIDS became the number one cause of death for U.S. men ages 25 to 44. BHS did not shy away from exploring racial dynamics of the neighborhood of Crown Heights in 1993, barely two years after what became known as the Crown Heights riot in 1991. In 2011, BHS launched Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations, which explores the history and experiences of mixed-heritage people and families in Brooklyn and opens up space for racial justice dialogues. And in 2016, BHS returned its attention to Crown Heights with Voices of Crown Heights, a multi-year oral history project in partnership with Weeksville Heritage Center and the activist organization Brooklyn Movement Center, to explore Crown Heights’s continued national significance in conversations on ethnic relations, racial justice, and urban renewal.

Oral History Collections: