Oral History Interviews

Oral history interviewing is a documentary technique that preserves the cultural heritage of people from all economic and social classes by recording individuals' reminiscences about events that impacted their lives. The sound recordings and their transcriptions produce a rich body of primary resource material that can be a useful tool for historians, genealogists, and other researchers. Below you will find information on the nature and scope, process, availability and digitization status of the Forest History Society's oral history collection.

Nature and Scope of Oral History Interviews by FHS

The Society's Oral History Interview Collection includes more than 250 oral history interviews (OHIs) conducted with individuals involved with the management and use of forests and their related resources. The sound recordings are in various analog formats, including reel-to-reel recordings, stenorette tape recordings, and cassette recordings, and in digital format. Most interviews have at least rough transcriptions in typescript format. Electronic transcriptions for more recently conducted interviews are available for research in the Society's library, and some are accessible from links in our Annotated Guide to the FHS Oral History Collection.

Subjects discussed in our oral history interviews broadly pertain to the history of human interaction with the forested environment. Many people interviewed by the Society in the 1940s and 1950s were veterans of the forest products industry whose first-hand accounts of momentous events document critical policy changes that occurred within the industry in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. As the boundaries of the field of forest history broadened in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s to include the associated fields of conservation and environmental history, the Society's OHI mission expanded to include projects that recorded the reminiscences of forestry educators and researchers, conservationists, and employees of American government agencies charged with managing natural resources. Several interviews conducted over the last couple of decades relate the contentious political atmosphere experienced by women who held relatively high positions of leadership within the United States Forest Service (USFS) or describe the challenges endured by heads of the USFS and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

How Interviews are Conducted

The oral history technique employed by the Society is essentially the same as that generally accepted and practiced by other oral history programs in the United States. The subject field and respondent are carefully selected and researched prior to the interview. The interviewer then meets the interviewee and establishes a plan for conducting the interview during several sittings. Hours of recorded question-and-answer sessions follow. The recordings are transcribed to a rough typescript that is edited for accuracy by all parties to the interview. Some interviews have been footnoted, illustrated, and indexed before being copied and bound. Interviews are copyrighted with the Library of Congress.

Interviews Are Available for Research

All interviews are available for research in the Society's library, and copies of many can be found in other libraries' collections. Copies of interview transcriptions are available for purchase. The Society's Annotated Guide to the FHS Oral History Collection provides summary information about each interview; some descriptions include links to online transcriptions. The interviews are also searchable via the Oral History section of the FHS Research Portal, which provides brief descriptions of oral history interviews conducted by FHS and others.

To requests copies or other information pertaining to the collection, email the FHS library staff.

No part of an interview may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations.

Digitization of Recordings

The Society, with Philadelphia's George Blood, L.P., has completed a test project to digitize a small sample of recordings from its Oral History Interview Collection, including an mp3 of paper industry leader Reuben B. Robertson in 1959 recounting some of his impressions of Dr. Carl Alwin Schenck, founder of America's first forestry school at George Vanderbilt's Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. This interview with Robertson is included in the Early Forestry Education in North Carolina Oral History Collection.