Oral historian putting a voice to past
June 7, 2005
Barbara Bogart remembers when the faces, voices and emotional tinges of history first struck her.
She was a graduate student at the University of California at Los Angeles, and she needed a project. At the urging of her sister, Mary Pat Dunn — now curator of the Hayden Heritage Center — Bogart traveled to Northern California to interview a man about the history of the area.
A wonderful storyteller, he brought the history of the Bear River Valley to life for Bogart, who went on to record oral histories for 30 years.
“I was so taken with the way he transformed events and experiences in community history in story form, that it turned me in that direction,” said Bogart, director at the Uinta County Museum in Evanston, Wyo.
Bogart will share the art of oral history and how to capture people and their stories on tape, during a workshop from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. June 18 at the Hayden Public Library.
“It’s for people who are interested in gathering information that they know exists in people’s memories,” said Bogart, noting that the workshop is useful for recording family history and for those wanting to research a historical subject or event.
During the workshop, Bogart will teach participants about the nuts and bolts of recording an oral history including how to use recorders and microphones and how to create the best conditions for recording.
She also will discuss how to choose appropriate topics for interviews, finding the right people to talk to for information and how to get the best, detailed answers.
“It is a real art,” Bogart said. “Memories are triggered by all kinds of things that are unpredictable — photography, music, scents. … It takes some thought and skill to get people in the frame of mind that will allow memories to flow freely.”
Candice Lombardo, director of the Tread of Pioneers Museum in Steamboat Springs, has been working to expand the museum’s oral history and video collection.
The best part of interviewing subjects is knowing future generations will learn from that piece of recorded history, she said.
“To me, being able to capture that person’s face, their character and being able to hear what their experience was like — and being able to pass that on to children 50 years from now — is a great gift,” she said.
The recording of oral histories can be traced to ancient Greece and the historian Herodotus. In American history, Revolutionary War veterans were interviewed and their stories recorded to prove they qualified for benefits. These interviews are among those in a collection of oral histories in the National Archives, Bogart said.
Oral history projects became particularly popular in the 1970s with Alex Haley’s book and TV series “Roots.” Haley used interviews to trace his family’s history back seven generations to Africa.
The Museum of Northwest Colorado is among museums and libraries in Northwest Colorado that have collections of interviews helping define the people and events that made communities what they are today.
“They give a real specialized, focused viewpoint on what these people did experience,” director Dan Davidson said. “They give you a good insight to the histories they are involved in that you probably wouldn’t get any other way.”
Davidson noted that early newspapers from the area often read like stories, with details about people and their everyday lives. But with so many more issues and people to cover, modern news has become more general in nature, making oral histories all the more valuable, he said.
There is a $5 fee for Bogart’s workshop, which includes lunch. For more information or to reserve a spot, call 276-4380 or 276-3323.
— To reach Tamera Manzanares, call 871-4204 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.