About the OHP
"What people say is history. What we used to think was history - kings and queens, treaties, inventions, big battles, beheadings, Caesar, Napoleon, Pontius Pilate, Columbus, William Jennings Bryan-is only formal history and largely false. I'll put down the informal history of the short-sleeved multitude-what they had to say about their jobs, love affairs, vittles, sprees, scrapes, and sorrows-or I'll perish in the attempt."
In attempting to reconstruct the past, historians have traditionally relied on written sources such as official documents, personal correspondence, journals, diaries, and newspapers. But written sources can only tell us part of the story.
The technique of oral history was pioneered by U.S. Army historians during World War II, but it did not emerge as an academic discipline until many years later. As portable recording technologies emerged in the 1960s and '70s, and historians began trying to reconstruct the lives of non-elites—the kind of people who did not keep written diaries, correspond with others, or give interviews to newspaper reporters—they turned to the method of oral history to record additional sources of information. Put simply, an oral history interview is a recorded dialogue between an interviewer and an eyewitness to an historical event about the eyewitness’s perspective on that event.
The UNT Oral History Program holds one of the nation's largest and oldest collections of oral histories, and it adds to the collection on an ongoing basis. All interviews are transcribed and edited; UNT archives the transcripts and recordings and makes them available to the community.
History of the Program
One evening in the late 1930s, Dr. Sam B. McAlister, chairman of the North Texas State Teachers College (now University of North Texas) political science department, had an extensive conversation with the former Texas Governor Miriam A. ("Ma") Ferguson. The first elected woman governor in the United States spoke long and frankly that night about her tumultuous political career.
Several years later, one of McAlister's colleagues, Dr. H. W. Kamp, heard about the conversation and was disheartened that nobody had been there to record it. Since Mrs. Ferguson had died in 1961, scholars lost forever her personal reminiscences from the colorful political era of which she was so much a part.
Kamp could not forget this lost opportunity, especially after having heard about the creation of the Oral History Research Office at Columbia University, where scholars were conducting taped interviews with leading national figures concerning their roles in historic events. He wrote Columbia and received information concerning the organization, policies, and procedures of its program. Finally, in February 1964, he called the initial meeting to lay the groundwork for establishing an oral history program at UNT.
Dr. Ronald E. Marcello (pictured, above right) led the program from 1968 to 2005, establishing it as an internationally-recognized institution with one of the largest collections of oral history interviews in the United States. Under his direction the program's collections built strengths in World War II history, New Deal history, and Texas political history, among other areas.
The general purpose of the Oral History Program is to preserve, through tape-recorded interviews, the memoirs of Texans who have been eyewitnesses to or participants in historic events. During its formative years the program was oriented almost exclusively toward Texas politics and politicians. The interviewers gathered the experiences of the elite, people who had occupied positions in decision-making power or who had been instrumental in setting taste or opinion. Since that time, however, the Oral History Program has broadened its base and now collects the memoirs of Texans from a much wider background.
The Program provides source material for scholars writing books, articles, and monographs dealing with Texas history and government; lends technical assistance to members of the North Texas faculty; trains graduate students and selected undergraduates in the theory and methods of oral history; and contributes toward the preservation of our state and national heritage.