National Museum of the Pacific War Oral History Program




Walch, Sarah

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The Oral History program at the National Museum of the Pacific War (NMPW) has been a major volunteer effort for more than a decade. Recently, the program transitioned leadership to the Nimitz Education and Research Center’s (NERC) archivist and librarian, as part of a larger effort to both provide long-term storage for analog and digital audio and transcript materials as well as to professionalize the program as the NERC team prepares to launch an oral history website to the public.

At the beginning of February 2014, the museum held more than 4,100 interviews. To date, about half of the interviews have been transcribed, and they are currently available to researchers by request or appointment. Interviews are conducted in person and by telephone. I will trace the path that the interviews take from the moment they are collected to when they are disseminated to the public during my presentation today.

On January 31, 2014, I gave this presentation to a team of 25 volunteers in the Nimitz Hotel Ballroom, on the grounds of the NMPW complex, in Fredericksburg, Texas. In addition to a copy of the slides, the attendees received several handouts including a schedule, a training manual developed in-house for both interviewers and transcribers, a draft of a skit that two volunteers presented (that pointed out several common interviewer errors), a Texas Historical Commission guide to collecting Military Oral History, and a “Some Rules for a Better Interview” one-sheet guide prepared by a senior oral historian.

The NERC’s oral history program falls within the conference’s theme Engaging Outliers: Context, Collections, and Community as an ongoing project and digital library use case with an emerging workflow. To borrow an aptly put-together phrase, our team is building our digital archive as we fly it.

The oral history collection is a unique collection because while it accepts World War II oral histories in general, it focuses, as the museum does, on the Pacific Theater. The National Museum of the Pacific War is the only museum in the country dedicated to telling the story of WWII in the Pacific.

When the oral histories were originally collected, presenting such material in an online format was an unheard of proposition. Now, with content from such diverse sources as Admiral Chester Nimitz, former President Lyndon Johnson, Navajo Code Talker Carl Gorman, some of the Doolittle Raiders, prisoners of war, and many more, the value that scholars, students, journalists, historians, and society in general will gain by being able to search material cataloged to Dublin Core standards and posted at a website where the information architecture is high quality is remarkable. Several prominent WWII authors have also enriched the collection by donating oral history interviews collected during their book research. The NERC team of archivists and curators, under the leadership of the National Museum of the Pacific War, Texas Historical Commission and the Admiral Nimitz Foundation, is determined to see these materials realize their full promise and reach the widest audience possible.


Lightning round (24x7) presentation slides for the 2014 Texas Conference on Digital Libraries (TCDL).