Preserving Memories with Oral History

In addition to an impressive archive of rare books, periodicals, photographs, and other physical documents, Swem Library'sSpecial Collections manages the W&M Digital Archive that includes both digitized versions of some parts of the physical archive (like the Flat Hat collection) and documents unique to the digital realm. This semester, I have had the privilege to further develop the digital archive by conducting, recording, and uploading oral histories.

Students and library staff have conducted a variety of oral history projects at William and Mary, including interviews documenting the recollections of African Americans, members of the GLBTQ community, and even people on the campus hip hop scene. This semester, I conducted interviews for the Stephens Project and the William and Mary oral history program. The Stephens Project is dedicated to recording the experiences of GLBTQ students, alumni, faculty, and staff at William and Mary. My work for the project began with an interview of Kevin Kosanovich. Kevin, a fellow American Studies graduate student, has been the primary oral historian for the Stephens Project since the spring of 2011. After discussing with Kevin the progress he has made and his hopes for the future of the Stephens Project, I joined him in conducting two interviews, the first with a former member of William and Mary’s Residence Life staff and the second with a recent (Class of 2011) alumnus. On my own, I recorded the oral history of a fellow graduate student. Even with just these three interviews, Kevin and I found a diversity of GLBTQ life on campus that cannot be accounted for simply by the three different relationships these interviewees have with the College.

The William and Mary oral history program began in the 1970s with the purpose of documenting the experiences of faculty and staff at the College. To add to this part of the archive, I interviewed Professor Emeritus of English Carl Dolmetsch at his home in Williamsburg. Professor Dolmetsch began his William and Mary career in 1959 and retired in 1986. Between those years, he witnessed major events and movements in twentieth-century William and Mary history, including everything from Massive Resistance to ‘60s campus unrest to Glenn Close’s electrifying presence in campus productions. All the while, Professor Dolmetsch worked to secure his own place in that history with his publications and lectures on campus, around the country, and abroad. The William and Mary community is fortunate to have his lucid and eloquent memories recorded for the archive.

The five above-mentioned oral histories will be available in the digital archive in the coming months. Each is accompanied by a headnote and index detailing the content and topics covered in the interview.

David Pratt is a graduate student in the American Studies Program and a 2012-2013 Archives Apprentice in the Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library.