Science-Related Oral History Programs/Projects

For researchers, students, and those with a general interest in oral history, the Science History Institute's Center for Oral History staff has created a list of science-related oral history programs. 

American West Center of the University of Utah Oral Histories
As its name suggests, the American West Center focuses its efforts on preserving the history of the American West. With help from a number of individuals over the years this center has amassed a tremendous collection of oral histories, some of which pertain to various aspects of science, like their collections on Utah environmentalists, nuclear technology, cold fusion, and the coal and uranium miner interviews.

An Informal Oral History of the American Society for Neurochemistry
Less like oral histories as we think of them and more like transcripts of conference speeches, these documents were part of an American Society for Neurochemistry (ASN) workshop in 2000. The text of each speech is available via a clickable link. The texts mostly deal with ASN, its formation, members, and future, and some big names in the field.

Archives of Women in Science and Engineering Oral History Project, Iowa State University
The Archives of Women in Science and Engineering ongoing Oral History Projects documents the experiences of American women in science and engineering. To date, the collection includes approximately 70 oral-history interviews that span the United States, including botanists, chemists, engineers, entomologists, geologists, and physicists.

British Library Archival Sound Recordings
The British Library has over 42,500 recordings in its collection. Within its wide-ranging oral history archive are a number of collections that may be of interest to historians of science, including the George Ewart Evans collection (documenting “rural life and agricultural work in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, folk beliefs about animals, medicine and witchcraft, folk and popular songs” in the United Kingdom) the Oral History of British Science, the History of the Common Cold, and Disability Voices.

Caltech Archives Oral Histories Online
This project consists of oral histories of the prominent members of Caltech’s faculty (scientists, teachers, administrators). There are approximately 170 interviews in the collection.

CGP Community Stories
A project of the Cooperstown Graduate Program in History Museum Studies (SUNY Oneonta), this collection documents oral histories of the Central New York region. The history of farming is particularly well documented. Topics covered include agricultural techniques, traditional crafts and skills, technology, and social change.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Oral History Collection
Organized by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) Archives, this oral-history collection focuses on the men and women who have worked at or visited CSHL over the years. A number of interviews with prominent researchers contribute to a broad understanding of the past, present, and future of molecular biology.

Computer History Museum Oral Histories Collection
The Computer History Museum conducts oral histories related to the people, circumstances, and events surrounding the formation of the information age.

Computerworld Honors Program—Oral History Archive
The Computerworld Honors Program is one that honors the pioneers and leaders of the computer and information industry. This collection contains a series of brief interviews with leaders of the information-technology revolution.

Conversations in Genetics
Conversations in Genetics is an oral-history project that records the history of modern genetics from the perspectives of the men and women who have been pioneers in this field of study. Begun under the auspices of the Genetics Society of America, this oral-history project is continually expanding its collection in order to preserve an ever-changing history of genetics.

Cornell University Chemistry and Chemical Biology Oral History Project
This brief oral-history project recorded the histories of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology’s most prominent members, namely, Simon Bauer, Don Cooke, Roald Hoffmann, Fred McLafferty, and Harold Scheraga.

Oral History Projects at Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech has several oral-history projects focused on individuals affiliated with the university and its surrounding area. Most notably, the collections contain materials on Black Women at Virginia Tech and the Department of Biochemistry. This collection is more along the lines of an institutional history than a subject history.

Department of Energy Human Radiation Experiments: Oral Histories
Part of the Department of Energy’s Openness: Human Radiation Experiments program, this collection tells the story of the DOE’s involvement in human radiation experiments during the Cold War. Approximately 30 oral histories are available—including audio and video clips, transcripts of the interviews, and pictures—of scientists and other individuals who help provide context to the history of human radiation experimentation in the United States.

Forest History Society Oral History Interview Collection
This oral-history collection includes more than 250 oral-history interviews conducted with individuals involved with the management and use of forests and their related resources. Subjects discussed in these oral-history interviews broadly pertain to the history of human interaction with the forested environment. Those interviewed include people connected to the forest industry, employees of the U.S. Forest Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, environmentalists, and policy makers.

George Mason University Libraries Clarence E. Larson Science and Technology Oral History Collection
An active member of the scientific community, chemist Clarence E. Larson conducted a number of oral-history interviews with other chemists and scientists. The George Mason University Libraries has 49 videotape cassettes (some of which have been converted to DVD) of these interviews.

Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers Oral Histories
Since the 1960s the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers has recorded over 400 oral histories of individuals in the electrical, electronics, and computer fields that are available for researchers around the world. This collection covers various topics, including automation, bioengineering, signals, and transportation.

Iowa State University, Women in Chemistry Oral History Archive
As the name suggests, Iowa State University’s program focuses its activities on collecting the oral histories of women in the chemical sciences and in chemical engineering. The program had conducted 56 oral histories of women who worked in academia and in industry.

Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation/Computer Oral History Collection
The Lemelson Center has a significant number of oral histories that focus on the history of innovation and invention. This collection speaks to a number of subjects, including African American inventors, assistive technologies, food, radio, and robotics.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Oral History
Dedicated to exploring the role that MIT has played in society since World War II, this extensive collection has a significant number of interviews of people affiliated with MIT.

Medical Library Association Oral History Project: Voices of the Past
For 30 years the Medical Library Association has conducted oral histories (mostly within its own ranks) on the history of health-services librarianship and the MLA.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration Johnson Space Center Oral Histories
The Johnson Space Center’s oral-history program captures the stories of NASA-related individuals involved with the nation’s space programs. Organized around various topics (for example, administrators, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, women who helped get the nation to space, and ballistic missile–development pioneers), this expanding oral-history collection covers the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz, Space Shuttle, Shuttle-Mir, and International Space Station missions.

National Air and Space Museum Audio Collections
Included in the archives of the Air and Space Museum are a number of oral-history collections. These oral histories cover a range of topics, including aircraft design, space exploration, astronomy, national security, and much more.

National Library of Medicine
The Archives and Modern Manuscript’s Oral History Collections cover a broad range of topics, people, and institutions from throughout the medical and health sciences. Chiefly from the 1960s to the present, the collections consist of interviews with physicians, scientists, government administrators, medical librarians, and health-business executives. The site contains 107 interviews in two subcollections consisting of over 13,000 pages and 80 hours of audio content.

Nevada Test Site Oral History Project
The Nevada Test Site Oral History Project at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is a comprehensive program dedicated to documenting, preserving, and disseminating the remembered past of persons affiliated with and affected by the Nevada Test Site during the era of Cold War nuclear testing. From September 2003 through January 2008 a wide range of oral-history narrators participated in the project, including national laboratory scientists and engineers; labor trades and support personnel; cabinet-level officials, military personnel, and corporate executives; Native American tribal and spiritual leaders; peace activists and protesters; and Nevada ranchers, families, and communities downwind of the test site.

Niels Bohr Library and Archives Oral History Collection
Part of the American Institute of Physics, the Niels Bohr Library and Archives holds more than a thousand tape-recorded interviews with physicists. Topics covered include quantum physics, modern astrophysics and astronomy, laser science, physicists in industry, science education, and much more.

Oregon Health and Science University Oral History Program
Oregon Health and Science University set out to record a history of the university from the perspectives of the individuals who have worked there over the years and who have seen various trends emerging within and outside of the university. There are roughly 90 interviews in this collection with people from different units of the university.

Personal Histories Project at Cambridge University
The Personal Histories Project is an ongoing, educational, oral-histories research effort spearheaded by Pamela Jane Smith of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at Cambridge University. Each year senior scientists are invited to share their memories and life stories. Through their recollections we better understand 20th-century science and the development of anthropology and archaeology.

Rutgers University Libraries History of Medicine Oral Histories Collection
This completed project collects the oral histories of the men and women involved with University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (from various professions within the scope of medicine and dentistry).

Smithsonian Institution Archives Oral and Videohistory Collection
The Videohistory Program at the Smithsonian Institution Archives documents various aspects of science-related oral histories that were initiated by historians working on specific topics. Categories include Black Aviators, Classical Observation Techniques, Conservation of Endangered Species, Development of the Electrical Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), DNA Sequencing, History of Acuson Ultrasound Machines, History of the Cell Sorter, History of the Polymerase Chain Reaction, Manhattan Project, Medical Imaging, Minicomputers and Microcomputers, Multiple Mirror Telescope, Naval Research Laboratory, New United Motor Manufacturing, Rand Corporation, Robotics, Smallpox Virus Sequencing, Smithsonian Institution Paleontology, Soviet Space Medicine, 20th-Century Small Arms Development, and Waltham Clock Company.

Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College
Among Smith College’s extensive women’s oral-history collections is the Population and Reproductive Health Oral History Project. Addressing the historical period from 1965 to 2005, it includes oral histories of advocates, communication specialists, lawyers, managers, physicians, researchers, social workers, and others connected to the history of reproductive health.

Stanford University’s Silicon Genesis: An Oral History of Semiconductor Technology
Stanford’s project, as its name suggests, is about the history of semiconductor technology in the United States and Europe. There are roughly 70 interviews available in this collection, originally recorded on VHS and in beta format.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration Oral Histories
This collection records the reminiscences of FDA members of all levels at the end of their career. Transcripts of these interviews are available at the History of Medicine Division of the National Library of Medicine.

University of California, Berkeley, Bancroft Library Regional Oral History Office
The Regional Oral History Office is a large program that focuses, as it name suggests, on regional oral histories, a significant number of which are related to the history of science. Of particular interest are the oral histories in the Program in Bioscience and Biotechnology Studies, as well as in the AIDS Epidemic in San Francisco, Chemistry and Physics, Engineering, Kaiser Permanente, Medical Physics, Medicine and Public Health, Ophthalmology, and Stem-Cell Research.

University of California, Los Angeles, Center for Oral History Research
The Center for Oral History Research is a well-established oral-history program whose scope is broadly defined to include any aspect of regional history—for example, business, community history, education, Japanese American history, military history, and science and medicine. The center has also participated in a joint project, established in 2001, with Johns Hopkins University on the oral history of human genetics. The project uses an interdisciplinary approach. This collection contains 35 interviews, and the project provides valuable chronological and bibliographical information to support the study of the history of human genetics.

University of California, San Francisco, AIDS Oral History Project
UCSF’s AIDS Oral History Project focuses on the experiences of medical professionals and other scientists during the early part of the AIDS epidemic. 

University of California, Santa Cruz, Regional Oral History Project
The Regional History Project has been documenting the history of the Central Coast of California and the institutional history of UC Santa Cruz since 1963, through oral history. Their collections include a number of subject areas connected to the history of science, most notably organic and sustainable farming, agriculture, and the history of the Lick Observatory.

University of Michigan, The Women’s History in Michigan Science and Engineering Project
The University of Michigan has started an oral-history collection that preserves the oral histories of University of Michigan alumnae in the sciences and engineering. Special emphasis is placed on the experiences of women in science and engineering, the physical sciences, and medicine as students at the university.

University of Minnesota Libraries: Charles Babbage Institute Oral Histories
The Charles Babbage Institute has well over 300 oral histories of men and women that are related to the history of computers, software, and networking. Some of their specific projects have focused on the early history of computer-science departments, the rise of the software industry, and the role that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency played in computer history.