Preserving history on campus

Steven Sielaff, senior editor and collection manager, looks through one of the many recordings displayed in the conference room of the Oral Institute. Liesje Powers | Multimedia Editor

By Madalyn Watson | Reporter

The Institute for Oral History houses the testimonies of individuals that together make a different human history than those portrayed in textbooks.

“[Oral history] shows you that there is more than one perspective and that there are multiple stories in history,” said Adrienne Cain, assistant director of the institute.

Cain is also the treasurer and secretary of the Texas Oral History Association (TOHA), which is a professional organization of oral historians associated with the Institute of Oral History at Baylor University.

Dianne Reyes, the recently hired administrative associate of the institute, has a BA in Art History from New York University and is happy to be working in an environment focused on history in this unique way.

“[Oral History] is a very empathetic field,” Reyes said.

Steven Sielaff, senior editor and collection manager, is a Waco native and Baylor graduate. While attending Baylor, he attended a graduate class called Seminar in Oral History that piqued his interests. The class will be offered again in the spring semester from 2:00 to 4:45 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“Now that we have the ability to take your cell phone into someone’s home and get their perspective and have that greater dialogue, it becomes much more rich [and] much more alive,” Sielaff said.

Cain compared the intentions of oral history with the 2016 film “Hidden Figures” and the book it was based on by Margot Lee Shetterly, which is about black female mathematicians working at NASA during the space race.

“There are these people who were behind the scenes who helped out who are just now really getting recognition, sixty years later,” said Cain.

The interviews collected by the institute give individuals who would otherwise be unknown remembrance. The rise in popularity oral history projects like the Survivors of Genocide and the Texas Liberators of WWII projects focused on the effects historical events on the individual.

“History is usually done from the perspective of your old, white rich and male. It’s more diverse than that, there are other stories that need to be shared and perspectives that are just as valuable that need to be in the history books,” Cain said.

The Institute for Oral History works with the Baylor community through grants like the Faculty Research Fellows. To apply for the grant, members of the Baylor faculty must create a plan for a unique oral history project and a cover letter.

“We partner with three to five faculty members every year,” Sielaff said. “Give them money, give them training, give them transcription services, equipment, to conduct their own research using oral history methodology and then what we get is their [research] and then that helps build our collection.”

The institute also has graduate assistantships in which students work with faculty members who want to assign an oral history project in the classroom. They conduct online and in person workshops on creating oral history projects.

Throughout the year, the institute hires undergraduate and graduate students as transcriptionists, who listen and write down recordings that are new to the collection, and as editors, who proofread these transcripts.

As the administrative associate, Reyes hires the student transcriptionists.

“Surprisingly, we have had a wide variety of students in not just the history department,” said Reyes, “All the students really do enjoy listening to these projects.”

Over the summer — their most popular time for new hires — students transcribed over 150 interviews for projects of varying subjects ranging from the Institute of Oral History itself to the American soldiers in the Vietnam war.

For an interview to be transcribed and added to their collection, it must meet the standards of the Oral History Association’s “Principles and Best Practices for Oral History” and be accompanied by legal releases signed by the the interviewer and the interviewee. A list of these standards and requirements can be found on their website. However, if someone wants to suggest someone to be interviewed who has a unique story to tell, they can easily fill out an interviewee nomination form that is also featured on their website.

“Come by and just talk to us,” Cain said. “We’re more than happy to guide people on this Oral History journey.”

The institute is located on the third floor of the Carroll Library, one of the four buildings in the historical Burleson Quadrangle. Anyone who wants to learn more about the Institute of Oral History, should contact or visit their office on the third floor of the Carroll Library on the corner of 5th and Speight.