ORAL HISTORIES – Revisiting the past through personal reflections

by New Bedford Whaling Museum volunteer Clif Rice

Beyond its treasure trove of physical objects, paintings, photographs, ship’s logs and sailor’s diaries, the museum is rapidly developing digital resources to help preserve and interpret the region’s rich and colorful past. “We are dedicated to searching for ways to broaden overall access to our collections and to connect to wider audiences.” according to Michael Lapides, who heads the Digital Initiatives Department.

One of these resources involves building a program of oral histories – personal reflections of people who have vivid, colorful memories of social, cultural, and maritime history. New interviews will add to recordings made years and even decades ago.

Through extensive planning and research by library volunteer and archivist Jalien Hollister, over 100 hours of existing oral histories, conducted since the 1960’s were identified and had their catalogued improved to increase accessibility. New processes were defined and implemented so that future oral history recordings will be conducted consistently and help complement existing material.

Joining us on the all-volunteer production and interview teams are Nancy Thornton, Adam Gonsalves, and Sally Brownell. Interviews are conducted as informal conversations, and recorded on professional digital equipment. Plans are to excerpt and cross-reference interview content so information can supplement on-line and physical exhibits, or be used in other programs.

In a recent interview, Roberta Sawyer, a lifetime resident at Round Hill in South Dartmouth, described life at the secluded end of Smith Neck in the 1930’s. Many of her recollections centered on Colonel Green. Roberta talked about how her father landed a small plane on Colonel Green’s farm field at Round Hill, and was asked by Green to establish and run a private airfield on his estate. Besides aviation, Green had sweeping interests in agriculture, science, photography, automobiles, and education. He established a broadcast facility and later built the memorable “martini-glass” satellite dish. He later hosted faculty and students from MIT to conduct research there.

Besides establishing the bark Charles W. Morgan in a special berth at Round Hill, Green built a reproduction of the ship’s tryworks and deck, opening these exhibits to the public. Although his family resided at Round Hill only months of the year, many remember the eccentricities and uniqueness of the Greens, especially their chauffeured limousines.

We welcome suggestions for potential interviewees, and new volunteers to the Oral Histories Project. Please contact Michael Lapides, Photo Curator and Director of Digital Initiatives (mlapides@whalingmuseum.org or 508-997-0046 x131).

For more information on becoming a volunteer call 508 717-6823, or visit our website http://www.whalingmuseum.org/volunteer/index.html

One response to “ORAL HISTORIES – Revisiting the past through personal reflections

  1. Seems you are building a tremendous resource. I hope to see other maritime institutions follow your lead. Will the archive be open to research?

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