The Oral History Program is dedicated to preserving the stories and memories of Illinois' citizens, not just the famous and prominent among us, but of people from all walks of life. Oral history combines the most ancient way humanity has preserved history—through the spoken word—with modern technology. Oral history preserves the first-hand accounts of people who have lived eventful lives, giving voice to those who are too often overlooked by traditional historians, and recording stories and experiences too rarely preserved.
Recorded materials from the Oral History Program may be accessed in person in the ALPL’s Audio-Visual Collection.
Oral History Projects
Agriculture is central to the story of Illinois. From Illinois' earliest settlement to the present, agriculture was and still is the state's most important enterprise. Even Chicago, which emerged in the late nineteenth century as a transportation, industrial, and business center, owes its existence and vibrancy to the Midwest's abundance. You’ll find a large and diverse collection of interviews here, including a new collection on school district reorganization in the state’s rural communities.
Education is Key
Just as the United States is known as the land of opportunity, it is also understood that education is the key to unlocking an individual’s potential. The Education is Key oral history project focuses on many of the facets of education in our state, telling a story that continues to evolve in our complex and dynamic society. This project preserves the history of education in Illinois, and studies both the triumphs as well as the many challenges that face educators, students and community leaders today.
The Family Memories project is an eclectic collection of interviews with people who have made special contributions to their families and communities, and who also have a compelling story to tell us about their experiences.
This collection of oral history interviews chronicles the story of girls' basketball in Illinois and the early struggles for both Illinois girls' basketball (high school level) and women’s basketball (collegiate) throughout the country. The twenty-six interviews in this collection were conducted beginning in 2004 by Ellyn Bartges, herself a participant in Illinois' first tournament in 1977.
The Historians Speak project is a collection of interviews conducted by historians with historians who have spent their lives thinking, teaching, and writing about Illinois and/or Abraham Lincoln. It is the most academic of our projects, and it focuses especially on the narrators' historiographical journey, their contributions to current scholarship, and struggles and successes they might have experienced during their careers.
Every institution has a history, stories about its creation, and tales of its ebbs and flows over time. The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA), charged with preserving the history of a rich and diverse state, is no exception.
The story of Illinois politics is not only colorful but also essential to our understanding of Illinois and its place in the nation and the world. This project focuses not just on Illinois politicians, but also on journalists, lobbyists, jurists, political aides, friends, relatives, and political opponents.
America is a nation of immigrants, and immigration is a theme that animates so much of the nation’s history. This project gives voice to many of our recent immigrants, as each new wave adds to the mosaic that is the United States, enriching us and invigorating us in the process.
(Interviews conducted by Springfield African-American History Foundation)
Established in 2003, the Springfield, Illinois, African-American History Foundation (SAAHF) seeks to record the history of African-American families who have lived in the Springfield area for several generations.
This project is organized by war: World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War, and the War on Terror. We've also included the Cold War, for there are many veterans who served honorably off the battlefield.
The oral histories presented here are the result of the hard work, commitment, and generosity of many people and organizations. We are especially thankful for the continuing support of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation and the tireless efforts of the Information Technology staff. Dedicated and talented volunteers have unselfishly offered their time and skills in conducting, transcribing, auditing, and editing the interviews.
The ALPL Oral History program has been fortunate to receive several grants from public and private institutions. Our granting institutions include the Tawani Foundation of Chicago, Illinois, which supports the Veterans Remember project, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, whose grant supported the Oral History of Illinois Agriculture project. The Springfield African-American History Foundation (AAHF) transcriptions have been funded in part by an Illinois Humanities Council grant to the AAHF.
We are indebted to Dr. Cullom Davis, professor emeritus at the University of Illinois-Springfield, formerly Sangamon State University. A pioneer in the field of oral history and a former president of the Oral History Association, Davis is a mentor and informal advisor to the program.