Over the past 50 years, many Kansas City area libraries, archives, and cultural institutions have engaged in the practice of oral history by creating audio and video recordings of residents from all walks of life. These institutions have completed projects focusing on specific groups, including Latinos, African Americans, women, LGBTQ, local political figures, disabled persons, veterans, and activists for justice and equal rights. Across various backgrounds and life experiences, the people of the Kansas City metropolitan region have advocated for the wellbeing of their families and communities through challenging circumstances and events of historical significance. The Kansas City Public Library, in spearheading this oral history project, is bringing these stories together into a single repository, where users can experience the diversity of Kansas City life through time, without the need to visit multiple buildings or websites.
Some of these recordings were subsequently digitized, while others remain on legacy media formats. As historical images and texts became increasingly available online during the 1990s and 2000s, bandwidth, file storage restrictions, and proprietary playback technologies often caused multimedia items to remain on the shelf, available only to on-site researchers. With the recent explosion of digital humanities, the growth in audio consumption, and the prevalence of broadband, it is time to bring audio-visual collections into the foreground. The goal is to leverage the unique strengths of each participating organization to provide a multifaceted picture of life in our region. Each organization should benefit by bringing their collections to a wider audience alongside quality material from other partners.
The basis of the project is a belief that oral histories are a valuable and instructive – but often under-utilized – source of information for historical research. In combination with diaries, letters, newspapers and images, first-hand accounts of historical events recorded in the witnesses’ own voices can help people understand the events of the past more fully.
Current partners include the Kansas City Museum, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Kansas Public Library, Jackson County Historical Society, Gene Chavez & Associates, Midwest Center for Holocaust Education, Black Archives of Mid-America and more to come. A public website will be available featuring a materials from these organizations that fit the theme. Users will be able to discover and play recordings directly from the website, with recording logs or transcriptions to facilitate their research. Future years will see more recordings added to the site, digital reformatting of analog recordings, and a sustained program to capture new voices to add to the repository.
Support for this project came from The Hall Center for the Humanities at the University of Kansas in partnership with KU’s Institute for Digital Research in the Humanities via the Stories for All program, with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Support for metadata work, digital reformatting and transcriptions was provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act as administered by the Missouri State Library, a division of the Office of the Secretary of State.