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Labor History: Oral History Collections

A guide to U.S. labor history resources in NYU's Tamiment Library and beyond.

Search Finding Aids

Search Finding Aids

Oral Histories Beyond Tamiment

Columbia University Oral History Office
The resources page is an excellent place to identify major repositories of oral history collections.

International Oral History Association
"A professional association established to provide a forum for oral historians around the world, and a means for cooperation among those concerned with the documentation of human experience. "

Oral Histories Online
This subscription database from Alexander Street Press provides in-depth indexing to more than 2,700 collections of Oral History in English from around the world.

Using the Advanced search, limit the format to "sound recordings" then search on "oral history" under Keyword to find oral history collections.  Add additional Author or Subject terms to focus results.

Oral History Collections

Collection Highlights

Carefully researched interviews with labor leaders, rank-and-file workers, and political activists are an important part of the Tamiment collections. Paul Buhle's Oral History of the American Left and Debra Bernhard's New Yorkers at Work are the core oral history collections. The collections also include audiotapes of speeches, concerts, conferences, memorial meetings, union meetings and other public and private events, as well as commercial recordings. Transcripts or summaries are available for many oral history interviews. Donor restrictions govern the use of some interviews.

To find other oral histories, browse our online list of OH collections, search BobCat, use the Finding Aids search, or browse the Collections and Finding Aids list on our website.

Following are highlights from the collections.  The links below will take you to a finding aid, brief description, or record in BobCat

  • Asian Garment Workers in NYC (OH-18)
    NYU undergraduate, Bichiluyen Nguyen, herself a Vietnamese immigrant, conducted these interviews as part of an internship in the history department in 1989. The collection consists of interviews with garment workers from Vietnam, China, the Philippines, and California. Interviews were conducted mainly in English, but some were partially in the interviewee's native language. Transcripts or indexes exist in English for all of the interviews. Interviews are with ILGWU members and staff, and one interview is with a garment manufacturer. Topics covered include emigration to the U.S., working conditions, joining the ILGWU, and major strikes. Index available in repository.

  • Daniel Katz - International Ladies' Garment Workers Union (OH-49)
    Interviews conducted by Daniel Katz for his dissertation, A Union of Many Cultures: Yiddish Socialism and Interracial Organizing in the International Ladies' Garment Union, 1913-1941. (Rutgers University, 2003). Index available in repository. Contact for information.

  • Robin Kelley - Hammer and Hoe (OH-40)
    Historian Robin D.G. Kelley donated to the Tamiment Library the interviews he used in the preparation of his book Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression (University of North Caroline Press, 1990) after its publication.  Conducted by Kelley between 1986 and 1988, the interviews include Dr. James Jackson, Hosea Hudson, H.D. Coke, Marge Franz, Laurent Frontz, Rob Hall, Esther Cooper Jackson, Alice Burke (Jarvis), Nannie Washburn, Charles Echols, and Mack Robinson. Index available in repository.

  • Lower East Side Oral History Project* (OH-33)
    The collection consists of 93 interviews with immigrants and children of immigrants who lived on the Lower East Side, the majority of them from Eastern European Jewish backgrounds. Topics include growing up in tenements, family life, religion, paid and unpaid work, union activity, political activism, etc. There are indices prepared by the interviewers for all tapes, and partial transcripts for some. Most of the tapes are open for use. More interviews are planned, both by graduate students and by new groups of volunteers working with the Tenement Museum.

  • New York City Immigrant Labor History Project (OH-14)
    The collection consists of 285 interviews with American Black, Irish, Italian, Jewish, and Scandinavian immigrant workers. Topics include: family life, education, assimilation, women's roles, work process, ethnic community relations, pre-immigration experiences, work in the garment industry and on the docks, living conditions, politics, leisure, religion, unions, Ellis Island, courtship, class. Indexes or partial transcripts are available for many of the tapes. Index available in repository.

  • New Yorkers at Work* (OH-1)
    New Yorkers at Work is an ongoing oral history project of New York University's Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives that seeks to document the history of labor and the working experiences of New Yorkers.

  • Oral History of the American Left -  (OH-02)
    The Tamiment Library at New York University established the Oral History of the American Left in 1976 in order to collect and preserve the memories of veteran activists. These interviews describe seven decades of Left politics from the 1910s through the 1970s. They document the full spectrum of left politics in the twentieth century: Socialism, Communism, Anarchism, Trotskyism, and the New Left. There are interviews with both leaders and rank-and-file activists.

  • Stewardesses for Women's Rights* (OH-12)
    The collection consists of interviews conducted with former SFWR members by Sarah Rapport, a graduate student who conducted them in the course of preparing her dissertation on the SFWR, and Wagner Archives staff member Brenda Parnes. Interviews were done by Rapport in 1985 and Parnes in 1987. A videotape on the organization, including video interviews, was prepared by TSOA student, Mary Lennon, and may be viewed at the Avery Fisher Center in Bobst Library. The tapes are not transcribed; they are open to researchers.

Evaluating Oral Histories

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Questions to Ask When Evaluating Oral Histories*

What was the purpose of this oral history?

What do you think was happening when it was recorded?

What can you tell about the person telling the story, and about that person's point of view?

What do you know about the person who is conducting the interview, and how it might reflect his or her background and biases?

What is the significance of this oral history?

Is it more personal or historical?

How does encountering this story firsthand change its emotional impact?

What can you learn from this oral history?

*Evaluation questions were adapted from the Library of Congress.

Published Oral Histories

See the Published Primary Sources -- U.S. Women's History section of this research guide to find published oral histories transcripts.