Researching Allan Nevins

In order to understand the meteoric rise of oral history material in the 1960’s and 70’s, I needed to first find the point where oral history began. Columbia University has long been the standard for all matters oral history from archive development to interview standards, and Allan Nevins, a former Professor there, was often cited as the founder of Oral history in my preliminary readings. I decided to start by reading the introductions he’d written in his published work, especially in his biography of Henry Ford in which he’d heavily used interviews of individuals who’d known Henry Ford to inform and fill out his narrative. This book had often been mentioned when searching articles and reviews of Allan Nevin’s work as the beginning of Allan Nevins use of oral history.

Researching Allen Nevins’ “Ford..,” lead to me finding articles about Nevins written in the mid-to-late 1960’s. I then used these articles and their bibliographies to find source material that was written in the 1940’s, which when I researched those materials further, would lead me back to articles written largely in the 1960’s which had to do with the purpose of oral history.

The reason that the materials from these two periods were connected was that oral history was exploding in the 1960’s; certain ideological and practical issues such as how to store oral history interview transcripts and whether to store the original audio file or just the transcript were becoming hot topics among historians using oral histories in their published works. The historians writing the articles in the 1960’s were looking back at the individuals which they perceived as their originators and the early work those individuals had done as a guide for how to face the challenges they now faced. This was incredibly useful, because it led me not only to Allan Nevins, but also Forrest Pogue, and their associates.

Once I had discovered who the oral historians of the 1960’s considered their intellectual forefathers, I was able to research those individuals and their exploits with the confidence that I would be researching those individuals who had such a large impact that they can be credited with increasing the awareness of oral history.