Chicago Hot Dog

Lesley Jenkins writes:

01 Chicago HOt dog CHC (27)Sadly my time at the Chicago History Museum has come to an end. I met wonderful curators, public education staff, a bundle of volunteers and interns and many many creatives who do a whole range of jobs to keep the place going despite funding cuts driven by the GFC. I learnt a lot from all of them.  I wrote a few pieces about oral history at the museum and they should be up on the Oral History Association of  Qld blog in a little while for people who would like to know more about how this works here.  I started with a hotdog and I am ending with one. This great piece of child friendly interactive sculpture is part of the Sensing Chicago exhibition. This is directed at children to find out why Chicago was once stinky and is no longer.  The bright colours and sounds and interactive elements focus on how smells, sights, sounds and tastes tell us about our history.

Oral History at the Chicago History Museum today

Lesley Jenkins writes:

Oral HistoResize of 136ry is mainly collected at the CHM for research and exhibition purposes.  The focus is usually project based and thematic, rather than following the Life History model. Many of these Unedited interviews from the Museum’s Chicago Politics Oral History Project can be found on the Museum’s YouTube channel in 12-15 minute segments.  This project centres around recording interviews with associates and adversaries of Chicago’s renowned Mayor Daley who died in office in 1976 after twenty-one years in office.

Past Museum exhibitions using excerpts from oral history interviews include; an object theatre for the My Chinatown project.  Here a few significant objects contained in Perspex object cases are illuminated behind screens. When a light shines on the objects edited oral history interviews tell their story.  This becomes the voice-over in the accompanying video.

Oral history has been used in many exhibitions but one ongoing collection area is for the Making History Awards where the interviews follow a life history model of interviewing.  In 2002 the Awards were underwritten through a generous grant from The Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust. The Trust honors the memory of Elizabeth Morse, daughter of Charles Hosmer Morse, a 19th century Chicago industrialist and land developer. The Trust supports programs that encourage self-reliance, foster self-esteem, and promote the arts, with an emphasis on helping children, youth, and the elderly of Chicago’s disadvantaged communities. Awards have been conferred and oral histories undertaken with a range of Chicago identities including the well-known mystery writer Sara Paretsky. In 2002 she received Richard Wright* for distinction in literature. That year interviews were conducted with civic entreprenuers Richard L Thomas ( a distinguished banker)  and Arturo Valasquez Sr (a Mexican American who was an entrepreneur, businessman, community affairs activist and education advocate.) Edward A Brennan received the Marshall Field History Maker Award for Distinction in Corporate Leadership and Innovation in 2003.  Carole Simpson received the Joseph Medill History Maker Award for Distinction in journalism and Communications in 2003.  Many recipients of the Award become advocates and sometimes donors of the Chicago History Museum.

*Richard Wright was a writer whose most famous novel, Native Son (1940) was set in Chicago. Although he was not from here, he did live and work here in the years leading up to Native Son’s publication. He was not benefactor of CHM and probably had no connection to the organization.

The legendary Studs Terkel at the Chicago History Museum

Lesley Jenkins' blog post from Chicago:

Resize of 189Stud's well-known radio program, titled The Studs Terkel Program, aired on 98.7WFMT Chicago between 1952 and 1997. The one-hour program was broadcast each weekday during those forty-five years. On this program, he interviewed guests as diverse as Martin Luther King, Jr. Leonard BernsteinBob DylanAlexander FreyDorothy ParkerTennessee Williams and Jean Shepherd. It is believed that there were no transcripts generated from these interviews but his extensive files, located at the Chicago History Museum, are yet to be fully cataloged, however this material was recorded with open reel tapes and the Museum has retained an open reel player as part of its collection.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Terkel was also the central character of Studs' Place, an unscripted television drama about the owner of a greasy-spoon diner in Chicago through which many famous people and interesting characters passed. This show, along with Marlin Perkins'sZoo ParadeGarroway at Large and the children's show Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, are widely considered canonical examples of the Chicago School of Television.

Terkel published his first book, Giants of Jazz, in 1956. He followed it with a number of other books, most focusing on the history of the United States people, relying substantially on oral history. He also served as a distinguished scholar-in-residence at the Chicago History Museum. At CHM, he sometimes participated in the Museum’s public programs often working with the Museum’s Youth Programs Manager and oral historian, Marie Scatena, who went on to be a leading member of the Chicago chapter of  the oral history group Groundswell who are concerned with social justice issues.

He recorded his book material on cassette tape and edited the material for the books on an ‘as needs’ basis rather than generate transcripts.

In 1995, he received the Chicago History Museum "Making History Award" for Distinction in Journalism and Communications. In 1998, Terkel and WFMT, the radio station which broadcast Terkel's long-running program, had donated approximately 7,000 tape recordings of Terkel's interviews and broadcasts to the Chicago History Museum. During this time he also ran oral history classes at De Paul university in Chicago.  

In 2010, the Museum and the Library of Congress announced a multi-year joint collaboration to digitally preserve and make available at both institutions these recordings, which the Library of Congress called, "a remarkably rich history of the ideas and perspectives of both common and influential people living in the second half of the 20th century." "For Studs, there was not a voice that should not be heard, a story that could not be told," said Gary T. Johnson, Museum president. "He believed that everyone had the right to be heard and had something important to say. He was there to listen, to chronicle, and to make sure their stories are remembered."  The WFMT tapes have been sent off in batchs to the Library of Congress and 1 digital copy is returned to the Museum along with the original tape recording. The Library of Congress retains a digital copy of the recording.

In 2014 WFMT and the Chicago History Museum announced the creation of the website,, which will house the entire archive of Studs Terkel interviews. Currently the CHM transfers analogue audio material to digital files for a fee upon request. Once it has been digitized it is placed in the public domain for free via the CHC portal however  the CHM is exploring with Google the possibility of providing rough copy transcripts of the interviews which will be created via crowdsourcing.The Studs Terkel Centre for Oral History is managed by archivist Peter Alter with the assistance of interns and volunteers.
[Photo by Lesley Jenkins; part of above from Wikipedia]