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.