Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Donald A. Ritchie, September 25, 2015

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries

 

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00:00:01 - Introduction to oral history

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Partial Transcript: So my name is Doug Boyd and we're here with, uh, Senate Historian Emeritus, now, Don Ritchie, uh, to talk about specifically, uh, his role in oral history and, uh, and your role in the Oral History Association.

Segment Synopsis: Donald Ritchie is introduced. He talks about becoming familiar with oral history during his research for his dissertation on James Landis. He talks about traveling to read the transcript of an interview with Landis, conducting his own interviews with people who knew Landis, and how he became involved in the wider field of oral history.

Keywords: James Landis; Martha Ross; Oral history meetings; PhD dissertations; Successes; Users

Subjects: Interviewing.; Landis, James M. (James McCauley), 1899-1964.; Oral history interview; Oral history transcript

00:04:58 - Coming to work for the Senate Historical Office

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Partial Transcript: Okay, so, so, so you've discovered oral history and you're fired up. What next?

Segment Synopsis: Ritchie talks about beginning to attend meetings of oral history organizations. He talks about the difficulty of finding a job in the history field at the time, and talks about his career prior to being hired by the Senate Historical Office.

Keywords: American Historical Association (AHA); Computers; Congressional records; Dick Baker; History profession; Job descriptions; Library of Congress; Martha Ross; Meetings; National Bicentennial; Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region (OHMAR); PhD; Senate Historical Office; United States Senate

Subjects: Occupations.; Oral history.; United States. Congress. Senate.

00:12:41 - Involvement in the Oral History Association

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Partial Transcript: Okay, so, so you've got this job. Now, um, you still haven't been to oral history--the Oral History Association.

Segment Synopsis: Ritchie talks about why he began attending meetings of the Oral History Association. He talks about some of the early issues within the organization, including the debate over mail-in ballots for elections within the organization. He talks about becoming program chairman and organizing speakers for the group's meeting. He discusses the beginning of long-range planning within the OHA and how this led to various changes, including publications and an increased focus on diversity.

Keywords: Betty Mason; Business meetings; Conferences; Dick Baker; Diversity; Jim Hammock; Long-range planning; Mail ballots; Martha Ross; Meetings; Minorities; Oral History Association Council; Oral historians; Oral history programs; Program chairman; Program committee; Publications; Racial equality; Social connections; Speakers; Tabling motions; Voter turnout; Voting

Subjects: Committees.; Multiculturalism.; Oral History Association; Professional associations.

00:27:50 - Early debates in the field of oral history

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Partial Transcript: Go back a little bit to the seventies and early eighties, um, and the meetings themselves.

Segment Synopsis: Ritchie discusses some of the early issues within the field of oral history, including Columbia University's practice of recording over its tapes once an interview had been transcribed, which was part of the larger debate over the importance of the aural aspects of oral history. Another debate concerned the subjects of interviews and whether they should be prominent people or ordinary citizens. He talks about how these debates, as well as the methodology of oral history, was influenced by the various disciplines taking part in oral history.

Keywords: Aural; Columbia University; Disciplines; Grassroots; Interview methods; Meetings; Minorities; Objectives; Principles; Reuse; Sessions; Shared authority; Technology; Topics; United States Congress; Women

Subjects: Interviewing--Technique.; Interviews (Sound recordings); Oral History Association; Oral histories.; Oral history interview; Oral history recordings; Oral history transcript; Oral history--Methodology.

00:36:05 - Impact of technology on the field of oral history

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Partial Transcript: Now the technology has played a big role in oral history forever.

Segment Synopsis: Ritchie discusses how technology causes limitations within the field of oral history, as well as how technological advancements can sometimes make oral history easier and less expensive. He talks about the technical problems that can occur when conducting an interview, and talks about arranging a session at an OHA conference on this subject.

Keywords: Cassette tapes; D-Day Invasion; Equipment; Forrest Pogue; Ken Burns; Recorders; Reel to reel; Role of technology; Speakers; Technical problems; Technologically-driven

Subjects: Audiocassettes.; Sound--Equipment and supplies.; Sound--Recording and reproducing.; Technology.

00:41:30 - Guidelines for oral history

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Partial Transcript: So, um, speaking of doing oral history well, uh, and best practice, and methodology, you played a role in the evaluation guidelines that then evolved, you know, today into principles and best practices.

Segment Synopsis: Ritchie talks about the first evaluation guidelines for oral history that were written by an OHA committee. He talks about being part of the committee that later revised these guidelines, and discusses the major principles within the guidelines.

Keywords: Anonymity; Best practices; Business meetings; Evaluation guidelines; Open-mindedness; Principles; Revision; Tabling motions; Wingspread

Subjects: Interviewing--Technique.; Oral History Association; Oral history interview; Oral history--Handbooks, manuals, etc.; Oral history--Methodology.

00:48:20 - Administrative structure of the Oral History Association

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Partial Transcript: So, um, when were you president?

Segment Synopsis: Ritchie talks about how the Oral History Association operates, including its leadership and budgetary concerns. He tells several anecdotes about OHA meetings and issues the organization has encountered. He talks about how the structure has changed over the years, especially concerning the duties of the president and the hiring of full-time staff members.

Keywords: Administrative structure; Anne Campbell; Anne Ritchie; Budgets; Costs; Council members; Cullom Davis; Dickinson College; Endowment funds; Equipment; Executive directors; Executive secretary; Hotels; Logo designs; Madeline Campbell; Meetings; Presidents; Profits; Program chairman; Responsibilities; Ron Marcello; Staff; Terry Birdwhistell; Vice presidents

Subjects: Committees.; Oral History Association; Professional associations.

00:57:35 - Conflict with institutional review boards concerning oral histories

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Partial Transcript: One thing we didn't talk about with the, uh, with the--back t--go back--going back to the evaluation guidelines, is this idea of best practice and its impact on the human subjects and the IRB.

Segment Synopsis: Ritchie talks about the conflict that occurred when the Institutional Review Board began considering interviewees as human subjects. They began imposing restrictions on the use of oral history in research without fully understanding the field of oral history. He talks about the role of the Oral History Association in scaling back these restrictions.

Keywords: Best practices; Evaluation guidelines; Federal government; Human subjects; Institutional Review Board (IRB); Linda Shopes; Office of Human Subject Research; Peer review; Research; Terry Birdwhistell

Subjects: Interviewing--Technique.; Interviews (Sound recordings); Oral History Association; Oral histories.; Oral history interview; Oral history recordings; Oral history--Methodology.

01:06:10 - International Oral History Association

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Partial Transcript: Well, um, Anne Campbell, uh, became Anne Ritchie, uh, and, uh, and moved to Washington, D.C.

Segment Synopsis: Ritchie discusses the beginning of the International Oral History Association and the people involved in its creation. He talks about some of the early issues involved with the organization, including language barriers, creating guidelines, and choosing locations for meetings.

Keywords: Anne Campbell; Anne Ritchie; Candidates; Constitutions; Friendships; Guidelines; Languages; Locations; Meetings; Mercedes Vilanova; Paul Thompson; Presidents; Ron Grele; Socializing; Translations

Subjects: International Oral History Association; Professional associations.

01:12:48 - Importance of professional organizations

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Partial Transcript: Is that, is that what this all kind of boils down to?

Segment Synopsis: Ritchie discusses why attending meetings of professional organizations is important, and why some of the benefits cannot be gained through online interaction. He talks about learning the method of debriefing interviews by networking with colleagues in other areas of oral history.

Keywords: Anthrax; Communication; Debriefing interviews; Impact; Learning; Life review interviews; Locations; Meetings; Networking; United States Senate

Subjects: Interviewing--Technique.; Oral History Association; Oral history interview; Oral history--Methodology.; Professional associations.

01:17:31 - Books on oral history

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Partial Transcript: Well you're in--you know, you, you definitely have a very, um, uh, prominent place in the pantheon of, of oral history.

Segment Synopsis: Ritchie talks about how he became an editor for the Twain series on oral history, and how this led to his writing the book, "Doing Oral History." He talks about his process for writing the book, as well as the revisions he made in later editions.

Keywords: "Doing Oral History"; Book series; Brian Williams; Charles Hardy; Digital technology; Editions; Editors; International; Oxford Press; Publishers; Technological advancement; Terry Birdwhistell; Titanic; Twain Publishers; Writing books

Subjects: Oral histories.; Oral history interview; Oral history--Handbooks, manuals, etc.; Oral history--Methodology.; Sound--Equipment and supplies.; Sound--Recording and reproducing.; Technology.

01:29:05 - The future of oral history

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Partial Transcript: Well, um, you know, you, you know, you are in the pantheon for many reasons, not just the book, uh, but your dedication, I think, to, to, uh, oral history in general, um, and the institutional dedication.

Segment Synopsis: Ritchie talks about his thoughts on the future of oral history, as well as his reflections on the field's past. He talks about the importance of learning from past mistakes. He talks about how the Internet is changing oral history, and discusses the claim that the field has become less radical and more respected. The interview is concluded.

Keywords: Acceptance; Availability; Interview methods; Learning; Mainstream; Mistakes; Online; Past; Radicalism; Research; South Africa; Styles; United States Senate; Writers

Subjects: Interviewing--Technique.; Interviews (Sound recordings); Oral History Association; Oral histories.; Oral history interview; Oral history recordings; Oral history--Methodology.; Sound--Equipment and supplies.; Sound--Recording and reproducing.; Technology.