Center for Oral History


“When I do my history of science, it’s going to be a collection of stories, anecdotal stories about scientists.”                     
                                                              —Frank H. Westheimer


The Center for Oral History at CHF

“Through [oral history], you can capture the human realities, the complexities of modern science and business. You gain insights into the individual, even through the inflections and the tone of voice. You understand the motivations that nowhere appear in the printed or written record.”

   —Arnold Thackray, founding president of CHF

Science is as much about scientists as it is about the experiments they perform. Often, however, the practice of science and the knowledge it generates is relegated to publications in journals and in textbooks; the experience of science and the lives of scientists are often lost, missing from the annals of history. CHF’s Center for Oral History is committed to ensuring that the history of modern science is preserved in the words, beliefs, thoughts, and actions of its current practitioners—and not just in scientific publications.

The purpose of our Center for Oral History is to develop and maintain—in accordance with the Oral History Association’s guidelines—collections of oral history interviews with women and men who have contributed to the advancement of scientific knowledge in the 20th and 21st centuries. Our program facilitates and participates in all facets of the conduct and recording of our oral histories, from choosing interviewees, creating question lists, and ensuring the proper use of recording equipment, to processing oral history transcripts and establishing relevant, standardized research materials for scholarly use.

The program relies heavily on the work of other members of the Institute for Research to initiate oral history projects that relate to members’ program areas as well as to the entire collection of oral histories at CHF. And we rely on CHF’s Othmer Library to house our transcripts for research and scholarly use.

Our oral histories are available to anyone interested in learning more about the history of science, medicine, and technology from the women and men who have practiced and are practicing in these fields. Our collection includes, but is not limited to, material on such topics as World War I and World War II Science, Laboratory Accidents, Polymer Chemistry, Mass Spectroscopy, Hungarian Scientists, Nobel Laureates, and National Medal of Science Recipients. Visit our Projects page or our Search page to discover more about CHF’s oral histories.

For more information about the contents and extent of our collection, the practice of oral history, or the Center for Oral History and its staff, please click on the tabs on the left-hand side of the screen.

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