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Oral and Videohistory Collections

Oral History Collection

The Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives began its Oral History Program in 1973. Program staff conduct interviews with current and retired Smithsonian staff and others who have made significant contributions to the Institution. The purpose of the program is to supplement the written documentation of the Archives records and manuscript collections, focusing on the history of the Institution, research by its scholars, and contributions of its staff.
 Oral History
Interview of Horton H. Hobbs, Jr., 1976 Photo by Jeff Ploskonka

The Oral History Collection also contains interviews conducted by researchers or students on topics related to the history of the Smithsonian or the holdings of the Smithsonian Archives. Interviews were recorded on audiotape or videotape, and transcripts are available for most interviews. Interviews in languages other than English have been translated into English.

The Oral History Collection includes approximately 1000 hours of interviews with Smithsonian administrators, scholars, craftsmen and craftswomen, and technical staff, volunteers and visitors. Oral History Program staff provide expert advice on oral history techniques and methods.

For a complete list of the Oral History Collection, click here.

Detailed information on the Oral History Collection and related archival and manuscript collections is available via Smithsonian Institution Research Information System (SIRIS) in the Archival, Manuscript, and Photographic Catalog.

Video History Collection

Video History

Video Interview at Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, June 1990 Photo by Pablo Jusem

The Smithsonian Videohistory Program, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation from 1986 until 1992, used video in historical research. Videohistory uses the video camera as a historical research tool to record moving visual information. Video works best in historical research when recording people at work in environments, explaining artifacts, demonstrating process, or in group discussion. The experimental program recorded projects that reflected the Institution's concern with the conduct of contemporary science and technology.

Eighteen Smithsonian historians participated in the program to document visual aspects of their on-going historical research. Projects covered topics in the physical and biological sciences as well as in technological design and manufacture. To capture site, process, and interaction most effectively, projects were taped in offices, factories, quarries, laboratories, observatories, and museums. Resulting footage was duplicated, transcribed, and deposited in the Smithsonian Institution Archives for scholarship, education, and exhibition. The collection is open to qualified researchers.

For detailed descriptions of each collection see the Videohistory Collection Catalog on-line. A complete list of the Videohistory Collection, with short summaries is also available.

Detailed information on the Smithsonian Video History Collection is available via Smithsonian Institution Research Information System (SIRIS) in the Archival, Manuscript, and Photographic Catalog.

The Videohistory Collection Catalog is available on-line and without charge. Copies of transcripts and tapes are available for a fee. Contact us at



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