In the 1930s, as part of the New Deal, the United States federal government created the Federal Writers' Project to provide jobs to unemployed writers and researchers. Among the many publications produced by the FWP were the so-called "slave narratives," interviews with African-Americans who had been alive before emancipation. A similar project in Oklahoma interviewed Native Americans and white settlers. Do these historical interviews count as oral histories?
According to Linda Shopes, historian at the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, "historians generally consider oral history as beginning with the work of Allan Nevins at Columbia University in the 1940s. Nevins was the first to initiate a systematic and disciplined effort to record on tape, preserve, and make available for future research recollections deemed of historical significance." By this definition, the narratives documented by Federal Writer's Project workers in the 1930s would not qualify. However, I include them here because they are important, if complex, primary sources that require you to use many of the same interpretive skills as you would with oral histories.
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