Hundreds of Oral Histories Now Available Online

Montana Historical Society
  • November 05 2021

More than 600 interviews on 1,106 analog tapes are now in a digital format as part of a program that supports the preservation of rare and unique audio, audiovisual, and other media of high scholarly value.

The completion of Voices of Labor: Preserving the Montanans at Work; Metals Manufacturing in Four Montana Communities; and New Deal in Montana Oral History Interviews Project, was made possible by a $32,000 grant from the national Council on Library and Information Resources Recordings at Risk program.

The audio files, along with transcripts and summaries, are available online through the Montana Memory Project. The three oral history projects focus on different industries and those involved in them.

Specifically, the Montanans at Work Oral History Project focuses on change and continuity in three main industries in Montana: agriculture, mining, and forest products. The interviews captured the stories of laborers, labor leadership, and support industry workers, from the expansion in extractive economy jobs during World War II to the decline of those industries in the 1980s.

The Metals Manufacturing in Four Montana Communities Oral History Project concentrates on residents of Anaconda, Black Eagle, Columbia Falls, and East Helena, who share their experiences as merchants, bartenders, union organizers, and families of smelter workers living in towns dominated by metals manufacturing plants.

The New Deal in Montana/Fort Peck Dam Oral History Project documented the economic recovery programs initiated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1930s and 1940s Montana, such as the construction of Fort Peck Dam under the Public Works Administration, as well as efforts by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Resettlement Administration.

Originally slated as a two-your project and scheduled for finalization in the fall of 2020, the COVID-19 global pandemic delayed its completion, and work began again in earnest the spring of 2021 for another fall deadline. The staff of the Montana Historical Society Research Center archives and library dedicated hundreds of hours to digitize and uploading the voices of labor past.

The Montana Historical Society hopes all Montanans will enjoy listening to these interviews. The state agency takes pride in knowing they are now available to a much wider audience.

“As much as we’d love to be able to digitize our entire oral history collection, projects like this could not be completed without the assistance of archival audio and moving image preservation companies. These companies do excellent work but can be very costly,” noted MHS Archivist/Oral Historian Anneliese Warhank, who oversaw the project.