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Oral History, Community, and Work in the American West

Edited by Jessie L. Embry

Publication Year: 2013

Nurses, show girls, housewives, farm workers, casino managers, and government inspectors—together these hard-working members of society contributed to the development of towns across the West. The essays in this volume show how oral history increases understanding of work and community in the twentieth century American West.

In many cases occupations brought people together in myriad ways. The Latino workers who picked lemons together in Southern California report that it was baseball and Cinco de Mayo Queen contests that united them. Mormons in Fort Collins, Colorado, say that building a church together bonded them together. In separate essays, African Americans and women describe how they fostered a sense of community in Las Vegas. Native Americans detail the “Indian economy” in Northern California.

As these essays demonstrate, the history of the American West is the story of small towns and big cities, places both isolated and heavily populated. It includes groups whose history has often been neglected. Sometimes, western history has mirrored the history of the nation; at other times, it has diverged in unique ways. Oral history adds a dimension that has often been missing in writing a comprehensive history of the West. Here an array of oral historians—including folklorists, librarians, and public historians—record what they have learned from people who have, in their own ways, made history.

Published by: University of Arizona Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

In 1973, I was finishing a whirlwind bachelor’s degree at Brigham Young University and deciding what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. To delay that decision, I planned to start a master’s degree tory class that the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies was sponsoring summer term. Gary L. Shumway, a professor at Califor-...

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pp. 1-19

...West in the twentieth century. This introduction sets the stage for the chapters by providing a backdrop of western history and oral history along with expanded definitions of community and work as they are used in this study. Finally, it outlines the book’s contents.For years, western American historians wrote almost exclusively ...

Part I: Reflections

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pp. 9-21

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1. Stories of Community and Work in the Redd Center Oral History Program - Jessie L. Embry

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pp. 11-28

looking back on my forty-plus years doing oral history, I believe interviews have been a valuable enterprise for my family, for my own research, and for other scholars. Because I work for a western studies center, my focus has always been on the American West. Oral history has been invaluable in documenting the towns and cities in the West and the larger...

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2. A Two-Way Street: Explaining and Creating Community through Oral History - Barbara Allen Bogart

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pp. 29-41

the western landscape has an endless appeal to me—not just the sweeping vistas of mountains and plains but the small communities that lie between them. If we seem closer to nature in the West, I believe we are also closer to history here. The most direct route to the past, I also believe, is through the memories..

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3. Probing Memory and Experience: The Untapped Potential of Oral History (Re)Collections - Laurie Mercier

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pp. 42-60

over the years, state historical societies, museums, and universities in the American West have created impressive and rich oral history archives. These represent a tribute to the many dedicated oral historians who have persisted in collecting and preserving so many interviews despite financial obstacles and lack of institutional support. These archival projects have been...

Part II: Examples of Neglected Groups

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pp. 58-71

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4. “Everybody Worked Back Then”: Oral History, Memory, and Indian Economies in Northern California - William Bauer

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pp. 61-81

for more than sixty years, a contentious issue in American Indian history and studies has involved the use of sources. The discipline of history requires scholars to spend countless hours in archives, where we sift through box after box of documents produced usually by non-Indian people. This method has created several problems for understanding American...

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5. Bittersweet Memories: Oral History, Mexican Americans, and the Power of Place - José M. Alamillo

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pp. 82-101

on april 20, 1998, I arrived at the home of Natividad “Tito” Cortez, prepared to interview him about his working experiences in Corona’s citrus industry. Before we began, he wanted to show me his old scrapbook. His scrapbook included photographs and newspaper clippings of his baseball career...

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6. “That’s All We Knew”: An Oral History of Family Labor in the American Southwest - Skott Brandon Vigil

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pp. 102-126

in 1942, audenago Vigil and his two sons, Nick and Jose Bill, left their humble home in Pilar, New Mexico, for Denver, Colorado. The Great Depression had hit the family particularly hard. There was little work available in their rural home, just southwest of Taos, and the family survived on “sweet gravy” (a flour and sugar mix), rabbit meat, and poached livestock...

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7. “Colorado Has Been Real Good to Us”: An Oral History Project with Japanese Americans in Weld County, Colorado - Georgia Wier

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pp. 127-149

in 1905, george Matazo Tateyama left Japan, stopped in Hawaii to work in the sugarcane fields, and then made his way to Colorado to join his two brothers. The young men worked in packing houses, on construction, and on farms between Denver and Fort Platte, Nebraska. After one brother died in a horse accident and the other returned to Japan to assume family responsibilities, George started farming on his own in the Platteville...

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8. Using Oral History to Record the Story of the Las Vegas African American Community - Claytee White

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pp. 150-174

the purpose of this essay is to illustrate the documentation of portions of the history of blacks in Las Vegas as a direct result of oral history methodology. As a black historian working in Las Vegas, I wanted to explore the contributions of early African Americans to the development of the city. Only through oral history have I been able..

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9. Women at Work in Las Vegas, 1940–1980 - Joanne L. Goodwin

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pp. 175-196

florence schilling loved learning, but she forfeited her opportunity to attend the University of Illinois and instead took secretarial classes as a concession to her family. Like many women of her generation, her family told her that skills in office work would provide her with job opportunities until she married. This proved true for the Illinois native when World War II broke out. She moved to Ypsilanti, Michigan, to work...

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10. “Every Woman Has a Story”: Donna Joy McGladrey’s Alaskan Adventure - Sandra K. Mathews

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pp. 197-221

in 1991, noted historian Elizabeth Jameson declared to her Western Women’s History students, “Every woman has a story.” She then encouraged her students to look for letters, journals, or diaries of our female relatives. As I listened, I remembered some letters that my grandmother had copied and sent to me in the mid-1980s written by her daughter, Donna Joy McGladrey...

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11. Searching for the Rest of the Story: Documenting the Dee School of Nursing - John Sillito, Sarah Langsdon, and Marci Farr

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pp. 222-246

in ogden, utah, on July 12, 1905, storekeepers closed their shops, schoolchildren lined city streets, public officials turned away from their duties, and hundreds of prominent and ordinary citizens gathered at the Ogden Tabernacle to mark the funeral of Thomas D. Dee. The Ogden Standard...

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12. The Utah Eagle Forum: Legitimizing Political Activism as Women’s Work - Melanie Newport

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pp. 247-264

when alaska governor and vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin burst onto the national political stage during the 2008 presidential elections, observers gawked at the contradictions between her conservative religious politics, ideas about gender roles, and her own presence in the public sphere. Surprised at the presence...

Part III: Essential Sources

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pp. 265-277

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13. Creating Community: Telling the Story of the Mormons in Fort Collins, Colorado - Linda M. Meyer

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pp. 267-283

during the past half a century, many rural towns in America disappeared as an increasing number of their younger generations moved to the cities. Some people may interpret this loss of small towns to mean that the nation’s sense of community is breaking down. In his book Community and Social Change in America, Thomas Bender proposes new definitions of community that do not rely on a specific location...

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14. Every Mine, Every Cow Camp, Every Ranch: Oral History as Fieldwork - Leisl Carr Childers

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pp. 284-304

oral history offers a valuable methodology for delving into a place, the personalities that inhabit it, and the work done there. From historians sitting in offices and archives among documents and photographs, it can be difficult to place human personalities in the space in which they live and work. According...

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15. Oral History among the Orchards: A Look at the James George Stratton Family - Kristi Young

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pp. 305-326

an influential farming family in Orem, Utah, the Strattons have been involved with orchards since, according to family tradition, James Stratton was sent to Utah Valley by Brigham Young to grow fruit. Farming seems to be in the Stratton blood. Vern Stratton, a great-grandson of James, loves to farm...

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Afterword: When History Talks Back - Clyde A. Milner II

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pp. 327-338

How do we understand the past? Academically trained historians have their ways of researching and presenting a form of understanding. But nearly everyone early on in their lives has some personal connection to and understanding of the past. Families are important for this comprehension, as are local communities. For many people, their real “history...


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pp. 339-344


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pp. 345-350

E-ISBN-13: 9780816599271
E-ISBN-10: 0816599270
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816530175
Print-ISBN-10: 0816530173

Page Count: 360
Illustrations: 15 photos
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • West (U.S.) -- Social life and customs -- 20th century.
  • West (U.S.) -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
  • Interviews -- West (U.S.).
  • Oral history -- West (U.S.).
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