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vii Preface 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 program. Thomas G. Alexander suggested that I take an oral history class that the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies was sponsoring summer term. Gary L. Shumway, a professor at California State University, Fullerton, was the guest professor. I signed up with no idea what oral history was (I truly thought it had something to do with dental history). That class affected my career. I returned to the Redd Center in 1979 when I was hired as the oral history program director. Besides directing many oral history projects , my writing has been based on oral history. I attended my first Oral History Association (OHA) meeting in October 1973. The organization was new enough that the founders were still in charge. After I came to work at the Redd Center, I continued to attend the OHA meetings and served as the editor of a pamphlet series for three years. The organization always interested me because it includes a mixture of historians, folklorists, journalists, family historians, storytellers, and social scientists. We all say we are doing oral history, but there are major differences in the motives, the interviewing techniques, and the end products. The essays contained in this volume show some of those differences . All of the interviews have been recorded and then excerpts have been transcribed so that the authors can include quotes in their articles. However, they do not agree on how much the verbatim transcripts should be edited. For example, I remove false starts and correct the grammar and complete the sentences. For me, that creates a more readable document. Others feel that I lose the verbal flavor of the interviews and the narrators’ personalities by mak- viii preface ing those changes. Because there are advantages to both arguments , the authors have edited the excerpts from their interviews in many ways, and there has not been an attempt to standardize them. In 2008, Redd Center Director Brian Q. Cannon asked me to put together a seminar on oral history and the American West. Following a pattern that had resulted in a book of essays Utah in the 20th Century (Utah State University Press, 2009), I asked participants to write papers and come together to share their work. I then edited the papers into a book. I put out a call for papers and received responses from historians and folklorists. I asked the seminar participants to step back from their oral history work and ask how their experiences in oral history increased their understanding of the American West. The impromptu discussion that followed that question helped all of us understand the focus for the rest of the day and for this volume. I knew the seminar was not about how to do oral history, but which of the two topics (oral history and the West) was more important? For me the question was easy: the American West had top billing since the Redd Center’s mission is to promote the study of the West. Editing the book posed a new set of challenges. To create a more balanced representation, additional essays were solicited. The authors represent a wide variety of oral historians. Some, like me, have been involved for years and have conducted hundreds of interviews on many topics. Others have had limited exposure to oral history. They have all seen the value and drawbacks of using oral history as a research source. Some conducted the interviews themselves so they wore two hats: creators and researchers. Some were only creators , and this was the first time they had used interviews to write a paper. Some were only researchers and used others’ interviews. All of the essays provide valuable reflections on the role of oral history in researching the West and understanding community and work. oral history, community, and work in the american west ...


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