Oral Histories of Veterans Enrich Library Collections

November 21, 2017

In the early 1990s, history teacher Jim White (UNC, ’71) began dispatching his high school students to interview war veterans in Pamlico and Craven counties.

“I got tired of my students copying each other’s papers,” he told the Carolina Alumni Review. “I said, ‘I’ll come up with something they can’t copy.'”

UNC Library's Bryan Giemza with items from the Jim White Collection at Wilson Library. Photograph by Grant Halverson.

UNC Library’s Bryan Giemza with items from the Jim White Collection. Photograph by Grant Halverson.

While the students objected at first, they soon became fascinated with “these old gentlemen.” By 2010, White had 1,092 interviews with 854 veterans, covering every conflict in the 20th century.

Those recordings now have a home at the UNC Library, as part of the Southern Historical Collection at the Wilson Special Collections Library.

Bryan Giemza, director of the Southern Historical Collection, told the Carolina Alumni Review: “Even though some of those recordings are poor–some are downright miserable; these are not trained field researchers–I think there’s still something to be said for what they discover and what can be developed in the aggregate.

“The other piece to the amateur puzzle is, sometimes you get a rather wobbly result, but other times you get something that’s really quite unique. People might say something to one of Jim White’s high school students … precisely because they are amateurs, quote-unquote.”

Read “Nobody Asked Me That Before,” the story of the Jim White Collection, in the November/December 2017 issue of the Carolina Alumni Review. (Alumni Association membership is required for online access; read in print at Wilson Library. )

The James E. White Oral History Collection is available for consultation at Wilson Library.


Tagged with: , , , ,