Traditional histories of higher education institutions tend to be academic histories or photo essays. This article describes another approach, “institutional biography” narrated with extensive oral history interviews of faculty, staff, trustees, alumni, and emeriti. Using University of La Verne’s institutional biography as illustration, the article suggests not only that a richer institutional history will result, but that significant but often overlooked trends will emerge, such as the daily lives of students. YouTube examples are provided to demonstrate that institutional biography is public history in significant ways. Finally, the article shows how institutional biography may uncover comparative information useful for studying the general history of higher education.
Oral History as Institutional Biography
Al Clark conducted his first oral history interviews in 1968 as part of his senior project in California history at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He did not know that they represented part of the emerging field of pubic history. At the University of California, Berkeley, he studied late modern European history for his MA and PhD, and then spent thirty-five years in university administration before moving to faculty in 2013 when he inaugurated the oral history project described in his article.
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Alfred P. Clark; Oral History as Institutional Biography. The Public Historian 1 August 2019; 41 (3): 72–90. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/tph.2019.41.3.72
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