UT Libraries’ Benson Collection to archive StoryCorps recordings, maintain Latino oral histories

Christine Ayala

UT’s Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection is archiving more than 2,000 Latino oral histories in partnership with StoryCorps, a nonprofit organization that records interviews with Americans of all backgrounds.

The collection, part of UT Libraries, will house and maintain the files of the StoryCorps Historias initiative featuring Latino subjects, interviewed by friends or family, sharing their experiences in recordings lasting about 30 minutes.

StoryCorps has recorded more than 40,000 stories since it began in 2003 and has been featured on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition.” StoryCorps recorded Historias interviews on campus in the spring that are now being archived on campus.

Christian Kelleher, the assistant head librarian and archivist for the collection, said Historias will provide researchers and students on campus an in-depth archive of materials from Latinos willing to tell their stories.

“StoryCorps’ experience building the Historias collection depended on community engagement and community partnerships,” Kelleher said. “They saw a great partner in the Benson Collection, with not only the technical capability to catalog and preserve this large archive but also a tradition of engaging students, scholars, educators and activists. By working together, we are able to do more than either of us individually.”

Associate journalism professor Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez said UT also assisted StoryCorps by helping draft interview questions focusing on the Latino experience.

“It’s more of a conversation you would have over the kitchen table,” Rivas-Rodriguez said. “They’re not life-encompassing. They’re really looking at something that was especially significant to the person being interviewed. It’s an archive of conversations that may shed some light on the nature of relationships, revealing things they may not have revealed before. Every interview is very different.”

Assistant history professor John McKiernan-Gonzalez said oral histories allow everyday people to be heard rather than big historical moments. He said StoryCorps gives a personal view to the events that the subjects discuss.

“The StoryCorps interviews are usually two people talking about past events together, and it has a familial, friendly complexity to the collection that you wouldn’t have with an interviewer that doesn’t know the person,” McKiernan-Gonzalez said. “It allows people to talk more comfortably and intimately.”

Kelleher said part of the collection’s work will include developing policies to protect the privacy of interview subjects and creating tools to make access to the material simple for researchers. The Historias recordings will be available to the public in the spring.