The Oral History Project

In January of 1971, Theodore (Ted) Belsky, EdD, and Robert Bohlke, MA, professors of history and sociology, respectively, piloted an interdisciplinary course at AIC called “The Social and Cultural History of Springfield, 1890-1915,” in which students taped interviews with area senior citizens to build an oral history of that time period.

“Of course we learn from the past. What other possibility is there?”
~ Ted Belsky, EdD Professor of History

The immediate success of the course led to the establishment, two years later, of AIC’s Oral History Project (OHP). In the fall of 1974, the OHP introduced a stand-alone course in oral history, with enrollment open to teams of four or five members of community organizations pursuing, “in depth, an oral history project of their organization’s choice.” Such oral history courses remained on offer at AIC intermittently through the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. Dr. Belsky oversaw the OHP until his retirement in 1992.

In 2017, Martin Cleaver, MLIS, technical services librarian at the James J. Shea, Sr., Library, began digitizing the OHP’s more than six hundred audiocassettes that had lain dormant in the College’s archives for two and a half decades. In March of 2020, AIC’s Marketing and Communications office created and launched the Oral History Project website, featuring a comprehensive, searchable inventory of these gathered audio interviews that may be listened to with ease.

These interviews paint a detailed portrait of life in the Pioneer Valley from the turn of the century onwards—with insights into the immigrant experience, farming and family life, government and education reforms, and much more.