AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL COLLEGE
In January of 1971, Dr. Theodore (Ted) Belsky and Robert Bohlke, 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. 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, a cataloguer 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. 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.
“Of course we learn from the past. What other possibility is there?”
Dr. Theodore (Ted) Belsky (1926-2014)—a Holyoke native who spent thirty-three years in the history department, becoming professor emeritus and the associate dean of the School of Continuing Education and Graduate Studies—co-founded the OHP in 1972.
Dr. Belsky graduated from Holyoke High School, and, after serving in the Army during the allies’ occupation of Germany, earned a BA, MA, and EdD from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He was a visiting lecturer before joining the AIC faculty in 1969.
Under Dr. Belsky’s leadership, the OHP compiled more than six hundred audiocassettes featuring interviews with locals young and old who describe life in the Pioneer Valley throughout the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Many of these interviews were conducted by students in the oral history courses he taught intermittently throughout his time at AIC. After his retirement in 1992, the tapes were then stored in metal and housed in various parts of the James J. Shea, Sr., Library for two and a half decades until cataloguer Martin Cleaver endeavored to digitize the collection.
A professor of sociology at AIC from 1961 until his retirement in 1982, Bohlke co-founded the OHP with Dr. Belsky. The Metuchen, New Jersey, native earned his BA from Dartmouth College and MA from Columbia University. He was a US Army staff sergeant during World War II. In addition to his involvement with the OHP, Bohlke was head of AIC’s branch of the American Association of University Professors.
The AIC Oral History Project is made possible by the impassioned efforts of staff members at the James J. Shea, Sr., Library. To make a donation and support future efforts to preserve the College’s rich history, click the button below and select the designation “Library” from the dropdown menu.