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Archives Spotlight: Oral History and the AAM

Oral History and the Archives of American Mathematics

By Kristy Sorensen

The following article, featured as part of the Archives of American Mathematics Spotlight, was published in the August/September 2006 issue of MAA FOCUS. The full issue is available here (pdf).

Oral history interviews can be some of the most revealing and detailed resources for archival research. A good interview can provide a researcher with uniquely rich documentation of an individual life and a moment in history.

The Archives of American Mathematics (AAM) actively collects oral history material and makes it available to our patrons. We have audiocassettes and videotapes of interviews with a wide variety of mathematicians and mathematical educators. In many cases, full-text transcriptions of the interviews and supporting biographical material are included to enhance the collection.

Conducting high-quality interviews is a skill that anyone can master, and you may find that interviewing a friend or colleague is as rewarding an experience for you as it is for them.

The Internet has many resources that can guide you in conducting an oral history interview. The following websites are particularly helpful:

Archival Leaflet Series on Oral History, by L. Dale Patterson, Archivist, The General Commission on Archives and History of the United Methodist Church.
This site provides an overview of best practices as well as a list of concrete tips that will make the interview process go more smoothly.
"One Minute Guide to Oral History," by Carole Hicke, The Bancroft Library Regional Oral History Office, UC Berkeley.
The name says it all! This is a nice, concise guide on the basics of oral history creation.
Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet: Oral History and Interviews.
An extensive collection of oral history links’if it is available online, it is probably listed here.

If you are interested in conducting an oral history interview, or if you would like to use our existing oral histories in your research, please contact the archivist.

Online inventories for collections in the Archives of American Mathematics that contain oral history material include

Kristy Sorensen served as the archivist at the Archives of American Mathematics until November 2006.

The Archives of American Mathematics (AAM) is a unit of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. Individuals interested in conducting research or donating materials or who have general questions about the AAM should contact Carol Mead, Archivist:, (512) 495-4539.

Revised on July 12, 2010.