Vol 32 (2012): Special Issue: Making Educational Oral Histories in the 21st Century

Education as the Organizing Principle Behind the Oral History Program at the Chemical Heritage Foundation

Hilary Domush
Chemical Heritage Foundation
Sarah Hunter-Lascoskie
Chemical Heritage Foundation


The Oral History Program (OHP) at the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) has been collecting and preserving oral histories of scientists for nearly thirty years. While much of the content of each oral history is technical, these oral histories reveal the relationships, stories, and human motivations that remain hidden within science. Science needs to be something the public can, and should, appreciate; yet, American students often lack an understanding of scientific careers. By targeting scientists as interviewees, the program offers a unique product which can easily be utilized in education: a document rich with scientific knowledge and with knowledge about science and scientists. For the CHF, the educational sphere is a large one, encompassing science education, public understanding of science, and academic research. Reaching all of our audiences requires constant repackaging and repurposing of the oral histories. Each educationally-geared use of oral history brings the OHP one step closer to making oral histories and science part of America’s everyday vocabulary. With the program’s focus on making the oral histories useful through education, these documents become interactive, personal, and engaging, allowing science to have a voice off the page. In this paper, we trace how a focus on education has provided new opportunities for educational outreach and internal organization. We also look at the continued efforts of the OHP to understand and reach diverse audiences.