Organizational Heritage: Monmouth Memories Oral History Program

The fledgling Monmouth Memories Oral History Program is a long-term, open-ended effort to capture and preserve the organizational heritage of Monmouth University in West Long Branch, NJ. I started the program in December 2012, hoping to interview some of the campus’s student veterans, and expanded the scope in late Summer 2014 to include alumni and, in certain cases, current students; faculty; staff; and other partners.

In a past life, I was a Command Historian for the US Army Communications-Electronics Command until it moved from Fort Monmouth, NJ to Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD, and I resigned. One of my duties at the Fort included conducting an oral history program on behalf of the US Army Center of Military History. As I transitioned to teaching full-time, I simply missed doing oral history. I’d been reading about some institutions of higher education interviewing their student veterans, both to preserve their military experiences and to capture their experiences adjusting to life on college campuses. The latter might, hopefully, allow institutions of higher education to better serve their student veteran populations. Of course, as many of you well know, I didn’t invent the idea of student veteran oral histories, others have devoted much time and resources to the concept. From Combat to Kentucky is a project that comes to mind.

So with the blessing of my Department and the campus Student Veterans Coordinator, I started interviewing some of our student veterans. I conducted a handful of interviews with both men and women, mostly recent veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. By the summer of 2014, my Department chair, Dr. Richard Veit, and I started talking about the value of expanding the program to include all members of the MU community. Again, of course, I didn’t conceive of the idea of a university-wide oral history program. The Rutgers Oral History Archives, for example, are a huge inspiration (although a much, much larger operation!).

To date, I’ve personally conducted 14 interviews, covering intriguing topics like the formation of the faculty union, faculty strikes, Vietnam-era protests, Monmouth College’s transition to a University, the growth of athletics on campus, and more. But I am pleased to share that 24 interviews have been conducted to date. So who conducted the other 14? I am proud to say that those interviews have been conducted with incredible professionalism by some of my students. In the Fall 2015 I taught oral history for the first time, and conducting Monmouth Memories interviews capped off a semester of learning oral history theory and methods. I’d love to share my experience teaching oral history for the first time—but that’s a blog for another day!

Melissa Ziobro is the Specialist Professor of Public History at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, NJ, and a newly designated at-large board member for OHMAR. Follow @MUHistAndAnthro on twitter for more updates from the Monmouth Memories Oral History Program.