Housed on the campus of Monmouth University in West Long Branch, NJ, The Bruce Springsteen Special Collection and Archive comprises nearly 35,000 items from 48 countries. These range from books and concert memorabilia to articles and promotional materials, serving “the research and informational needs of music fans, scholars, authors, and others with a serious interest in Bruce Springsteen’s life and career.” As the Collection’s website boasts, Bruce himself once said it “has …more stuff [about me and the band] than every place except my mother’s basement!” The Collection’s current location at Monmouth makes sense not just because of the University’s location along the Jersey shore, the setting of so many Bruce songs; and not just because the school is a Grammy Museum affiliate; but because Springsteen himself played several shows on the campus long before he was “the Boss.” This Fall, my Introduction to Public History students and I had the opportunity to do a bit of work with the Collection.
Students spent the semester learning about the wide variety of work done by public historians — and this, of course, included a primer on oral history. Textbooks and role playing alone could have helped my students learn enough about the craft for this level course, but when the Collection tapped us to help with its fledgling oral history program, I couldn’t say no. Some students had the opportunity to sit in as I interviewed music legends like Rock and Roll Hall of Fame drummer Vini Lopez, or “Voice of the Stone Pony” Lee Mrowicki. All students processed oral histories, truly enjoying the opportunity to hear about NJ Shore music history from the likes of Lopez, Mrowicki, NJ Surfing Hall of Famer and early Springsteen manager Carl “Tinker” West, and photographer Frank Stefanko, among others. And if this project-based learning experience wasn’t cool enough- at the semester’s end, all students received complimentary tickets to a “Conversation with Bruce Springsteen” event held on campus.
The oral history interviews have not yet been approved and made public (hence the lack of interesting excerpts here). Research access to the entire Collection is currently by appointment only. To make one, call or email Eileen Chapman, the University’s assistant director of performing arts, at 732-571-3512 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Melissa Ziobro is the Specialist Professor of Public History at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, NJ, and an at-large board member for OHMAR. Follow @ on twitter for more updates from the Monmouth Memories Oral History Program.