CGP Community Stories collects, preserves, and disseminates the diverse oral histories of the residents of Central New York State. A project of the Cooperstown Graduate Program (SUNY Oneonta), CGP Community Stories serves as a resource for local history researchers and a community record of significant transformations in the rural areas of New York State. We are committed to creating public programs that use oral histories to connect past and present and facilitate dialogue on critical social and environmental issues. Visitors to the website can explore themes central to the lives of the people who live and work in the agricultural heartland of the state. Key topics are: Environmental History, Family and Community Life, Farming, Tourism, Rural Healthcare, Social Justice and Activism, and Folklife.
What is an Oral History?
An oral history is a primary source that offers an individual’s firsthand perspective on the past. It is typically conducted as a conversation between an interviewer and an interviewee, or narrator. Oral histories shed light on events, communities, time periods, ways of life, cultural practices, and social dynamics. Through oral histories, we learn about the past in ways that differ from text-based sources and other types of historical records.
Why CGP Community Stories?
Graduate students from the Cooperstown Graduate Program approach oral history in a way that is influenced by the discipline of folklore. Folklore, through connecting communities to their past, is cultural DNA (American Folklore Society). Folklorists study the stories and knowledge of people; often, these narratives and practices have been passed through the generations by word of mouth. Oral narratives give opportunities for everyday people to share their viewpoints on the past. Each collection on this website includes the diverse stories of community members within Central New York State, such as farmers, healthcare workers, museum professionals, or even human rights activists. Oral history interviews are becoming increasingly crucial in recording a representative history and addressing gaps in written records of the past. Whether an oral history interview tells a story of a World War II veteran or a Danish migrant, listeners can begin to illuminate the past from the great storytellers who were once present.
Beginning in the 1960s, students in the Cooperstown Graduate Program began collecting oral histories from residents in the central New York region. This collection of oral histories has progressively grown each year to the existing archive of over 1,800 recordings. Along with additional material, including transcripts, field notes, and photographs, the collection provides extensive documentation of Central New York's rural communities.
Cooperstown students began their collecting efforts under the direction of Louis C. Jones, the founder of the Cooperstown Graduate Program, and Bruce Buckley, folklorist and director of the American Folk Culture program. Jones and Buckley provided the intellectual and practical foundations for this long-term project, encouraging students to explore the folkways of New York State and preserve in-depth narratives of ways of life that stretched back to the early nineteenth century. Their commitment to gathering and sharing the stories of many different kinds of people--especially working people--continues to provide inspiration for our ongoing oral history project.
In 2008, the CGP Community Stories website launched as a means for providing easier access to this rich historical resource. The archival recordings uploaded to the website provide archival quality sound recordings of the oral history interviews, along with extensive metadata to assist researchers. In addition to maintaining and growing our digital archive, CGP Community Stories facilitates public dialogue programs that utilize oral histories to support community conversations on critical social and environmental issues.
If you have questions about CGP Community Stories, or would like to share your story, contact:
William S. Walker
Associate Professor of History
Cooperstown Graduate Program
State University of New York-College at Oneonta
- “Oral History: Defined.” Accessed November 29, 2020. https://www.oralhistory.org/about/do-oral-history/
- “Understanding Oral History: Why Do It?” Baylor University Institute for Oral History. Accessed November 29, 2020. https://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/66420.pdf
- “What is Folklore?” American Folklore Society. Accessed February 21, 2021. https://whatisfolklore.org
Sources to browse: