The VCU Oral History Archive is a collection of audio files of interviews with prominent individuals associated with VCU, presented as MP3 files with complete PDF transcriptions. These oral histories were collected by VCU Libraries in an attempt to capture information otherwise unavailable to researchers, supplement our rich documentary research collections, and learn more about how to create, store, and give access to these unique resources. Currently there are fourteen interviews with four people. It is an on-going project and we hope you will check back for more oral history audio files and transcripts.
Researchers have long had access to oral history transcripts in the form of testimony, depositions, court records and other officially recorded accounts of lives and events. One famous example is Carlo Ginzburg’s brilliant book “The Cheese and the Worms,” focusing on the testimony of a 16th century miller that opens a window into a world-view completely foreign to our modern, scientific way of thought. And yet, what do we lose when we rely wholly on transcripts? Could the transcriber have made mistakes? Were they edited and, if so, why and by whom? Was the individual pressured or led into certain statements? Can the transcript capture the emphases and emotions that the speaker expressed at the time?
Capturing substantive, strong oral histories is as important to understanding the 20th and 21st century as it is difficult to do. For over half a century researchers have been recording oral histories but only in the last few years has the technology existed to make them available to a wide audience in the places they live and work. In 2002, VCU Libraries embarked on a small exploratory project to get first-hand information concerning how we could create, store, and give access to oral histories to supplement the rich documentary history we are collecting. The project is small but growing, and we welcome you to enjoy both the audio files and the transcripts from these important individuals. The original files are held at James Branch Cabell Library Special Collections and Archives. Copyright for the materials in this collection is managed by the VCU Libraries. The use of these materials is subject to the stipulations specified in the VCU Libraries copyright page.
- Kathleen Cabell (2 interviews): With her husband Royal E. Cabell, Jr., she relocated Union Hill, the 1770s Cabell family home, from Nelson County to Goochland County 1980 and began a lengthy restoration process. Mr. Cabell, who passed away in 1999, was a prominent attorney and political activist. Mrs. Cabell is an authority on Goochland County and Cabell family history. Included with her interview are over 40 photographs depicting various architectural details of Union Hill.
- Dr. J. Maurice Duke (3 interviews): A Professor of English at VCU for over 30 years, Dr. Duke was instrumental in VCU's acquisition of Richmond author James Branch Cabell's library. He authored several works on Virginia history and literature and was a photographer and book page editor for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He is presently staff historian for the Alliance to Conserve of Old Richmond Neighborhoods.
- Dr. Francis Merrill Foster, Sr. (5 interviews): Dr. Foster is known as the historian of Jackson Ward, the historically African-American Richmond neighborhood where he had a successful dental practice over 40 years. A graduate of Virginia Union University and Howard University, his relationship with VCU began as a post-retirement volunteer with VCU's dental clinic and he became an assistant professor and admissions advisor.
- Dr. Grace E. Harris (2 interviews): Dr. Harris has had a 40-year career at Virginia Commonwealth University. She rose from the ranks as a social work professor to become Dean of the School of Social Work, then Vice Provost for Continuing Studies and Public service. When she retired in 1999 as the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, she had twice served as Acting President of the University. After retiring, she has continued to serve as a faculty leader of the Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute, a program designed to strengthen the leadership capacity among VCU faculty and staff.
- Zelda Nordlinger (2 interviews): Ms. Nordlinger was active in the women’s rights movement in Virginia from about 1969 through the 1990s. She was a founding member of the Richmond chapter of the National Organization for Women, as well as a member of several organizations including the Women's Lobby of Virginia, American Civil Liberties Union, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Virginia League for Planned Parenthood, National Museum for Women in the Arts, Emily's List, and the Virginia Foundation for Women. In addition to her work with these organizations, she served on the State Board for N.O.W. (1972-1979) as the Assistant State Coordinator (1982-83) and on N.O.W.'s Task Forces on Sex-Role Stereotyping and Rape.
- Edmund A. Rennolds, Jr. (4 interviews): Ned and Mary Anne Rennolds were founders of the Richmond Symphony and sponsors of many local musical programs, including the Mary Anne Rennolds Concert Series at VCU. Mr. Rennolds was co-founder of the brokerage firm Branch & Co. He was President of the Center for Palladian Studies in America and the James Branch Cabell Associates, and a life-long student of history and architecture.