by Barbara Truesdell, Assistant Director, Center for the Study of History and Memory, Indiana University
On October 16, 2017, the Indiana Daily Student published an article in the student life section entitled, “Hearing Home” written by Lydia Gerike. The article described how freshman Elizabeth Ketzner had the opportunity to hear the voice of her grandfather, Joseph Ketzner, who had died when she was a baby, in an oral history interview recorded in 1998. She had even invited her father to come to IU and listen to the interview for the first time with her. Elizabeth initially came for a copy of the interview transcript. When I told her that I could provide her with digital audio of the interview, a sweet smile lit up her face, and she said, “You mean I can hear my grandfather’s voice?” It was a moving experience for them both, and they were grateful that the interview had been preserved and made available to them.
This tape was digitally preserved by the IU Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative. Mr. Ketzner’s interview is part of the IU oral history collection currently held by the Center for Documentary Research and Practice in the Media School. The Ketzner interview is one of over 2000 interviews collected for over a hundred oral history projects. The oral history collection began in 1968 with a project to record histories from IU alumni, staff, and faculty as part of the commemoration of the IU Sesquicentennial. That first project contributed data to the multi-volume history of Indiana University written by Thomas D. Clark, a faculty member in the Department of History. The project was also the springboard for Oscar O. Winther, another faculty member in History, to create the IU Oral History Project. Other research projects followed. This era was the heyday of social history, a push to open up history to other voices and multiple points of view. Oral history methodology is a natural fit for social history research, being grounded in the principle that every person’s story has value.
The Ketzner interview is part of an oral history project called, “Dubois County: A Home for God’s People.” The project examined the interrelationship of religious and communal identity in a county largely settled by German Catholic immigrants. This project was one of six projects conducted in Dubois County between 1993 and 1999 by a graduate student in the Department of History, Heiko Muehr.
As the assistant director for the Center for Documentary Research and Practice, I manage researcher requests for access to interviews in the oral history collection, continue our collaboration with MDPI, and provide advice and training for students, faculty, and members of the public interested in doing their own oral history projects. I have helped researchers on a wide variety of topics covered by our collection, and people like Elizabeth Ketzner who reconnect with family through oral history interviews. It was a pleasure to be able to give her a file copy of the interview, and I was happy to see from the IDS article that she shared her first listening experience with her father. Here is a clip from the interview where Ketzner can be heard talking about his family history:
For anyone interested in learning more about the CDRP or searching the collection, please contact me at 812-855-2856 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.