Every Friday at 8:30 a.m., National Public Radio features an excerpt of a story produced by the non-profit program StoryCorps. The subject matter of these stories varies greatly—from one man’s experience as a postal worker for fifty years to one woman’s efforts to desegregate her Southern community—but what they do share is that they are told by regular people, “average Joes” who could be sitting across from you in a coffee shop. I usually tune in on my drive to work, and regardless of the topic, I find myself so enthralled that I often sit in my car in our office parking lot just to hear the end.
The StoryCorps program has set out to capture America’s oral history by sending traveling MobileBooths across the country to record people’s conversations. But unlike many oral history settings, which often resemble formal interviews, StoryCorps opens its booths to anyone who might be passing by. All formality is dropped, as the recording device simply becomes the fly on the wall, listening to a conversation between two people who already know each other, such as a mother and son or two close friends.
Since 2003 StoryCorps has recorded more than 50,000 conversations, creating one of the largest oral history programs of its kind. The program has also collaborated with other groups such as the National Museum of African American History and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum to collect specific memories surrounding their respective histories. These personal experiences will be archived and preserved at the Library of Congress as a testament to our civilization’s experiences and collective memory.
This program demonstrates a main facet of our work at The History Factory—capturing historical memory. In our view, one person’s story can provide the historical context—or perhaps even inspiration—for co-workers’ experiences, now and for generations to come. But what StoryCorps makes even more apparent is that those memories don’t have to come from the CEO or executive committee to inspire. Just as the “average Joe” has made me late for work more than once—even though I’d already beaten the traffic—the frontline staff working in call centers or in the field have important corporate memories to share. And there’s one more catch: this only works while the memory is still present. If oral histories are not preserved now, there will be no tradition to pass on and memories of the past become long lost history.
Robin Lawrence, Associate, The History Factory