American Indian Oral Histories

Published on June 30, 2014 by Amy

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The Doris Duke American Indian Oral History Project
The Doris Duke American Indian Oral History Project

In 1966, Doris Duke, a well-known philanthropist and heiress of the North Carolina Duke family, funded a project to collect oral histories from American Indian individuals. Seven universities were chosen to participate. The project was funded at most of these universities through 1972. Some continued beyond that date. Over 5000 oral histories were collected under this project.

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The concept behind the Duke project was to gather information from those who had experienced life on reservations, those who had attended Indian schools, and those who had been involved with Indian affairs in the United States. Copies of the information gathered through this project were to be made available to the participating universities and to the tribes of those being interviewed. These oral histories were collected by graduate students, professors, and researchers, both Indian and non-Indian.

Most of the interviews have been transcribed. Some of the universities involved have made copies of their transcripts available online. Others have at least posted a list of the interviews available at their institution. In a few cases, other oral histories have been collected outside of the Doris Duke Project. And a few other universities have gathered oral histories under their own programs.

The universities involved in the Duke Project and links to the oral histories collected by them are as follows:

  • University of Arizona
    The Arizona State Museum at the University of Arizona is the repository for about 800 recordings regarding the American Indians of Arizona. About 60% of the collection are from the Doris Duke Collection. The holdings of the Arizona State Museum are described online.

  • University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA)
    UCLA dropped out after the first year.

  • University of Florida (replaced UCLA)
    A major part of their collection of Doris Duke recordings consist of 190 recordings and transcripts of North Carolina Lumbees. These must be used onsite at their campus in Gainesville, Florida. A description of these 190 tapes is lumbee<30<1044.htm available online.

  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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    The University of Illinois has 16 cubic feet of material, mostly from the Doris Duke Project, at the Library Archives.

  • University of New Mexico
    They have 904 recordings, mostly of Navajos and Pueblos, 1967-1972. The material is housed at the Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, and are described online.

  • University of Oklahoma
    About 700 tapes, with digital transcripts are online and are part of the Western History Collection.

  • University of South Dakota
    About 2400 recordings were done under the Doris Duke Project and are now part of the South Dakota Oral History Center.

  • University of Utah
  • About 1500 interviews were conducted by the University of Utah. Those interviews are housed in the Special Collections division of the Marriott Library on campus.

    Other oral history programs

    Before the Doris Duke Project, anthropologists and historians collected a limited number of oral histories from American Indians, but their efforts were spotty, at best. After the Doris Duke Project, some other universities have started programs of their own to gather similar kinds of information for tribes in their areas.

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