WMU News

Lewis Carlson discusses work of oral historian

October 22, 1998

KALAMAZOO -- Giving new perspectives to the past by finding the stories and people that don't appear in history books is all part of the job of oral historian Lewis H. Carlson, Western Michigan University professor of history.

Carlson will explain just how he does that in a presentation titled "An Oral Historian's Work" at the Friends of the WMU Libraries' fall gathering. The event is set for 4 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4, in the Edwin and Mary Meader Rare Book Room at Waldo Library. His talk is free and open to the public and will be followed by a reception.

Carlson is a well-known oral historian who has authored a number of books including "Tales of Gold: Olympic Stories as Told by Those Who Lived Them," "American Culture at Home and Abroad," and most recently, "We Were Each Other's Prisoners: An Oral History of World War II American and German Prisoners of War." He is currently working on a book about Korean War prisoners.

Oral history, Carlson says, tells a story "from the bottom up."

"It allows us to get at some perspective of history that would be found no other way," he says. "Oral historians enter more into the process than just doing interviews. They try to provide a literary narrative that is the result of exhaustive research."

Oral history is not a widely accepted historical research practice, Carlson says, noting that most of today's oral historians are not in the academic world. Perhaps the best known, he says, is journalist Studs Terkel.

Carlson, who has been at WMU since 1968, has been involved in oral history for 15 years. He teaches courses in social history and popular culture and is the director of WMU's American Studies Program. He has taught and lectured in Sweden, Germany and Russia. Carlson earned bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Michigan and a doctoral degree from Michigan State University.

Those wishing to attend Carlson's presentation should reserve a spot by Oct. 28 by calling Mary Shane at Waldo Library at 616 387-5202.

Media contact: Marie Lee, 616 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu


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