By Justin Wadland
During the Spring Quarter of 2017, Professor Michael Honey taught “Doing Community History,” a class he has been offering in one form or another since the 1990s. This class takes graduate students through the process of creating an oral history project, usually about a person, organization, or significant event in Tacoma or the surrounding South Sound region. At the end of the class, all of these projects are given to the Library and made available through the Tacoma Community History Project, an online collection hosted by the UW Libraries Digital Collections. To date, the students have created over 80 projects that document the history of diverse communities in the region.
I have been involved in the project since 2011, when Dr. Honey approached me with the idea of creating an online collection for the oral history projects. With funding from the Puyallup Tribe, we were able to digitize and provide access to nearly all of the projects that had been created to date. Since then, I have established guidelines for the students so that their oral histories are consistent and more easily made accessible in an online collection. As the UW Office of the Provost recently acknowledged in a write-up about the project, the Tacoma Community History Project represents a unique partnership between instructors, students, and library staff to preserve and share local history.
This past spring, local historian Michael Sullivan proposed we try something new. Drawing from his experience producing an outstanding Tacoma History blog, he suggested that we ask the students to select clips and write short blog posts to introduce their oral history project. I was attracted to the idea because it would expand the reach of the collection. While the collection can be found through Google and the Digital Public Library of America, additional storytelling and interpretation can bring other audiences. I am especially glad we did this because the recent cohort of students have completed projects on topics that are particularly relevant: the desegregation of Tacoma public schools and the activism of local Native American tribes.
Over the coming weeks, we will be releasing a new blog post each week. Most of the posts will be from the students, but working with this class has made me see the value of curating selections of this collection, so we will also be posting selections from related projects. To kickoff the launch of this blog, I’d like to call attention to these interviews with Murray and Rosa Morgan. Murray Morgan wrote one of the few comprehensive histories of this area, Puget’s Sound: A Narrative of Early Tacoma and the Southern Puget Sound. His wife Rosa was a reference librarian at Pacific Lutheran University and she lent her research skills to his writing project. In this interview they explain their lives, careers, and travels:
(Photo of 11th Street (or later called “Murray Morgan” bridge, courtesy Tacoma Public Library.)