Oral Historians in the East Bay

Have you ever wanted to record stories from your friends, family, or the wider community? Find inspiration at our upcoming Fall History Series program on Wednesday October 11,  where we'll hear from local oral history experts about their projects and practices.

This panel discussion of East Bay oral historians will give you a chance to learn from people who are collecting, sharing, and archiving community stories. You'll hear about a variety of local oral history projects, learn where to listen to them, and maybe even get inspired to make recordings of your own. Liam O'Donoghue will host panelists Elena Botkin-Levy, Roy Chan, Shanna Farrell, Sue Mark, and Dr. Saturu Ned.

The panelists: 

Elena Botkin-Levy is an audio producer and educator with a mission for amplifying queer voices. Drawn to oral histories as an opportunity to map our own narratives, she founded GEMS Oral Histories & Audio Storytelling to support individuals and communities in collecting and preserving stories that matter, produced Mapping Queer Oakland that documents stories of LGBTQ+ Oakland elders and lead the Oakland Belonging: Voices of Swan's Market audio storytelling project with youth at Chapter 510.

As a local oral historian and urban planner, Roy Chan has been director of the Oakland Chinatown Oral History Project since 2007. Roy brings both an intergenerational and place based approach to this growing community archive. He grew up in Oakland where his father was a culture keeper in Chinatown for many decades.

Commons Archive empowers longtime and new neighbors as narrators and creators of their many local histories. Commons Archive’s projects: build community at the block level; encourage community connections; honor neighborhood history keepers; amplify neighbors’ voices; make neighborhood histories accessible. Sue Mark, longtime Oaklander, artist and educator, initiated Commons Archive in 2016 with many community partners. Dr. Saturu Ned, original Black Panther and co-founder of the Black Panther Party Alumni Legacy Network is a Commons Archive strategic partner.

Shanna Farrell is an interviewer with the Oral History Center where she works on a wide variety of projects and specializes in the environment, arts and culture, and food and beverage history. She is the producer of their podcast, The Berkeley Remix, and is the author of A Good Drink: In Pursuit of Sustainable Spirits and Bay Area Cocktails: A History of Culture, Community and Craft.

The panel will be moderated by Liam O'Donoughue, host of the popular local history podcast East Bay Yesterday. He just released the 106th episode! Liam has interviewed and made available the stories of dozens of Oakland and East Bay luminaries and changemakers. 

Perhaps learning about these projects makes you want to hear some Oakland stories? Several local oral history projects can be found in the Oakland History Center’s collections, and some are even available to listen to online.  

Stop by OHC to listen to or read transcripts from the following collections:  

  • Oakland Living History Program During the summer of 2007, eleven youth interviewed ten elders who lived or worked in Oakland Chinatown throughout the 1940s - 1970s. 
  • The Oakland Oral History Project (OHC COLL 2015-12) aimed to collect the oral histories of senior Oakland residents of different ethnic backgrounds in Oakland. These stories were collected in the late 1990s.  
  • Interviews with members of the Friends of Negro Spirituals were conducted in 2008.  
  • Oakland Army Base Oral Histories capture many stories (from 47 interviewees!) about life on the Army Base. Read the transcripts in OHC or online at the Bancroft Library’s digital collections.  There’s also a book (The Oakland Army Base) you can check out at multiple Oakland libraries about this project. 

Some of the Oakland History Center’s oral history holdings have been digitized by California Revealed. Listen to the following collections online: 

Be sure to catch Tales of the Town, a podcast hosted by People’s Programs’ co-founders and the co-creators of Hella Black Podcast, Abbas Muntaqim and Delency Parham, and produced by award winning documentarian and audio engineer, Maya Cueva. Tales of the Town covers a century of Oakland history, with a focus on Black history. 

On Saturday, October 14, we are hosting Save Your Oakland Stories - an oral history recording day coordinated by Elena Botkin-Levy of GEMS Oral Histories & Audio Storytelling.

TWO SPOTS REMAIN on the sign up list! Contact Elena by phone 341-226-6859 or email gemshistories@gmail.com. Registration is required. We plan to add these recordings to our collection... so stayed tuned for more historical insight from everyday Oaklanders.

Coauthored by Emily Foster.