Oral history

The Academic Health Center History Project documents and preserves the institutional memory and historical events that chronicle the development of health sciences education and research at the University of Minnesota.

Oral History in the Making

History does not necessarily have to be about people who are no longer around. The Academic Health Center History Project has an oral historian, Dominique Tobbell. Since 2009, Dr. Tobbell has conducted interviews with many of the prominent people of the Academic Health Center from the past century. Here in University Archives, we have finally uploaded the first batch of oral histories she conducted to the University Digital Conservancy. Getting people’s recollections and perceptions first hand makes history seem more tangible. If you have a few moments, browsing the recently uploaded oral histories is something worth doing.

Oral history project

In 1967, Dr. William Shepard, the former assistant director of the student health service from 1920-1923, wrote to Dr. Gaylord Anderson, then director of the School of Public Health, to encourage him to write a history of the school. Shepard noted:

Now is the time to do it, before everyone who was there at the time is gone and the historian has to depend on dull old documents.

As an archivist, I will refrain from taking umbrage with Dr. Shepard’s particular view of historical documents.

I will, however, agree with Dr. Shepard’s assessment of the imperative of documenting history as it is in process and not waiting for a generation or more to pass in order to collect information.

img0092.jpgAs part of the AHC History Project, we too believe that a full documentation strategy of the health sciences at the University of Minnesota requires not only the systematic collection of departmental records and the recruitment of the personal papers of well-known and accomplished faculty members, but also the recorded personal stories of key individuals who were involved in the formation of the AHC, served in leadership roles, or have specific insights into institution’s history.

Our intent is to bring together a representative group of figures in the AHC’s history whose lived experience encompasses a variety of key topics and conduct interviews that will serve as high quality, well researched oral histories.

To accomplish this task, the AHC History Project is pleased to announce the arrival of Dominique Tobbell, Assistant Professor for the Program in the History of Medicine and Oral Historian for the Academic Health Center History Project. Dominique received her B.Sc. in biochemistry from the University of Manchester in 2001 and her Ph.D. in the history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania in 2008. Her dissertation examined the research and political strategies of pharmaceutical companies, and drug regulation and pharmaceutical policy in the United States after World War II. Her other work has focused on the role of academic and government researchers, biotechnology companies, and disease-based organizations in the development of drugs to treat rare diseases, so-called orphan drugs, and she has a continuing interest in post-war developments in academic medicine and in health policy.

Dominique will take the lead in conducting interviews over the next several years and will work closely with the History Project to make sure the interview recordings and transcripts are made available for research through the archives.

So, if Dominique contacts you and asks you to share your story, please step up to the microphone, for history’s sake.

(Image by Chris Campbell available through a Creative Commons license.)

Help wanted

The AHC History Project is about to launch an oral history project to work in tandem with the archives portion. The oral historian will hold a tenure-track, assistant professor position in the History of Medicine program. The focus of the oral histories will be on the individuals who participated in the formation and development of the AHC, its six schools and colleges, hospitals and clinics, and research centers. This will be a great opportunity for a scholar interested in the changes to medical education, research, patient care, and health policies during the latter half of the 20th century.

To learn more about the position and oral history project, please view the complete position description or see the job ad posted to H-Net.