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Where Oral History and Scholarship Meet

Jessica a Buckle spent much of her summer writing abstracts for oral history interviews and doing an inventory of the El Toro Oral History Project, which contains more than 500 interviews of individuals once stationed at the former El Toro Marine Base in Irvine.

The venue for Buckle’s journey back in time were the quarters of the Lawrence de Graaf Center for Oral and Public History, on the third floor of the Pollak Library. Buckle, who is pursuing a master’s degree in history, chose to intern at the center after hearing its director Natalie Fousekis, professor of history, speak at her graduate student orientation. “I fell in love with oral history,” said Buckle.

The center preserves history by providing a way for students and researchers to access vital information about the past and present — and to make connections to the future, said the graduate student. “It keeps the stories of those who have come before us alive.”

Now in its 50th year, the Lawrence de Graaf Center for Oral and Public History — named in 2017 for the founding faculty member and professor emeritus of history in appreciation of gifts and pledges totaling over $1 million — is the largest regionally focused oral archive in California. It holds more than 6,000 recorded interviews, related transcripts, photographs and other materials.

A 2011 National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant kicked off a fundraising campaign that has thus far raised more than half the amount needed to relocate and double the square footage of the center; build climatecontrolled archives; and provide a processing room, exhibit space, and a larger reading and conference area for classes and workshops.

“Because we are also a teaching lab, we will have a collaborative work space for students to work on oral and public history projects. Every project that we do involves students,” said Fousekis.

“Given the increasing demands of the digital age, it is imperative that COPH have state-of-the-art facilities, equipment and workforce not merely to enlarge its holdings, but also to properly preserve, technically process and effectively deliver the consequential information and multicultural perspectives within these holdings to potential users in a variety of formats,” explained Arthur Hansen, professor emeritus of history, former center director and “past, present and future donor.” The Hansen Lectureship in Oral and Public History was established in his honor in 2008.

“The neat thing about COPH is that a lot of the archives focus on stories and story lines in history that aren’t always heard,” said Louis Filliger, a third-year history student who also completed an internship at the center. “The archives place value on social history, the history of the common person and those groups that are ignored and marginalized. For that reason, it is a valuable asset to the community and the university as well.”

Support from Craig Ihara, professor emeritus of philosophy, and his family will create an exhibit case dedicated to the Japanese-American experience.

“Preserving memories, especially those of immigrants and people who have lived through important events, is vital to understanding who we are as Americans,” explained Ihara.

“I know after I finish my program, I will continue to use the center as a resource in my own teaching,” said Buckle, a high school history teacher. “I hope to be able to bring students to the center so they, too, can experience the vibrant place of history and culture that I have come to know and cherish.”

To contribute to the Lawrence de Graaf Center for Oral and Public History, contact Alina Mircea-Trotz, senior director of development for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, at 657-278-2559 or