By Lori Wallach, Adjunct Archivist and Queens Memory Outreach Coordinator
One of the primary functions of a college archive is to preserve and make accessible a record of the school’s past – its institutional history. At Special Collections and Archives (SCA), we do this through a variety of collections, such as those containing yearbooks; student publications; administrative records of numerous departments, schools, and programs; and items donated by individual faculty members and alumni. Of course, our Photograph Collection, which we are in the process of digitizing, provides an especially rich documentation of the college from its very earliest days.
Over the past several years, we’ve made a concerted effort to expand another type of institutional history – our oral history collection. Through our ongoing Queens Memory partnership with the Queens Public Library, we’re able to preserve both audio and video recordings and make them easily accessible to the public. These oral history interviews provide a fascinating firsthand look into the college’s history in the words and voices of those who lived and shaped it.
In 2019, we embarked on the Retired Faculty & Staff Oral History Project, an ambitious plan with two goals: 1) to actively pursue interviews with retired QC faculty, staff and administrators, and 2) to comb through our collections and solicit donations of earlier interviews that can be formatted for online access. Dr. Dean Savage, retired professor of sociology, has been instrumental in helping us locate many of his fellow QC retirees.
An important addition to our oral history collection is a set of interviews conducted in one of Dr. Bobby Wintermute’s history classes in 2013, to commemorate Queens College’s 75th anniversary. Dr. Wintermute donated the recordings and supporting documentation to SCA, and to date, we’ve processed and made accessible nine interviews, with several more to go. We were particularly delighted to find recordings with former QC President Saul Cohen and longtime history professor Dr. Martin Pine, both of whom have since passed on.
In this clip, former QC President Saul Cohen explains how he appealed directly to then-Governor Mario Cuomo for funding to construct a new building for the Aaron Copland School of Music.
Among the important interviews in our collection are those with QC’s oral history pioneer Dr. Bette Weidman; Prof. Alexander Kouguell, who taught in QC’s music program for 68 years and recently celebrated his 102nd birthday; 50-year history professor and civil rights activist Dr. Frank Warren; and former QC President James Muyskens. Our current President Frank Wu and immediate past President William Tramontano also recorded interviews as part of our COVID-19 Project.
Another component of our oral history collection comes from SCA’s larger SEEK History Project, which documents the history of QC’s Percy Ellis Sutton SEEK Program from its inception in 1966. Over 15 interviews associated with the SEEK program have been conducted, and eight are fully processed, including those of former director Dr. Bill Sales, counselors Alan Townsend and Waldo Jeff, and faculty member Dr. Jessica Harris, all of whom were with the program in its earliest years. SCA recently selected two QC grad students to process additional SEEK interviews this summer. The students will be paid stipends from the department’s foundation funds.
Please do explore our full oral history collection! Catalog records for each interview, with links to the audio/video and transcripts, are located in our online archives database. If you are interested in volunteering to conduct an interview, would like to nominate someone to be interviewed, or have a previously recorded oral history to donate, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.