The Regional Oral History Office (ROHO), a division of The Bancroft Library, documents the history of California, the nation, and the interconnected global arena. ROHO produces carefully researched, audio/video-recorded and transcribed oral histories and interpretative historical materials for the widest possible use.
Since its inception in 1954, ROHO has carried out interviews in a variety of major subject areas, which include: politics and government; law and jurisprudence; arts and letters; business and labor; social and community history; University of California history; natural resources and the environment; and science, medicine, and technology. Interviews have been used as source material for monographs, books, articles, stage productions, radio programs, video and film documentaries, websites and blogs, and dissertations and theses. ROHO has conducted over 4,000 oral histories, which totals tens of thousands of interview hours. Nearly every interview that has been transcribed is available for the public to read on the ROHO website.
Interviews are conducted with the goal of eliciting from each participant a full and accurate account of the events central to their lives and to the broader world. The interviews are transcribed, lightly edited for accuracy and clarity, and reviewed by the interviewees, who may augment or correct their spoken words. The reviewed and corrected transcripts are printed and bound, often with photographs and illustrative materials. Archival copies are placed in The Bancroft Library, UCLA, and with the sponsoring agency, if any. The Bancroft Library also houses the original audio and video recordings, many of which can be accessed in the library’s reading room. ROHO's volumes are deposited in more than 700 manuscript libraries worldwide and catalogued on two globally accessible library data bases, RLIN (Research Libraries Information Network) and OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) along with the University of California's on-line catalogs Melvyl and OskiCat. Many of the individual interviews and the larger interview projects augment the paper archival collections of The Bancroft Library, including important collections on the Sierra Club, Kaiser Industries, and the Free Speech Movement.
In addition to conducting interviews and producing transcripts, ROHO historians are productive scholars who publish their oral history-based research in the field’s top journals and academic presses; moreover, they regularly contribute to newspapers and blogs and are featured on radio programs and video documentaries. ROHO historians also actively participate in the teaching mission of the university. Along with regularly speaking at conferences and organizing symposia, ROHO staff host an annual advanced oral history institute each summer which attracts scholars, public historians, and others from around the world interested in learning oral history methodology. Nearly 500 people have attended the institute since it began in 2002.
Oral history at The Bancroft Library had its beginnings in the work of the nineteenth-century historian of the American West for whom the library is named, Hubert Howe Bancroft. Bancroft recognized that missing from his vast collection of books, journals, maps, and manuscripts on western North America were the living memories of many of the participants in the development of California and the West. In the 1860s he launched an ambitious project to interview and create biographies of a diverse group of Californians. The resulting volumes of “Dictations” continue to provide valuable primary source material for historians.