A Reflective Statement by Nora (Egloff) Zimmerman & Elaine Stomber
This project focused on the digitization and digital curation of a collection of oral history interviews with local manufacturing, steel, textile, and mining industry workers, which were originally conducted by Dr. Richard Sharpless in the early 1990s. The main goals were to preserve the content, which was stored on at-risk obsolete physical media, and to make it accessible to public users within a useful and rich context in the LVEHC Digital Archive. The grant was awarded in January 2020, and in February of that year the physical collection of audiocassettes and microcassettes was arranged, inventoried, and shipped to a vendor for digitization.
After receipt of the tapes and a quality control review of the files, the interviews were transcribed, and then a student worker was employed to audit the transcripts. Then, the corrected transcripts were reviewed for compliance with the interviewee release forms and updated according to interviewee redaction requests. When that work was complete, in February 2021, the access files and transcripts were ingested into the LVEHC Digital Archive. In May 2021, we presented about this project and the LVEHC at the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) annual conference, held virtually.
The digitized collection provides meaningful historical context among the other oral history projects from the present day within the LVEHC Digital Archive. Specifically, it illustrates the changing sense of place and nature of work within the Lehigh Valley as the regional economy shifted away from the unionized, manufacturing-based jobs that the region had relied on for more than a century to the service- and information-sector dominance that exists today. Industries discussed by the interviewees include steelworking, textile and garment manufacture, paper-goods milling, transportation, truck manufacture, machining, construction, and many others. The subjects share their personal perspectives on structural and technological changes to industry during the second half of the 20th century, as well as on specific public policies that impacted their work and communities directly. There is worker representation from many different levels within corporate and industrial hierarchy, and across genders and age groups. Unionization, theories of management and “the firm,” and management-labor relations are other key thematic areas within these oral histories. Finally, there are many insights into daily life and industrial working conditions from the 1940s through the 1980s. Interviewees speak about the different types of tasks that they did on the job, how their benefits and salaries really shook out in their day-to-day life, and talk about the impact of union bargaining, periodic unemployment, and their work on their lives and health. This project has enabled the preservation, description, and digital access to this oral history collection, which will inform scholars and members of the public about the experiences of working people in the Lehigh Valley for many years to come.