"You don't have to be famous for your life to be history."

These words, spoken by Nell Sigmon when she was interviewed by the Southern Oral History Program in 1979, serve as our unofficial motto, reminding us of the extraordinary significance of ordinary lives and guiding our efforts to seek out and record memories of the southern past.

People make sense of their lives through story. Oral history allows us to use those stories to explore the private dimension of public careers, add new voices to the historical record, track the creation and re-creation of historical memory, and present history to the public in creative new forms. The South is especially rich in storytellers, yet many of them leave no written record, and modern forms of communication have rendered personal letters and diaries virtually obsolete. A sense of urgency therefore informs our work, for the memories we preserve in tape and transcript might otherwise be lost.

Founded in 1973, the Southern Oral History Program seeks to foster a critical yet democratic understanding of the South - its history, culture, problems, and prospects. We have recorded more than 4,000 interviews with men and women from all walks of life, and currently maintain an active research and teaching program. Our tapes, videos, and transcripts are preserved in the University's Southern Historical Collection, the country's foremost repository for research materials on the American South. Each year hundreds of researchers - scholars, students, family historians, and local history enthusiasts - make use of our collections.

The Southern Oral History Program attracts exceptional students to the University and helps them become engaged citizens as well as outstanding teachers and scholars. Through interdisciplinary courses, faculty and students work together on a variety of fieldwork projects. The experience introduces undergraduate and graduate students alike to the use of individual stories in understanding the past. Our students go on to develop and direct oral history programs, preside over museums and archives, lead community oral history projects, and teach in schools, colleges, and universities around the nation.

The Southern Oral History Program conducts an ambitious outreach program, sharing our research and our expertise with a wide audience. Through a variety of intitiatives, we engage local citizens in interpreting the past. Students and staff teach oral history workshops and consult with local historical societies and preservation groups across the state. Photographic exhibits, films, videos, public performances, books, and articles allow us to carry history back to the communities that have been our teachers.

We welcome your interest and invite you to contact us with questions or comments.

The Southern Oral History Program
Center for the Study of the American South
Love House and Hutchins Forum
410 East Franklin St., CB# 9127, UNC-CH
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-9127
(919) 962-0455