The ground surface is so nearly level that you have no sense of contour. . . . It is not a former lake, although in large part it is a former swamp. Geology characteristically repeats itself around the world and down through time, but---with the possible exceptions of the Chilean Longitudinal Valley and the Dalbandin Trough in Pakistan---the Great Central Valley of California has no counterpart on this planet.

~ John McPhee, Assembling California

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Oral History

Fresnan William Bigby, Jr. (on left) and two friends posed for this portrait before going overseas to fight in World War I. Ethnic Oral History Project, 1978. © Fresno Historical Society Archives

The mission of the Oral History collection is to document the history of Fresno County and the Central Valley region through oral history interviews. In addition to interviews conducted by its own staff and volunteers, the Historical Society accepts donated interviews that enhance its collecting areas. Our staff has offered advice and assistance regarding the practice of oral history to Valley organizations and communities.   

We ask people to tell us their stories and we listen when they do!

What is Oral History?

Oral history is the systematic collection and recording of personal memories as historical documentation.  In a sense, it is a form of storytelling that involves eyewitness accounts and reminiscences.  At its best, it recovers and preserves important aspects of human life that would otherwise go undocumented.  And while oral history is not always the best method for collecting statistical data, it far surpasses any other for capturing the significance and meaning associated with people, places and experiences.  In short, an oral history is about the human experience.
Since the 1960s, the Fresno Historical Society has gathered stories that can be used in conjunction with other sources of the past to create as complete and rich a picture of our Valley’s history as possible.



The Historical Society Collects Oral Histories

The Society’s Archives holds nearly 300 oral histories. The interviews cover a wide range of topics, including agriculture, ethnicity, aviation, World War II and local history. The interviews are recorded on audiotape and many include transcripts. 

Stories of first and second generation Valley pioneers were recorded starting in the early 1960s.  Over fifty interviews were obtained in the late 1970s as part of the CETA funded Ethnic Oral History Project.  These oral histories focus on the African American and Mexican American communities in Fresno.

More recent additions to the Historical Society’s oral history collection have been added since the late 1990s when the Society established a permanent oral history program called “Voices of Our Valley.” The latest efforts have included recording interviews with pioneering Central Valley farmers and their families, seeking the stories of local African American laborers, farmers, professional and business people, and exploring the lives of people who lived and worked on the Kearney Estate. The Society has also received copies of collections from other Valley communities, including the “Tulare County During the World War II” oral history project.   

View the Oral History Collections

Last Updated Sunday, February 16, 2020 - 05:10 PM.