Oral history director departs

Tom King, director of the University of Nevada Oral History Program, is resigning after his program has been nearly shut down and has lost its separate identity.

Oral history is recording and preserving personal recollections of people’s experiences, later published as edited transcripts, thus preserving historical information from people who likely would never have gotten around to writing autobiographies.

King is credited with bringing professionalism to the program and achieving a greater degree of diversity of subjects. For instance, subjects ranged from Verne Foster, a secretary at the Nevada Mining Association, to Grant Sawyer, governor of Nevada in the 1960s.

In July, faced with the need to make 14.12 percent cuts, UNR president Milton Glick said, “We decided to look at not having the Oral History Program in its present form. That doesn’t mean we won’t be doing oral history.” He didn’t define those terms, but in the months since, oral history employees have been reassigned elsewhere and its funding cut. King himself was moved to the history department.

In a message to friends, King put the best face on the situation: “My departure notwithstanding, Oral History’s future is bright. Prior to making my decision, I reconfigured the program and redefined its mission in ways that enhance its survivability in the current fiscal and academic environments. I also sought to find funded work to sustain the program in the near future—Oral History is assured at least $72,000 (quite possibly more) in external funding for projects next year. The program’s endowment also brought it $16,000 in earned income this year and may bring it as much … next year. Finally, we have netted over $25,000 from sales of our books and videos since June and expect similar earnings in the next six months.”

“Mary Ellen Glass was the pioneer,” said state archives administrator Guy Louis Rocha, referring to the first oral history director at UNR. “She laid the groundwork. But Tom is a first rate professional who took it to a whole new level. What I especially liked is that he went for a diverse group of people. He wanted to capture a lot of voices from the spectrum of life, not just the economically powerful.” He said Native American life was chronicled in a way it had not been previously.