A different approach to recording history

Tiffany Ciesicki

In 1990, Sandra Perlman, a Kent citizen, wanted to take advantage of an opportunity that will one day be lost.

Though there had already been many articles, books and documentaries written about the events that occurred on May 4, 1970, Perlman wanted to start a collection of oral accounts from ordinary people of all ages who were affected by the events in any way possible.

“I believed the history of May 4th would not be complete without the stories of ordinary people who were affected by it locally, nationally and internationally,” Perlman said. “Everyone deserved a chance to speak, not just those people who seemed to be interviewed over and over again in the books and media.”

No one on campus seemed to share her interest, Perlman said, so she began organizing the project on her own. She took her idea to the Special Collections Department at the library, and so the project began.

The Kent State Shooting Oral Histories collection contains audio files of 69 oral histories contributed by people who were students, faculty members, Kent residents, students and faculty from other universities and one account by an Ohio National Guardsman. Many of the contributors were eye witnesses to the event and its aftermath.

As of Spring 2005, these histories are accessible online through the OhioLINK digital media center and are available worldwide.

Special Collections Curator Cara Gilgenbach said anyone is able to access this part of history. Transcripts also are available online for most of the recordings so people can read along as they listen.

“The concept was really to try and get out a lot of viewpoints of the whole weekend and May 4 itself,” she said. “I always recommend this to people looking for different viewpoints on what happened.”

Perlman wanted to give people a chance to objectively tell their stories.

“I do not have an agenda on what (the project) should be like,” she said. “It’s not my job to prove something.”

When Perlman began collecting stories at a commemoration ceremony in 1990, she said most of the people came forward to tell their stories.

Perlman worked with Nancy Birk, head of Special Collections at the time, and they began setting up booths at commemoration ceremonies that allowed people to come and tell their story. Brochures were also sent out, and Perlman said people came from all over to record their story.

Perlman was not paid for her efforts or in any way rewarded. She said she did it because she believed in the project, period. She always will be around to help with the project.

The project is about more than just recording history, Perlman said. It is about recording people and emotion.

“These histories are a very important part of the study of events,” she said. “This is very important particularly now as we are engaged in conflict elsewhere in the world. All the individual stories together provide a better picture of why and how (May 4) happened.”

Gilgenbach and the Special Collections Department will try to continue the project. Gilgenbach said she hopes to add new recordings in 2010 because that it is the 40th anniversary of May 4, and the university’s centennial.

To listen to the histories visit http://worlddmc.ohiolink.edu/History/Login.

Anyone who would like to record a history may contact the special collections department.

Contact library reporter Tiffany Ciesicki at [email protected].