Oral History Projects

While individual oral histories can contribute to specific research goals and agendas, the strength of an oral history collection relies on the ability of individual oral histories to “speak” to each other. Scientists, though often credited individually for a discovery, are rarely lone researchers working in isolation from other scientists. The knowledge that is produced in a scientific lab receives contributions not only from the members of the lab, but also from the interactions that these lab members have with other women and men outside of their laboratory and from the scientific community more generally.

Given this understanding, our program pursues the collection of oral histories with a mind to prosopographic research, that is, as investigations into the common characteristics of historical groups whose individuality can only be understood within the collective identity of the group. Learning about patterns of relationships and activities through the study of collective histories reveals much more about the scientific process and its products than any one oral history could do on its own.


Atmospheric Science
These oral histories focus on scientists who devote their research lives to better understanding the complexities of particulate matter in the air, air quality, and emissions as each pertains to climate change.

Chemical History of Electronics
These oral histories document and explore the contributions of chemists, chemical engineers, metallurgists, and materials scientists to the development of modern electronics. This collection is, in part, sponsored by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Imagining Philadelphia’s Energy Futures
How do Philadelphians imagine a sustainable future for their city? This oral history and public education project examined energy, climate change, and the future of Philadelphia.

Life Sciences Foundation

Mass Spectrometry
These oral histories record the human dimensions related to the growth of mass spectrometry in academic, industrial, and governmental laboratories during the 20th century.

Nanotechnology
This oral history series is an important resource for the history of nanotechnology, documenting the lives and career of key scientists and engineers that shaped and contributed to the contemporary practice of science and technology.

Oral History of the Toxic Substances Control Act
Through oral history interviews with individuals involved in the process of writing and negotiating the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), we gain their perspective on the law, its impact, and whether or not it will continue to be effective in the 21st century.

Origins of Science and Technology Studies
This interview was conducted as part of the Origins of Science and Technology Studies project. These oral histories and research interviews focus on scholars who first applied knowledge from the social sciences and humanities to study the social, political, and cultural aspects of scientific practices and technological development.

Pew Biomedical Scholars
Explore the oral histories of pioneers who got their start in the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences.

REACH Ambler
Resources for Education and Action for Community Health in Ambler (REACH Ambler) brings into focus the history of Ambler, Pennsylvania, a town long affected by exposure to asbestos from the former Keasbey and Mattison asbestos plant. The oral histories conducted with local residents, community activists, and EPA officials for this project inform the exhibits, online resources, and related public programs all aimed at fostering an understanding of different perspectives on risk, health, and the environment.

Science and Disability
The Center for Oral History is documenting the lives and contributions of people with disabilities who work or study in STEM fields.

Scientific and Technical Information Systems
These oral histories focus on women and men who contributed to the advancement of the classification, manipulation, dissemination, storage, and retrieval of information and who developed new information systems in the twentieth century, especially those who focused on scientific knowledge.

Science History Institute Projects and Web Exhibits Featuring Oral Histories

Imagining Philadelphia’s Energy Futures
An oral history and public education project about energy, climate change, and the future of Philadelphia.

REACH Ambler
Resources for Education and Action for Community Health in Ambler (REACH Ambler) brings into focus the history of Ambler, Pennsylvania, a town long affected by exposure to asbestos from the former Keasbey and Mattison asbestos plant. The oral histories conducted with local residents, community activists, and EPA officials for this project inform the exhibits, online resources, and related public programs all aimed at fostering an understanding of different perspectives on risk, health, and the environment.

Sensing Change
A year-long initiative launched in 2013 to explore the interconnections between art, science, and our changing environment. Along with an exhibition highlighting the work of eight contemporary artists, we conducted interviews with nine scientists whose work intersects with issues surrounding climate change. These interviews remain as part of our oral history collection.

TSCA: From Inception to Reform
An oral history project employing in-depth interviews with individuals involved in the process of writing and negotiating the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to gain their perspective on the law, what it has done, and whether or not it can continue to work in the 21st century.