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Learning to Preserve Oral History

By Zoe Rafter, LCHS Intern, University of Idaho History and Anthropology Student

LCHS Photo: 25-12-330, an oral history project interview at a nursing home in the 1980s.

Hello! My name is Zoe Rafter, and I am an undergraduate student at the University of Idaho. For me, my interest in the local history of Moscow, ID began with an archaeological excavation. In the Fall of 2023, I took part in the excavation of Moscow High School through U of I. Getting to dig in the dirt and find artifacts once belonging to the previous students at the high school made me curious about the people these objects belonged to. Not long after the excavation closed, my professor posted an opportunity to intern for the Latah County Historical Society during the Spring of my 2024 semester. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity because I wanted to learn more about the very people whose objects I excavated!


I chose to focus on the oral history portion of archival work because it would allow me to interact with the firsthand accounts from the locals. Throughout this process, I learned how to use audio software to digitize old cassette tapes into mp3 files and edit the audio. Most of my project was technologically based, but in order to digitize each cassette tape, I had to fully listen to each, and every story recorded on those tapes. It is an incredibly intimate experience to listen to a person be interviewed about their entire life. My anthropological side was interested in the commonality and differences between each interviewee and my history side was interested in the places, events, and stories that were told. Overall, I think oral history was the perfect fit for me.

Dusty Fleener of Palouse Anthropology conducts an oral history interview, 2024. Photo courtesy Ariana Burns, Palouse Anthropology.

One particular interview I recall was of a woman named Sister Mary Manager. Sister Mary was a member of the order of the Sisters of the Incarnation. She and her brothers and sisters were originally from France, and they had to flee to America during World War 2, which was an amazing story in itself. But then, she went on to discuss her role as a teacher in Montana and southern Idaho. Sister Mary primarily taught Native Americans how to read and write in English which made me consider a whole list of questions relating to the cultural assimilation of indigenous peoples. Without Sister Mary’s oral history, I would have never received a deeper understanding of what life was like during World War 2 or colonialism in America during the 50’s and 60’s.


Overall, my experience at the Latah County Historical Society has taught me valuable skills that I may bring into my future occupations and a new love for oral history. I would highly recommend this internship to anyone curious about their local history. There is much more to Moscow than meets the eye. You can explore the Latah County Oral History Collection at the University of Idaho Library's Digital Initiatives website.

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