Add First-Person Voice to Your Research with TheHistoryMakers

Add First-Person Voice to Your Research with TheHistoryMakers
Tim Siftar
April 14, 2008
Finding experts to interview when you need to support a key point in your research can be a challenge. One new resource that can help is a database of oral history videos from notable African Americans. Drexel’s Hagerty Library is one of only six institutions nationwide to offer this advanced video database

This is a beta version of an oral history archive that features 400 contemporary African-American leaders discussing their lives and careers. Imagine having a relaxed personal conversation with central figures in contemporary American history. For students who need to an authoritative quote on the big issues of our time, TheHistoryMakers is the next best thing.

Drexel students and faculty now have the opportunity to keyword search, watch and listen as Barack Obama describes how his political career began, to learn why Quincy Jones was drawn to music as his life’s work and to share the feelings of politician and activist Julian Bond, an eye witness to key turning points in the history of the American Civil Rights Movement. While books, articles and newspaper accounts remain important tools for students doing research on contemporary topics, few primary source materials can bring research alive in quite the same way that TheHistoryMakers can.

While TheHistoryMakers concentrates exclusively on contemporary African Americans, the personal stories it shares of achievement in the face of adversity are central to the American experience. Categorized into fifteen professional groupings, named intuitively as sciencemakers, artmakers, politicsmakers, etc., the interviewees words and experiences transcend academic disciplines, making the tool a great resource for students of any major. This is an amazing teaching and research tool that has only just begun to be tapped. Drexel’s Hagerty Library is one of only six institutions nationwide to be participating in this beta release - and the opportunities for original research abound!

While we hope that all interested members of the Drexel community will have the opportunity to use this remarkable learning aid eventually, access to The History Makers comes with some limitations. While it features robust video and transcript content, the multimedia hosting platform is still in beta. For the rest of 2008, this resource is being made available only in the context of a face-to-face “guided learning experiences” for Drexel students as part of an effort to gather feedback on the platform. In other words, faculty may assign the use of this product in connection with specific class projects in the Library’s classrooms. Access beyond class assignments may be arranged on a case by case basis for on-campus researchers willing to complete a survey. For details contact Tim Siftar at or 215-895-2762.


Established in 1999 by lawyer and public historian Julieanna Richardson, The History Makers is now the largest video oral history archive of its kind in the United States. Her interest in such a project was kindled by her experiences as an undergraduate student at Brandeis University. During this time, Richardson conducted an oral history with the African-American actress Butterfly McQueen, who appeared in the landmark 1939 film Gone With The Wind. While McQueen was never short of work, she was increasingly disgusted by the racist and stereotypical parts that were offered to her. McQueen chose to end her film career, but soon discovered that she faced the same challenges when attempting to work in radio and television. In 1979, the actress received an Emmy for her role as a fairy godmother in an ABC After School Special and went on to do serious, substantial work in the 1986 film The Mosquito Coast. Struck by the poignancy of McQueen’s story, Richardson worried that it (and many other compelling African-American life stories would be lost forever). She was also concerned that while stories of pioneering achievements by black Americans have the potential to inspire and uplift people of all races, this potential was rarely fully realized.

Richardson’s goal is for The History Makers to complete 5,000 oral histories with prominent African-Americans and to create the widest possible audience for them. Members of the Drexel community who would like to explore a summary of the content or any other details on the project are invited to visit or contact Tim Siftar at or 215-895-2762.