HRC’s Oral History Project

From the April 2015 HRC Newsletter; contributed by Dennis H. Knight.

Since this HRC project began several years ago, oral histories have been recorded more than twenty long-time ESA members. Ten recordings are now archived at the University of Georgia and the others will be submitted soon. Each submission includes a folder with the recording (WAV digital format in most cases; MP3 recordings are considered inferior); a detailed, searchable summary of the topics that were discussed (digital); and a copy of the signed release form (scanned plus the original). Older ESA officers and award winners have priority at the present time, but others are being interviewed as the opportunity arises. Thus far, each interview has lasted from 1 to 1.5 hours and has been organized around the following questions:

  1. What motivated you to become an ecologist and how did it happen?
  2. What were significant milestones in the development of your career and why did they happen?
  3. What major developments have you noticed in the development of ecology as a discipline?
  4. What major developments have you noticed during your involvement with ESA? Frustrations? Improvements?

Dennis Knight, project coordinator, now has three oral history kits that can be sent to individuals with an interest in doing additional interviews. Each kit includes an easy-to-operate digital recorder with instructions and guidelines on how to proceed. Anyone interested in doing an interview, or with suggestions on who should be interviewed, is encouraged to contact Dennis at dhknight@uwyo.edu. Those doing interviews thus far are Eva Dettweiler-Robinson, Rich Fonda, Richard Houghton, Dennis Knight, Doug Sprugel, and Tom Wentworth.

Oral histories available at UGA or on the way:
During the first three years, oral histories were completed for the following individuals: Robert Paine, Larry Bliss, Gordon Orians, Orie Loucks, Yaffa Grossman, Jean Langenheim, John Hobbie, Patricia Werner, James Brown, Scott Collins, Art Cooper, George Woodwell, Margaret Davis, Stuart Chapin, Hal Mooney, Katherine McCarter, Marge Holland, Simon Levin, William Reiners, Fran James, and Gene Likens. For a complete updated list, visit

Approximately two dozen oral histories have been prepared as of 2019 and are available at the Russell Library at the University of Georgia. The project online description and finding aid offers access to the recorded interviews and summary outlines.

Christian Lopez noted that UGA does not edit interviews in any way, but simply archives what is sent. People who want to edit or take clips from the interviews in future will do so on a copy of the original that UGAL provides, or on a copy that Dennis or his successor can provide. For now, people should ask Dennis for access to the folders, which include the recording, a detailed summary of the topics and people discussed, and a copy of the signed release form.

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