Business Oral History

In all my years of doing oral history, and what I see many—not all, but many—colleagues doing, or not doing, is we're neglecting the entrepreneurial segment of American society, the business world. The American corporation is, I think, the last major component of our society to buy into the oral history process. If you took the Fortune 500, I bet 490 of those have never done oral history and probably disdained it if somebody suggested they do it.

     As I often tell my students in oral history workshops, we know a lot about American culture. And if American culture can be visualized as an automobile, we know everything about the automobile except the engine under the hood that makes it go. And that’s the economy. It’s the entrepreneurial section. So I’d like to see that broken down. And [to] business people who complain [that] academics have an antibusiness bias in their teaching, my answer to that is “tell your own story.” And let’s face it, American entrepreneurialism is a very fascinating story.

 

—Charles T. Morrissey[1]

 

The Oral History Centre at the University of Winnipeg is a dynamic component of the H. Sanford Riley Centre for Canadian History. We are a national leader and global innovator in developing excellence in oral history teaching, research, and collaborative community development.

 

At the OHC we specialize in oral histories that stand the test of time. We ensure the integrity and durability of the raw materials of oral history in order to facilitate multidimensional research and dissemination of outcomes over time. Historians at the OHC are academically and professionally trained and are also skilled technologists. We have many years of experience conducting oral histories with diverse stakeholders, including extensive experience in business and institutional history. 

 

 

The Oral History Centre has aided in producing oral histories of businesses, including:  Friesens Corporation, Palliser Furniture Upholstery, C.P. Loewen Enterprises (Loewen Windows),[2] Old Dutch Foods, W.T. Hawkins (Story 3), Covered Bridge Potato Chips, Robertsons Candy, Cavalier Candy, the Winnipeg Roller Rink, Yujiro Restaurant (Story 2), Banville & Jones (Story 3), and Bernstein's Deli.

 

 

 

The Oral History Centre provides professional training and consultation in oral history research, archiving, and dissemination. From inception to visualizing engaging outcomes, we will work with you to establish achievable goals, build technological competencies into your team, create effective workflows and set realistic timelines and budgets. Whether you wish to hire us to conduct a business history project from start to finish, or whether you wish us to train you in oral history to keep your project in-house, we will work with you to design customized oral history project models to fit your business needs.

The Oral History Centre can help you with:

  • workshops* for corporate archivists, records managers, and business historians in creating, maintaining, and archiving corporate oral history programs
  • up-to-date professional training in legal and privacy aspects of oral history, including Government of Canada ethics certification
  • training in advanced digital recording technologies, innovative digital storage solutions, and proven workflow strategies
  • facilities including classroom space, computer lab, recording studio and archive

*Workshops are offered at the Oral History Centre at the University of Winnipeg, at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto, or on site at your company—wherever is most convenient for you.

 

The OHC is funded largely by donations from prominent members of the business community who appreciate its commitment to excellence and its growing international reputation. We are fortunate to have advisors from corporate Canada assisting with its development, including Sandy Riley (Winnipeg), Gary Leach (Vancouver), and Joe Martin (Toronto), and are proud to be affiliated with the Canadian Business History Association.

 

I have been engaged with the Oral History Centre at the University of Winnipeg since its inception because I believe that, increasingly, the raw material of history studies will be recorded and stored digitally. The ability to hear, firsthand and in the voices of the participants, about important and significant historical events will inform the work of Canadian historians in decades to come. I believe that in the future history of Canadian business will best be told if Canadian enterprises make an effort to record their histories through the eyes of their leaders. The people at the University of Winnipeg's Oral History Centre can play a significant role in helping Canadian businesses to organize the processes and technologies needed to record their own stories and I would wholeheartedly recommend them to anyone with an interest in properly recording their firm's history.

—Sanford H. Riley

Chief Executive Officer and President,

Richardson Financial Group Limited

 

 


 

[1] Kenneth H. Williams, “Issues That Have Shaped the Field of Oral History—A Roundtable,” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Vol. 104, No. 3/4, Oral History Special Issue (2006): 631.

[2] See:  Janis Thiessen, Manufacturing Mennonites: Work and Religion in Post-War Manitoba (University of Toronto Press, 2013).