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Oral History Project

The Irish Oral History Project began in Spring 2018, as Dr. Joseph Kelly and undergraduate History student, Feild Russell, lead Irish Studies undergraduates in the collection of oral histories.  After two years, we’ve recorded twenty-five oral histories.  The Irish Studies students are teaming up with Special Collections in the Addlestone Library and the Lowcountry Digital Library to make these histories available to scholars and the public.  The oral history project will

  1. Preserve memories of the Irish American experience otherwise lost to history;
  2. Make these stories available to researchers;
  3. Educate graduate and undergraduate students in professional historical methods.

Rationale

The Irish have been here since the very beginning of South Carolina’s European settlement.  An Irish “soldier of fortune,” Captain Florence O’Sullivan, after whom Sullivan’s Island is named, sailed with the first settlers on the Carolina and was a prominent planter and controversial public figure in the colony.  The Hibernian Society was formed in 1800 to aid refugees, both Protestant and Catholic, of Ireland’s late rebellion.  The Irish were as prominent as any other group throughout the nineteenth century, and today more than 400,000 South Carolinians claim Irish ancestry.

Yet the very young Irish and Irish American Studies program at the College of Charleston is the first organized academic program devoted to the Irish, and no one in South Carolina has undertaken any kind of systematic collection and preservation of archival materials regarding the Irish.

The College of Charleston has two extensive and nationally important collections that serve as models:  the Jewish Heritage Collection and the Avery Research Center Oral Histories.  These have gathered archival materials germane to the Jewish and African American experiences in the South and in Charleston particularly.  The Jewish Heritage Collection has conducted hundreds of oral history interviews on topics such as “immigration, assimilation, antisemitism, Jewish/African-American relations, making a living, and religious life.”  Similarly, the Avery has been collecting oral histories that testify to the African American experience.  These have been transcribed and many are available to scholars through the Lowcountry Digital Library.

In its initial year, the Charleston Irish Oral History Project will collect up to twenty oral histories.  In doing so, we will develop protocols for collecting hundreds of such histories:  best practices, Institutional Review Board applications and approvals, sets of interview questions, etc.  We also will encounter and solve practical questions, such as how to acquire and operate appropriate recording and transcription equipment.

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