Experiencing War: A Project to Preserve and Make Accessible Oral Histories of World War II


This exhibit provides full digital access to the History 303 World War II oral histories (MS-0871). The oral histories were collected from 2000-2004 for a "History of World War II" (History 303) course taught by Drs. Walter E. Grunden and Kathren Brown in the BGSU Department of History, who assigned students the project of recording an interview with an individual who directly experienced the war, whether as a military veteran, Holocaust survivor, refugee, or non-combatant on the home front. The purpose of the assignment was “to give voice to the many individuals who experienced the war and the war era firsthand and to preserve their accounts for present and future generations of students and scholars,” as well as to produce “a useable historical record of a personal testament and to learn the methods and uses of oral history.”

Interviewee Wilber Saneholtz with fellow servicemen during flight training.

The interviews collected by the students present unique firsthand accounts of over one hundred individuals’ experiences of World War II. Many of those interviewed were relatives of students living within a reasonable distance of BGSU, resulting in a collection that primarily documents longtime Ohio residents’ roles in the war. The personal stories documented in the recordings are remarkably wide-ranging, providing perspectives from men and women of all branches of the armed forces, myriad military ranks, and various social and economic backgrounds. Interviews with veterans capture experiences of both the European and Pacific theaters of the war, while interviews with civilians speak to multiple aspects of life on the wartime home front, both in the U.S. and abroad.

All interviews conducted for History 303 were donated in their original audio and video formats to the Center for Archival Collections (CAC) at the BGSU University Libraries between 2001 and 2004 (view the collection finding aid).  In the fall of 2018, with support from the Ohio History Connection’s Ohio History Fund and the BGSU Department of History, the CAC launched a project to digitize and provide online access to the entirety of the History 303 World War II oral histories.  This exhibit, launched in the spring of 2019, marks the culmination and conclusion of this nearly year-long effort.


This exhibit was created during the spring 2019 semester by Nick Pavlik, Curator of Manuscripts and Coordinator of Strategic Digital Partnerships, Center for Archival Collections, with assistance from Lee Slusher, Graduate Teaching Assistant, BGSU Department of History. Several individuals also made vital contributions to the initial digitization of the oral history interviews, including Dr. Walter E. Grunden, Professor, BGSU Department of History; Kaysie Harrington, graduate student, BGSU Department of History; and Michelle Sweetser, Head Librarian and University Archivist, Center for Archival Collections.
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