Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center Archival Program: Oral History Collection

Author: Laura Kissel, polar curator at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center Archival Program

Welcome to Ohio! The Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center Archival Program, aka the Polar Archives, is a collaborative venture of the Ohio State University Libraries and the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center. The Polar Archives was formally established in 1990. The Admiral Richard E. Byrd Papers form the cornerstone of our collections that document the history of polar exploration. The goal of the Polar Archives is to make historical, rare, and unique information about polar exploration and scientific investigation available for use within the context of an active polar research environment. 

It might surprise readers to learn that a prominent polar research center is located in central Ohio. What might be even more surprising is that our historical collections document a whole range of topics – including oceanography and marine science.

One of the most relevant resources is our Polar Oral History Collection. Oral histories are yet one more resource that adds to the historical record.  “Eyewitnesses to events contribute various viewpoints and perspectives that fill in the gaps in documented history, sometimes correcting or even contradicting the written record. Interviewers are able to ask questions left out of other records and to interview people whose stories have been untold or forgotten. At times, an interview may serve as the only source of information available about a certain place, event, or person.” (source: https://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/66420.pdf, accessed on 6/15/2022) To see what might be available in our collections, start here https://library.osu.edu/polararchives/explore.  This screenshot illustrates the search function:

Users can key in their search term, and then limit the results to those items held by the Polar Archives.

 A search of the term “ocean” in our collections, results in 24 hits – and of these, 10 are oral history interviews. A search of the term “marine” results in 12 hits, of which 6 are oral histories.  Users have the option of listening to the interview or reading the transcript. And all of the audio recordings as well as the transcripts are readily available online. For an example of some rich and relevant content, here is the abstract for the Eugene and Katherine LaFond interview:

Eugene LaFond was an oceanographer who did research during the Bikini Atoll atomic tests in 1946, on four expeditions in the Arctic regions by ship and submarine from 1947-1958, and in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. Katherine LaFond, Eugene’s wife, was also an oceanographer who worked with Eugene during the Indian Ocean expedition. They were both employed by Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and later, the Naval Electronics Laboratory with Katherine joining her husband at the laboratory in the 1960s. The Eugene LaFond and Katherine LaFond Oral History, dated 1958-1959, and 2000-2001, contains audiocassettes, administrative information, and transcripts of the interview between Eugene LaFond, Katherine LaFond, and Brian Shoemaker of the American Polar Society, which took place on February 27, 2000 regarding Eugene and Katherine LaFond’s experiences.

This is only a small sample of our many collections. I invite users to check us out and do not hesitate to ask if you have any questions or need any help. We are happy to assist you!

Contact: polararchives@osu.edu or kissel.4@osu.edu. Ph: 614-688-8173

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