SEHS To Document South End From the 1960s-1980s

The South End Historical Society (SEHS) is gearing up to begin interviews for its South End Oral History project, which will document stories of change in the neighborhood between the 1960s and the 1980s. The project received a $40,000 grant from the American Historical Association earlier this year, which adds to $10,000 in private funding and a $2,000 contribution from the South End Historical Society.

The Sun spoke with Paul Wright, coordinator for the project and longtime South End resident, to learn more about what it entails.

According to a project narrative written by Wright, “The project will identify and interview observers/participants at the “person-in-the-street” level in a classic neighborhood case-study of urban change in post-war America and Massachusetts…The project will include those displaced as well as newcomers from all social strata. This study illuminates the past leading to the present of Boston, which as the urban center of New England is of importance to the entire country.”

Wright said he became interested in South End history when he and his wife moved to the neighborhood in 1972 and enrolled their children in public school. A similar project on the Bancroft School community was put together in 2018 and 2019, and now is partially available for listening online at the UMass Boston Archives and Special Collections website, which will also house this project once it’s complete.

This oral history project got started in early 2020, but was put on hold in March of that year because of the pandemic.

“Now we’re starting up again and got this nice grant,” Wright said. This summer, the SEHS is working on assembling the interview team, which it anticipates will consist of graduate students and professors who have experience interviewing, as well as gathering a list of people to be interviewed for the project. Over the course of the fall and early winter, the interviews will be conducted, and the transcripts will be completed after that. The full project will be available for public consumption sometime next July or August, Wright said.

The interviews will be audio-only, and will be transcribed as well, making them searchable and will also be organized by the name of the interviewee.

Wright said the goal is to conduct 40 or 50 interviews, as “we want a representative sample of the neighborhood.”

Aside from hiring interviewees, the grant money allows the SEHS to purchase audio equipment and complete the professional transcripts.

“For me, it helps me understand my generation,” Wright said of the project. He said that he and other newcomers “found a place we wanted to raise our families. It’s personal in that way.” He said that aside from the personal connection, the project will highlight “an important part of the history of the city and the country.”

The project narrative also says that “The intent is to help participants better understand their lives and community and to communicate that understanding to others in the community as well as the public at large and posterity…As has often been noted, nostalgia is the enemy of history, but carefully executed oral history can direct the energy of the nostalgic impulse toward valuable contributions to the historical record through thoughtful recollection and reflection on one’s experiences.” 

The SEHS has partnered with UMass Boston on this project, which will locate the project online and make it available to the public. Wright worked at the university for over 40 years, which led to this partnership.

Wright and the SEHS are currently looking for people who want to share their stories of the South End from the 60s-80s, and interested parties should reach out to him at [email protected]. Additionally, those with oral history or interviewing experience can also reach out.

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