The RPCV Oral History Archives Project: Stories of Odd Ball Kids Recorded for Posterity
by Mimi Budd (15) 65-67
The RPCV Oral History Archives Project was the brainchild of RPCV Bob Klein who began the project in 1999. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, Bob was a member of Ghana 1, 1961-63. He taught in a secondary school in Sefwi-Wiawso and later served as PC staff in Ghana and in Kenya. In the 1990s, now retired, Bob decided to interview other members of Ghana 1, with a view towards eventually writing a book. (The book, entitled Being First, was published in 2010.)
Bob caught the oral history bug. He realized that returned volunteers beyond his group would also have fascinating stories to tell. He thought someday researchers would want to know more about these odd-ball kids who dropped everything to go off to far-flung parts of the world to work in untried programs. Bob approached the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston about recording these oral histories. They agreed! Together with the library archivists. Bob developed a protocol for recording the interviews. The recorded interviews become part of the National Archives and are in the public domain. As of May, 2017, the library houses some 600 recorded interviews of RPCVs. The most recent 70 interviews have been recorded digitally, (since 2015,) and most are now available online. https://www.jfklibrary.org/Search.aspx?nav=N:4294884964
Alas, from 1999 until early 2015, approximately 530 interviews were recorded on audio cassette tape, making access to these more difficult. For the complete Finding Aid for all recorded RPCV interviews, go to https://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/RPCV.aspx?f=1.
The original intent was to interview early volunteers who served during Kennedy’s administration, but over time the library agreed to expand the base to returned volunteers who served whenever and wherever with the Peace Corps.
Bob Klein was joined by Phyllis Noble (17) 65-67, a teacher in Ugelli, who met Klein in 2004 when he was criss-crossing the country a couple of times a year in his two-door Toyota Echo interviewing volunteers. He found her name on the Hospitality Network that listed volunteers willing to host traveling RPCVs. The
found her name on the Hospitality Network that listed volunteers willing to host traveling RPCVs.
(Left) Phyllis Noble addressing the FON annual meeting in Nashville.
The relationship evolved and they lived and traveled together doing interviews from 2007 until 2012 when Bob died. She says that he was a master interviewer who was truly gifted in bringing people out. Her own interview techniques are based on notes she took of the questions she heard him asking people when they first traveled together. Phyllis recorded her first interview in 2008 when they interviewed a couple simultaneously, he the husband in one room; she the wife in another.
Since then, Phyllis has traveled widely and completed 64 interviews. She has trained several other RPCVs to conduct interviews. She has not only sustained Klein’s original project, but has transformed it into the modern age. Interviewers for the project now use digital equipment.
Of primary importance now is the digitizing of the 530 taped interviews now on the shelves at the JFK Library. Digitalized interviews are better preserved and their longevity ensured. They are also much more easily accessed online for those interested in reading or studying these histories. Noble’s current project is to raise money to pay for the cost of digitalizing all the taped interviews.
Noble estimates some 50 people have been involved in interviewing over the years. Currently, she estimates there are eight to 10 people making recordings. The expenses involved in securing these interviews are largely self-financed. Klein and Noble crossed the country doing interviews and stayed with volunteers when possible to help with expenses. Klein was able to secure a couple of small grants from the JFK Library at the beginning of the project. Otherwise, they paid for their own motels, cars, gas and meals. Noble says regional RPCV groups sometimes help with the expenses incurred by volunteers who do these interviews.
When asked her vision for the future of the project, in addition to securing funding to digitalize the taped interviews, she said she hopes more RPCVs will commit to the project. It is a serious commitment involving scheduling, travel, setting up digital equipment, conducting a two- hour interview, writing a short abstract paragraph about the nuts and bolts of the interview, and then transferring the digital recording to the JFK library which takes some time. But she believes that the commitment is well worth it to ensure an historical record is preserved of the experiences and contributions of Peace Corps Volunteers around the world.
Those interested in accessing information about the collection of taped and digital interviews can do so at the website for the JFK Library in Boston at www.jfklibrary.org