Yale-UN Oral History Project. (the Chronicle Library Shelf)

Article excerpt

The Yale-United Nations Oral History Project was undertaken to gain a better understanding of what goes on behind the scenes on political and security issues by talking to people who participated in major events in which the United Nations was involved. The goal is to record the experiences of those in key positions and make their views and understanding of events available to scholars and the general public for study and analysis. Some of those interviewed have written books about their experiences, but in most cases the interviews are the only record of specific events from the interviewee's point of view.

The research for the oral history project is purposefully clustered around specific issues, such as the founding of the United Nations, the Middle East wars, the Congo during the 1960s, the Falklands/Malvinas conflict, El Salvador, Cambodia, Namibia, the Iran/Iraq war, and the work of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) to investigate and eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, plus other topics. A concerted effort was made to interview people with different points of view in order to maintain a balanced interpretation of events.

The project was conducted in two stages: the first part, from 1989 to 1991, within the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale University, producing some 50 interviews; and the second, from 1996 until 2002, within the UN Studies at Yale, producing over 100 interviews. These were audiotaped, from which written transcripts were made. The interviewees were extremely cooperative, all believing that the United Nations is an extraordinary organization worthy of documentation, and each was asked to review the transcript and make any necessary corrections. The final versions, which include subject and name indexes and audio tapes, are on file at the UN Dag Hammarskjold and Yale University libraries, where they are available for research purposes.

The advantage of an oral history is that many of those interviewed will never write down their experiences or, if they do, may not give the personal accounts which emerged from the more relaxed conversational method undertaken through oral interviews, and therefore, much of their first-hand knowledge would be lost.

Many conversations and decisions are made informally and do not become part of the official record. This record, kept by the Government or the United Nations, may not include the behind-the-scene meetings, personal analyses and accounts, which are contained in the oral histories that may be the only source of certain information. …