Within the vast array of recordings housed at the American Folklife Center (everything from sea shanties to slave narratives to street cries), you can also find voices that are a little different from the rest: the narratives of over 90,000 American veterans—all part of the Veterans History Project.
Created by Congress in 2000, the Veterans History Project (which we call VHP) exists to document these veterans’ stories in their own words. Our mission is to collect and preserve the personal accounts of America’s war veterans and make them accessible to all, so that future generations may hear directly from those who served and better understand the realities of war. We do this by asking the general public—this means you!—to record and submit first-person narratives by American veterans. Our archive is rooted in oral history, but we also collect materials such as original photographs, letters, military papers, diaries and journals, and memoirs, all of which document the individual experiences of those who served in uniform.
All of our collections are available to researchers by making an advance appointment to view collections in the American Folklife Center Reading Room. As well, many of our collections are digitized and available via our online database, which you can use to search our holdings by conflict, unit, service location, and other criteria.
Our website also features an online exhibit called Experiencing War, which highlights collections centered on a particular theme. Rotating quarterly, these features shed light on the vast array of experiences, topics, and materials that are part of VHP collections. Interested in the stories of doctors and nurses who served? Check out the features on military medicine. Want to browse drawings, paintings, and other artwork created by service members to document their experiences on the battlefield? Take a peek at the Art of War. Ever hear about the small group of female pilots who flew planes during World War II? You can find out more here about the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots).
To commemorate Veterans Day 2013, we decided to honor our most recent veterans. Current Conflicts: Afghanistan and Iraq focuses on the experiences of service members who served in the Middle East during the global war on terror. Coming from a wide variety of backgrounds, training, and perspectives, the veterans profiled in this exhibit discuss their motivations for serving and the deployment challenges they faced—many of which are unique to this set of 21st century conflicts.
So, this November 11th , take a moment to honor America’s war veterans by reading and listening to some of their stories, and consider participating in the Veterans History Project yourself. Want to know more? Subscribe to our RSS feed for periodic emails from the Veterans History Project—and watch this space for more highlights from our collections!