The American Folklife Center is delighted to announce that an important new oral history collection documenting the lives and careers of home health care workers throughout the state of Oregon is now available online through the Library of Congress’s website. This fieldwork project is part of American Folklife Center’s Occupational Folklife Project and the 7th of these collections to be put online.
In 2014, Professor Bob Bussel and his colleagues at the University of Oregon Labor Education and Research Center in Eugene, Oregon, received an Archie Green Fellowship from the American Folklife Center (AFC) to conduct oral history interviews with workers who provide home-based care for the elderly and the disabled throughout the state of Oregon. Bussel and his team worked closely with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 503, to record 35 in-depth interviews with home health care workers, an occupation that was not previously represented in the American Folklife Center archive.
The collection’s interviews with home health care workers took place primarily in the workers’ homes and at the offices of SEIU, Local 503 in Eugene, Portland, and Salem, Oregon as well at as the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union office in Grants Pass, Oregon. Interviews were conducted primarily in English, although a few were conducted in Russian. Interviewees ranged from long-time home health care workers to individuals who had more recently joined the profession. Many interviews also touched on the role of their union, SEIU, in training individual workers, establishing professional standards, and enforcing equitable pay and benefits.
“Taking Care: Documenting the Occupational Culture of Home Health Care Workers” is part of a multi-year American Folklife Center project to document workers in contemporary America. Over the past eight years, supported by the American Folklife Center’s competitive Archie Green Fellowships program, more than 40 researchers and research teams throughout the United States have received funding to document oral histories with workers in a wide variety of trades. Interviewees include ironworkers, hairdressers, electricians, domestic workers, longshoremen, funeral home employees, trash collectors, gold miners, racetrack workers, tobacco farmers, and many more working Americans from all sectors of contemporary society. Through the American Folklife Center’s ongoing Occupational Folklife Project, oral histories of hundreds of American workers–stories of how they learned their trades, their skills and work routines, legendary jobs (good and bad), respected mentors and flamboyant co-workers, and their hopes for their futures—are now part of America’s national record. These Occupational Folklife Project oral histories not only enrich our current understanding of our fellow Americans, but will inform scholars and researchers for generations to come about the lives of contemporary workers at the beginning of the 21st century.
As American Folklife Center director Betsy Peterson notes, “With the launch of AFC’s innovative OFP, researchers and members of the public will have direct access to hundreds of hours of compelling fieldwork. They will be able to hear the interviews and view fieldwork images and documentation that previously could be accessed only by visiting the Library in Washington.”
Archie Green Fellowships for the study of occupational folklore (application information)