A Cowboy in Every County Oral History Project at the Oklahoma Oral History Research Program, by Sarah Milligan

A Cowboy in Every County Oral History Project at the Oklahoma Oral History Research Program

By Sarah Milligan, Associate Professor and Head, Oklahoma Oral History Research Program, Oklahoma State University


In conjunction with the 125th anniversary of Oklahoma State University’s founding, the Oklahoma Oral History Research Program (OOHRP) is interviewing at least one alumnus in in each of Oklahoma’s 77 counties during 2015-2016, with the goal of leveraging an anniversary event to the long-term benefit of the program. Like any anniversary project, there are pros and cons for taking it on, and in the interest of reporting not just the project details, but the complexities of oral history project planning, here are the goals and risks for our decision-making process for this project:


We anticipate this project will:

  • increase our profile on campus (Alumni Association, Foundation, various schools),
  • allow us to physically set foot in and publicly track every OK county,
  • test out the reception of a travel blog for the OOHRP,
  • spark communication with statewide networks (libraries, museums, associations, historical societies, extension offices),
  • provide a listening space for the public to tell us who they would like represented in the archive,
  • serve as a starting point for future project topics not currently in our plans.


We foresee numerous challenges, including:

  • project planning which is nomination driven,
  • patience in developing new networks rather than returning to our already-developed networks,
  • finding a balance between soliciting participation and not being overwhelmed with nominations,
  • continual communications management,
  • overall project planning with a focus on return on investment for the project's social capital,
  • targeting diversity (industry, geography, ethnicity, religion, etc.) of project interviewees,
  • introducing a blog into our team's workflow,
  • internal project communication.


As well as numerous risks:

  • becoming the default for all campus commemoration events,
  • being seen as interested only in OSU topics,
  • being dismissed as not interested in complex, intensive research,
  • fielding too many requests from the campus donor relations office,
  • inability to find participants in some counties, while receiving too many nominations for participants in other counties.


Halfway through the project, the return on investment has been mixed. We have seen new traffic from University Communications highlighting this project, as well as having it spotlighted from campus areas that are often hard to reach (like the Vice President for Research's Office, whose homepage profiled this project). We were featured in the alumni magazine and could be a large part of the profile for the commemorative "events" marketing push. Our social media traffic is buzzing, and we have gained a precedent for student internships and online curation of our material (multimedia blogger position). We have made the short list for the Library's project fundraising pitches and are hopefully creating some traction for future efforts. Although we are visible, we don't yet know how that will translate to interaction with faculty and access to students in the classroom. We have been pleasantly surprised by the diversity of nominations and have found that many individuals nominated would not otherwise have been reached within our current network.