Willa Klug Baum, 1926-2006





Willa Klug Baum, an internationally respected oral historian, passed away on May 18, 2006, following back surgery. Her pioneering work in oral history methodology and interview techniques served as the foundation for the establishment and growth of oral history as a unique academic discipline.

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Willa was also instrumental in establishing oral history as an accepted discipline by working with colleagues from around the country to develop professional standards and methodologies. She was a founding member of the Oral History Association, and although Willa published numerous books and anthologies on the topic of oral history, her 1969 publication titled Oral History for the Local Historical Society, is still considered a fundamental primer on establishing an oral history program.

In her typical self-deprecating style, Willa often remarked that she only wrote the book because she was tired of being asked to give the same speech again and again.

Under Willa’s directorship, ROHO amassed over 1,600 oral histories, filled with first-hand accounts of the participants in significant historical events primarily in California and the West. These permanent eyewitness accounts of history are on deposit at over 800 libraries worldwide, and stand as an invaluable resource to researchers worldwide.

ROHO established a reputation of being ahead-of-the-curve in identifying and documenting historical movements; for example, ROHO’s Suffragists and Women in Politics series began in the early 1970’s before most campuses had women’s studies programs. Similarly, ROHO’s early documentation of the disability rights movement now provides primary research materials for the new disability studies program at UC Berkeley.

Ongoing ROHO projects include oral histories of the wine industry, mining, the environmental movement, the Disability Rights Movement, the Free Speech movement, anthropology, UC history, engineering, science, biotechnology, music, architecture, and the arts. ROHO’s largest projects document California government from the Earl Warren Era to the present.

Upon her retirement, Willa was bestowed the Berkeley Citation for her service to UC Berkeley, the President’s Citation for her contributions to the University of California, and the Hubert Howe Bancroft Award for her leadership of ROHO.

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