Time travel now comes at a discount.
Goin’ Back: Remembering UGA, a new Web site (www.uga.edu/livinghistory), is an archive of video interviews with prominent alumni as well as former faculty and staff members.
From Louise McBee, vice president emerita for academic affairs and a six-term representative in the Georgia legislature, to football star Charley Trippi and country music legend “Whisperin’ ” Bill Anderson, the site lets the people who lived through university history tell its story in their own words.
And it has an effect: Web browsers start seeing the campus through historian’s eyes. Listen to one story from Mary Frances Early, the first African American to earn a UGA degree, about the campus in the early 1960s. It’s hard to imagine the university of yesteryear compared to its bustling daily routines of today, when the campus has become an internationally recognized melting pot of genders, cultures, races, orientations and philosophies.
The Web site is an offspring of the Goin’ Back oral history project, which began in 2006 under the coordination of Fran Lane, former director of the UGA Visitors Center. Designed by Derek Greer, a Web development specialist in the Office of Public Affairs, the project is part time capsule and part time machine. Bill Evelyn, a videographer in the Public Affairs Office, records interviews for posterity while opening the door for future research or interests.
“This project would never have come to fruition without the considerable talents of Derek and Bill,” said Lane.
Interview subjects are selected from a pool of individuals developed through a combination of suggestions from faculty, staff and alumni and recommendations from an advisory committee with special historical knowledge of the campus and its people. Individuals selected so far have been older than 70 years of age and, in most cases, have been high achievers while on campus or in later life or are just great storytellers. Six video interviews are currently online but many more are scheduled to be added soon.
“Dan Magill (former longtime sports information director and head tennis coach at UGA) sat down and did an interview with us and it went well, then he called up a day later and said, ‘You’d better come back. I am not through,’ ” said Alice Vernon, head of customer service for the UGA Alumni Association and current coordinator for the project. “In other words, there is considerable enthusiasm on the part of the subjects being interviewed.”
The project began simply, with Lane interviewing people in the Athens area and around the state. But the success of the first crop of interviews sparked interest and funding that allowed the project to cast a wider net.
“Everyone has been very positive and very much willing to share their memories with us,” Lane said. “On the other hand, some preparation is necessary.”
For Lane, who earned a degree in history at UGA and spent nearly 30 years working on campus, the research comes handily.
“We do the work, but the fun part is that you don’t have to stick to the script. Sometimes things you don’t even know about start coming out,” she said. “But it’s all very positive. It’s why I like these great stories from years past.”
So far, Lane and colleague Claude McBride of the UGA Alumni Association have done all of the interviews, but as momentum picks up and more subjects are added, other interviewers are being used.
Tom Jackson, vice president for public affairs, is slated to interview former director of public relations Bill Simpson.
Tom Landrum, senior vice president for external affairs, will interview longtime friend Bob Edge, a 1960 UGA alumnus and Rhodes Scholar, who is a partner with the Atlanta law firm of Alston and Bird.
After the interviews are completed and recorded, a tape is sent out for transcription so that the text for each interview can be posted and searched on the Web site.
Putting the project online was always part of the original plan for the oral history project.
“History is the backbone on which the present is built,” Lane said, “and people across the country who have an interest in the university now have an opportunity to relive its history from afar.”
In addition to being posted online, each interview is archived and stored on campus as a part of the media archives of the UGA Libraries.
A joint production of the Office of Public Affairs and the UGA Alumni Association, Goin’ Back: Remembering UGA was completed in late February. It will be updated regularly.