Life in the Brandywine Valley: An Oral History Grant from the Delaware Humanities Forum

Monday, February 20, 2017

Beginning in the late 1950s and continuing into the early 1980s, Hagley staff interviewed 175 people from the Brandywine Valley area in Delaware, creating a phenomenal archive of daily life and work in the region going back to the late nineteenth century. These 352 hours of audio and full typed interview transcripts cover individuals’ recollections of work routines, neighborhoods and businesses, family life and recreation, school and community events, and the landscape of the creek and the DuPont powder yards. They constitute one of Hagley’s many remarkable collections and represent an incomparable resource for the history of the Brandywine Valley. 

Woman filling powder into silk bags at DuPont’s Brandywine Mills, 1918.
Woman filling powder into silk bags at DuPont’s Brandywine Mills, 1918. Click here to listen to a "Bloomer Girls" oral history account of working at the mills during WWI.

Yet, as comprehensive as the collection is, its sheer size has made it difficult to navigate. Hagley recently digitized both the audio recordings and the transcripts. A recent grant award from Delaware Humanities will help Hagley showcase its rich collection of oral histories on daily life in the Brandywine Valley. 

The Delaware Humanities grant will now make these irreplaceable voices from our past more accessible to the public online. Over the coming year, Hagley staff will be creating a digital index for each recording that will be synced to the interview transcript, so that online listeners will ultimately be able to browse and search the oral histories more effectively on the web.

The grant will also help Hagley create a digital exhibition to showcase the interviews, the people who gave them, and the places and communities they describe. These oral histories provide a personal perspective on the past that we hope will enliven Brandywine Valley classrooms, provide students with history day topics, bring the voices of grandparents to life for their descendants, and provide the texture of lived experience to researchers in Delaware and beyond.

To explore the collection of oral history recordings and transcripts, click here to view in the Hagley Digital Archives.

Amrys O. Williams is the Associate Director and Oral Historian for the Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society at the Hagley Museum and Library.