One of the many hidden treasures of Peace Corps history is the RPCV Oral History Collection at the JFK Library, begun more than fifteen years ago by RPCV Robert Klein,(Ghana I). Bob interviewed members of Ghana I for his book, Being First: An Informal History of the Early Peace Corps Robert Klein (Ghana 1961-63) Wheatmark, 2010* and realized how valuable those taped interviews were. He decided to expand to interview as many RPCVs as possible, at his own expense. For years, he crisscrossed the country, interviewing RPCVs and teaching them how to interview others. The JFK Library agreed to archive the tapes. There are now APPROXIMATELY 400 individual RECORDED interviews, one to three hours long. Years of service represented go from 1961 through 2015. All RPCVs may participate.
Sadly, Bob died in 2012. His partner, RPCV Phyllis Noble, (Nigeria 65-67) has continued his work. In an email, Phyllis wrote:
“I’m delighted to talk to people about participating in this project, to help them get interviewed as a way to begin, and to help them learn the process of conducting an interview. ”
Phyllis can be contacted at this email: OralHistoryProject@peacecorpsconnect.org (copy and paste)
John Coyne and Marian Haley Beil are the pioneer historians 0f Peace Corps history. John had earlier worked with the NPCA and the JFK Library. Under an agreement with the NPCA, the JFK Library began a Peace Corps collection and accepted memorabilia from RPCVs. Now, the library has restricted memorabilia donations to those who served during the Kennedy administration. There is no such restrictions on the oral histories.
One of the reasons, the collection is a “hidden” treasure is that the oral interviews are not available online, nor have they been transcribed. If you are interviewed, you may obtain a copy of your interview, in tape or CD format, for free. To obtain a copy of another interview, there is a fee. It may still be $15 dollars for a CD. Otherwise, to listen to the interviews, one must travel to Boston and the JFK Library.
The description of the interview, as well as the name of the RPCV, country and years of service are included in the online Finding Aid. This information is in and of itself historically important. For example, a textbook in common use, claimed that only male Peace Corps Trainees were sent to Puerto Rico for outward bound training. After much contentious emailing, I was able to refer the professor to this collection. There, he could see the abstracts of interviews with women who were trained at Puerto Rico. He grudgingly admitted that he might “consider” editing his book, if there were ever a second edition!
Access the collection in this way: http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/RPCV.aspx?f=1
Scroll down to “Series List,” click on a country, and then click on the plus sign in front of the name of an RPCV. The abstract of the interview appears. The oral history interviews are conducted and submitted with a special protocol that Phyllis can explain.
Before sending any books or other memorabilia, please check first with the JFK library. To contact Library staff, use this email: Acquisitions.Kennedy@nara.gov (copy and paste) or call 617.514.1642
I hope so much that all of you will consider doing an Oral history. Your experience is vital to the history of Peace Corps.
* The earliest known Peace Corps rivalry is between Colombia I and Ghana I. It concerns who was first. I must honor Bob’s memory and all members of both groups by explaining Ghana I was the first Peace Corps group to land in-country. That was August, 1961. However, Colombia I actually was the first group to begin training. That happened in June of 1961. Evidently, the rivalry depends on “what you mean by first”! Here is a link to the argument put forth by Colombia I’s Ronald Schwarz and a response by Ghana I’s Robert Klein:http://peacecorpsonline.org/messages/messages/467/4004130.html