Historical Society of Princeton preserves 300 at-risk oral audio recordings

Interviews with friends of Albert Einstein, histories of Princeton residents who were alive at the beginning of the 20th century, and oral histories from the local Italian-American and African-American communities have now been preserved digitally so they can be accessed by the public for years to come.

The Historical Society of Princeton has successfully digitized about 300 at-risk audio cassette oral history recordings from the organization’s archival collection. The work was made possible through funding from the state’s New Jersey Historical Commission. Many of the cassette recordings were almost 50 years old and were unplayable and inaccessible. An expert was able to create high-quality digital files from the audio delicate recordings. With the tapes digitized, the recordings are now available to researchers.

“Since use accelerates a cassette’s deterioration, the Library of Congress now recommends that audiocassettes and other vintage recordings be played as little as possible in order to maximize their lifespan,” said Stephanie Schwartz, the Historical Society of Princeton’s curator of collections and research. “Even with such precautions, the average cassette only lasts between 10 to 30 years before it degrades completely. Many of the cassettes that the Historical Society digitized fell far beyond this range, making their immediate preservation a priority,”

Collections transferred include: Interviews conducted by the Princeton History Project, an oral history initiative during the 1970s and 1980s that documented the stories of Princeton residents alive at the turn-of-the-century; interviews conducted by author Jamie Sayen in the 1970s with Albert Einstein’s Princeton friends and colleagues that provide an intimate look at a man with New Jersey connections and worldwide appeal; and oral histories from the residents of Princeton’s historic African-American and Italian-American communities, including interviews conducted by author Kathryn Watterson for her award-winning book “I Hear My People Singing: Voices of African American Princeton,” published by the Princeton University Press in 2017.

“Oral histories are critical resources. They provide records of individuals and perspectives not otherwise represented in our collection or the historical narrative at large. They help us to humanize the study of the past,” said Izzy Kasdin, executive director of the Historical Society of Princeton. “We are so pleased to have been able to complete this project, as part of our overall goals to continue to expand the breadth and diversity of history accessible to Princetonians and the research community at  large.”


  1. I’d like to see you recognize Elric Endersby for his creation of and dedication for the Princeton History Projectt.

  2. I agree with Ms. Randall, I worked with Elric and his staff on the Princeton Recollector as a typesetter. Those were fun times.

  3. I have to say that there must be something in the air in Princethon that causes me and it to always be feeling just a bit queasy about these self-extolling projects, etc. About thirty years ago when a certain gentleman who had lived on Pine Street died and I called the Princethon historical society about him, the answer I got was pretty well described as snotty. He had lived over 55 years on Pine Street, lived in Princethon his whole life, travelled the country with Woody Guthrie, taught himself to be a machinist, and been married to the same woman for God know’s how long. Being an historian myself, anyone who remembered flock of sheep or cattle being drove up Pine Street to Proncethon University campus to be used to keep the grass down or who remembered going on picnics and eating fresh watercress out of some brook hereabouts just had to be interesting so I began to make tapes of him in an oral history project. A number of years after he died, I called the historical society and told them how interesting this guy was and I would like to donate them. On the calvinist word of God, I was told: “Those people are not the kind we would be interested in.” I ran home and looked them up in DeBrett’s and saw that I had overstepped the bounds of propriety. If only I had had a Fulbright or something. Well, maybe in his next life, he’ll (sp?) qualify. Now people are qualifying.

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