Oral History Program Style Guide


Founded in Detroit in 1954, the Archives of American Art became part of the Smithsonian Institution in 1970. The Archives is the world's preeminent and most widely used research center dedicated to collecting, preserving, and providing access to primary sources that document the history of the visual arts in the United States. Founded on the belief that the public needs free and open access to the most valuable research materials, the Archives of American Art's collections are available in our reading rooms and online.

Since 1958, when the Archives recorded its first oral history interview, the Archives has produced more than 2,500 oral histories. These recordings chronicle the great diversity of the visual arts in the United States; they augment and give nuance to our understanding of the people who shape culture. As they record an individual's voice, oral histories preserve stories and character unavailable through other means, and they provide each speaker the opportunity to convey and constitute history.

We continue to update this guide to reflect best practices based on experience and evolving narrator and institutional needs.

Note: This Style Guide contains our preferred styling for frequently encountered issues in our oral history program transcripts and is not a comprehensive manual. We edit lightly and base changes from received transcriptions mainly on the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS).

Oral histories provide unique situations that call for flexibility, including occasional deviations from the Chicago Manual or other scholarly traditions. We aim for clarity and consistency within the overall program and within individual transcripts. Honoring narrators’ wishes is fundamental to our institutional mission within the oral history program; as profound and dynamic records of human experience, oral histories require adaptive, collaborative, and narrator-centered approaches. While this style guide reflects our institutional needs and those of our staff, transcribers, and audit editors, we hope that this guide continues to be useful for other oral history programs as they tailor practices for their own needs. We are open to changes in language and culture and update this document regularly.

Updated: December 2022