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Oral Histories and Microdocumentaries

Oral Histories & Microdocumentaries

Our digital collections are publicly accessible and consist of digital replicas of our physical archival holdings. These collections are constantly growing and currently include the Cal State LA student newspapers, audio recordings, and photographs. In addition to digitized collections, we provide information about current digital projects and initiatives in which we are actively collecting as well as free downloadable Zoom backgrounds.

Chinese American Oral History Project (CAOHP)

Our collaboration with Cal State LA's Asian/Asian American studies department began in the Fall of 2016. When Dr. Juily Phun’s class began recording its oral histories, Special Collections and Archives worked in the background preparing to collect these stories and preserve them for future generations. As the project has grown, so has our involvement in it; each class attends a workshop held by Special Collections and Archives faculty and staff to learn about the transcription and indexing process. By leveraging the power of students perspectives and commitment to the project, we are working together towards the goal of ensuring these stories are accessible to all.

Learn More About The Chinese American Oral History Project

Digital Testimonios

The Digital Testimonios Micro-Documentary Project highlights student-created Micro-documentaries that blend personalized Testimonios and Oral history interviews to reveal the life experiences of underrepresented voices from the local community. Emerging from Dr. Lani Cupchoy's courses in Chicana(o) Latina(o) Studies and History, the project introduces non-film majors to the craft of documentary-digital storytelling through oral history and public history with attention to using everyday available technology to transform testimonios into a compelling and emotionally engaging format. Students engaged as active agents in culturally relevant and community responsive pedagogy that humanizes narratives within the legacy of Counter-Stories traditions.

Learn more about the Digital Testimonios Project

Pandemic Diaries

Covid19 Pandemic
Covid-19 Pandemic Diaries Project

The Project

The Cal State LA Pandemic Diaries Project, organized by the University Library Special Collections and Archives, aims to create an archive of digital diaries that captures the narratives and experiences of our campus community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We encourage members of our campus community to document their personal experiences and contribute their diaries to the University Archives. There is no better time than the present to capture your experiences. As we endure the pandemic, we are experiencing a shift to online learning, working from home, social distancing, and self-quarantine. We are relying heavily on technology to communicate with one another, from attending lectures/meetings through ZOOM to communicating with loved ones through FaceTime.

Your digital diary will help us better understand how we as individuals and a collective community are experiencing the ongoing crisis. These materials will be preserved in the University Archives, providing future researchers with first-hand accounts of this historic event. Recording and sharing your story can prove to be a source of healing, empowerment, and solidarity.

How to Participate

To participate please download the Pandemic Diaries Packet which includes:

  1. Instructions for creating your Diary
  2. Questions to help guide your self-interview
  3. Checklist of Submission Materials
  4. Deed of Gift – PLEASE SIGN


Your Pandemic Diary Should Include:

  • A Video or Audio Recording
    • Audio or video recording no longer than 1 hour where you share what you are currently experiencing with the shifts and disruptions to our day-to-day realities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • We have provided questions and an infographic in the Project Packet to get you started.
  • A Transcript
    • To help us archive your stories, please create a transcript of your self-interview. We recommend downloading a free app called Otter.
    • After recording, upload your audio/video file to the app and it will transcribe the recording for you. You can export the transcript in a text document and upload it with your submission. Please note we may contact you to verify some details.
  • A signed Deed of Gift 
    • Your Pandemic Diary will be donated to Special Collections and Archives for research. Please sign and submit this project-specific Deed of Gift to finalize your donation. 

The following file formats will be accepted:

  • Video and/or recording (MP3, MP4),
  • Transcript (.txt, .doc, .docx)
  • The total file size limit for your submission is 1 GB


A Note about Personal Health Information:

The nature of this diary may be sensitive. Feel free to share whatever information you are comfortable sharing keeping in mind that this information may be archived and shared as described above. However, please be mindful to not disclose any personally identifiable or health information about another student or employee of Cal State LA - this includes information that could allow a third party to identify that person.


Download a printable copy of the Project Packet featuring these instructions.

Covid-19 Infographic
Covid-19 Infographic

Questions about Your Submission?


We welcome collaborations with instructors incorporating community projects and/or class assignments related to the campus community during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re interested in using the Pandemic Diary Project to help capture the experiences of your students, download and review the Faculty Submission Guidelines.

Questions about Pandemic Diary class assignments? Please email Azalea Camacho, Archivist and Special Collections Librarian


The Cal State LA University Library Special Collections and Archives is excited to present The 20/20 Experience: Impact of COVID-19 on the Cal State LA Campus Community, a student-curated online exhibition featuring the Pandemic Diaries Project. The project aims to create an archive of digital diaries that capture the narratives and life experiences of our campus community during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

This exhibit focuses on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Cal State LA student body. It showcases a timeline of past health crises on campus from the University Times, artifacts of current events in the greater Los Angeles community, and direct quotes from students enrolled in Spring and Fall 2020. Core topics include the shifting expectations of virtual education, racial and social inequality, economic impact and job loss, mental and physical health, and changes in family dynamics. The 20/20 Experience concludes with examples of student resilience, projects documenting COVID-19 at Cal State LA from various angles, and resources regarding the virus itself.

We hope that by sharing our collective stories in this exhibit, Cal State LA can experience an important moment of healing, empowerment, and unity at a time when we feel distant from one another.

Donate Your Oral History

Oral History

Oral history is defined by the Oral History Association as "a field of study and a method of gathering, preserving and interpreting the voices and memories of people, communities, and participants in past events. Oral history is both the oldest type of historical inquiry, predating the written word, and one of the most modern, initiated with tape recorders in the 1940s and now using 21st-century digital technologies."

Oral histories provide a vehicle to capture the stories of a diverse range of personal experiences that are are not represented in the historical record. It also gives the interviewee the opportunity to tell their story in their own words. Oral history depends on human memory and the spoken word.  Oral history interviews usually capture the life of the interviewee or a specific subject/topic the interviewee has experienced. 

For example: 
  • Life History - Life and history of Chinese Americans in the greater Los Angeles region.
  • Subject/Topic History -  Student experience during the COIVD-19 pandemic.      

Oral History Steps

  1. Develop your question/topic
  2. Plan the project. Consider the equipment you need, timeline, potential interviewee
  3. Conduct your preliminary research on your topic and develop interview questions
  4. Interview
  5. Process interview, which can include interview transcription.
  6. Evaluate your oral history
  7. Organize and present your results
  8. Consider preserving your oral history in an archive


The use of oral history has always maintained strong ethical obligations to fully inform interviewees on the use of their oral history recording. For more information on ethical issues regarding oral histories take a look at the following resources.

Do I Need Permission from the University?

Interviews as part of research projects sometimes fall under the category of "Human Subjects Research." Human Subjects Research requires oversight to ensure that research is being conducted ethically and protecting the privacy and rights of the interviewee. The Institutional Review Board (IRB) at Cal State LA sets guidelines and approves projects:

Oral History projects that DO NOT need IRB approval:

  • If data [interviews] are collected as part of a class assignment AND is kept within the classroom setting, it does not meet the definition of Human Subjects Research.
  • Oral history activities, such as open-ended interviews, that ONLY document a specific historical event or the experiences of individuals without intent to draw conclusions or generalize findings would NOT constitute "research" as defined by HHS regulations 45 CFR part 46.

Oral History projects the DO need IRB approval:

  • The activity involves a prospective research plan that incorporates data collection, including qualitative data, and data analysis to answer a research question;
  • AND The activity is designed to draw general conclusions (i.e., knowledge gained from a study may be applied to populations outside of the specific study population), inform policy, or generalize findings.
  • In order to be subject to the University's human research protections policies, the activity must meet both of the above standards. This determination will be made according to the procedures described in Section 7.1 above.

For more information please see the Oral History section of the Cal State LA Institutional Review Board's page on Research with Human Subjects