Title: Oral History Interview with Robert Coles, October 24, 1974. Interview B-0002.
Interviewer: Hall, Jacquelyn
Interviewee: Coles, Robert
Abstract: Robert Coles is a child psychiatrist and writer at Harvard University. While much of his professional career was based at Harvard, Coles spent most of the 1960s and 1970s living in Georgia and devoted considerable attention to studying minority children. Perhaps best known for his five-volume series Children of Crisis, Coles contributed significantly to the emerging field of oral history during his years in the South. The interview is in the form of a discussion between Robert Coles and group of University of North Carolina professors and students. The interview is especially geared towards a discussion of Coles's thoughts on the developing methodologies of oral history, particularly as they relate to the use of tape recorders. Coles argues that he increasingly used tape recorders in order to appear more "scientific" in his research; however, he expresses reluctance about the use of such technology, arguing that it was more effective to spend considerable time with interviewees in order to better understand their experiences. In so doing, Coles argues that the purpose of oral history should strive to go beyond understanding the experiences of others in order to promote social change. Throughout the interview, Coles offers numerous examples of his own work with African Americans and other minority groups, especially migrant workers, in order to illustrate his own approach to oral history and its academic purposes. Coles also speaks more broadly about himself as a writer, often drawing comparisons between the work of academic writers and creative writers such as William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor. Researchers interested in the institutional evolution of academia during the 1970s will be particularly interested in this interview.