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Baltimore Neighborhood Heritage Project, 1978-1982
"Baltimore Neighborhood Heritage Project (BNHP) is a group of community, academic and city agency people interested in ethnicity and neighborhood history. It is part of a local and nationally funded effort to preserve and promote an appreciation of our pluralistic culture. A central feature of the project is oral history interviews with older residents of Baltimore neighborhoods on such topics as migration and immigration, racial and ethnic identity, national and local events, neighborhood and family life, work and religion...The history of our city comes from, belongs to and should be used by its citizens. This project collects, preserves, and presents that history to its people." (Baltimore Neighborhood Heritage Project, brochure, ca 1978-1980, OH 8297)
The Baltimore Neighborhood Heritage Project, OH 8297, began in 1977 when a group of local activists and academics got together with Baltimore City agency personnel to develop a community history project that would focus on one of Baltimore's older working-class ethnic neighborhoods through the medium of oral history. Highlandtown was chosen as the focus site. Additional funding was later acquired allowing the project to expand to include six more areas in the city.
From the fall of 1978 through the summer of 1980, the BNHP conducted more than 200 interviews with longtime residents of four Baltimore City neighborhoods: Highlandtown, Hampden, Park Heights, and Little Italy. Three city regions were also documented: West Baltimore (Sandtown-Winchester in particular), South Baltimore, and East Baltimore. Also included were a number of residents from areas near these sites. Many of the interviewees heard about the oral history component of the project through their participation in the BNHP's Eating Together Program, a series of multi-site luncheons for senior citizens in and near the targeted areas.
Topics discussed in the interviews included: migration, immigration, racial and ethnic identity, national and local events, neighborhood living conditions, family life, work experiences, and religious practice. Interviewers also asked questions about housing, recreational activities, and amount of contact with other ethnic groups.
In addition to the oral histories, the BNHP included other components designed to promote direct community involvement in the project. A theatrical production, Baltimore Voices, utilized the oral history transcripts as the basis for its script. The play, which consisted of a series of sketches devoted to each neighborhood, was shown at approximately 35 venues around Baltimore in the winter and spring of 1980. "Baltimore People, Baltimore Places,” a travelling museum that toured the city in the spring of 1980, exhibited photographs, documents, and other materials gathered from community residents. A subsequent book was produced featuring quotes from the interviews and photographs that participants donated. Project historians also wrote short histories of each of the neighborhoods featured in the project. Three of these histories, examining Hampden-Woodberry, Old West Baltimore, and South Baltimore, appeared in the spring 1982 issue of the Maryland Historical Magazine.
Materials for the Baltimore Neighborhood Heritage Project were originally in the possession of the Baltimore City Life Museum, which closed in 1997. Tapes, transcripts and other items related to the project were transferred the following year to the Maryland Historical Society and the University of Baltimore's Langsdale Library. The materials in the possession of MdHS include audio recordings, tape indexes, biographical material, and interviewer notes. Full or partial transcripts are available for 79 of the interviews. (Note: Both the inventory and the finding aid for this collection contain much of the same information. The inventory lists the interviewees by catalog number; the finding aid groups the interviews by site and contains short descriptions of each neighborhood or region. The finding aid also lists the available materials for each interview.)
The collection also contains an article written by oral historian Linda Shopes that appeared in the 1986 anthology Presenting the Past: Essays on History and the Public. Shopes, who served as an historian on the project and conducted a number of the interviews, provides a history and critical analysis of the project from its inception to its termination in 1982. A brief synopsis of the BNHP can also be found in the winter 2011 issue of the Maryland Historical Magazine.
To make a request to view transcripts or other materials from the Baltimore Neighborhood Heritage Project, please contact the Special Collections Department at firstname.lastname@example.org, or speak to the Special Collections Librarian at the desk in the library.