Nunn Center turning 50, WUKY celebrates 15 years of Saving Stories
WUKY’s award winning history series Saving Stories celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History in the UK Libraries. Alan Lytle and Center Director Doug Boyd reflect on their 15-year radio partnership and talk about one of Doug’s favorite interviews that ‘reaches back almost as far as oral history can possibly reach.’ It’s a 1975 conversation with T.R. Bryant who attended UK in 1902 and talks about campus life at the state’s flagship university around the turn of the century. After graduation Bryant helped establish UK’s Cooperative Extension Service.
Since his hiring in 2008, center director Doug Boyd and WUKY News Director Alan Lytle have collaborated on the award-winning radio series, Saving Stories which features compelling audio from the Nunn Center’s various collections.
Thomson R. "T.R." Bryant first came to the University of Kentucky in 1902 after winning a scholarship through a competitive examination held by the county superintendent. Bryant graduated in four years and obtained his first staff job at the university in 1908 as an assistant in animal science. Throughout this interview, Bryant discusses life on campus both as a student and staff member. He describes the classes, the relationship between the Lexington community and the UK community as well as the importance of sports. Bryant had experience with the football and basketball team. He also discusses changes that occurred as women began attending UK.
In 1910, Bryant was chosen to organize the Cooperative Extension Service. He explains that the extension work was based on the demonstration method. By 1912, the extension service received $50,000 and Bryant was able to employ two specialists; one in horticulture and one in agronomy. Bryant remembers consistent growth from that point on. He discusses the importance of the Farm Bureau to the extension services. Also, Bryant recalls controversies with funding, the investigation committee appointed by the governor to observe UK, and salary reductions. He touches upon the evolution controversy on campus during the 1920s and how women came to play an important role on campus during World War Two.
Bryant officially retired in 1955 and describes his major accomplishments including organizing the Cooperative Extension Service and maintaining a proper relationship with the Farm Bureau and other statewide agencies. He states that has continued to stay active within the extension service and still works with county agents. Bryant reflects on various presidents of UK and commends Presidents Frank McVey and Herman Donovan for making the greatest strides for the university.
Access the full interview below:
From UK Now:
From its first oral history interview in 1973, the Nunn Center has grown from a small grant and a dream into a world-renowned leader in the collection and preservation of oral histories. Along the way, the Nunn Center has empowered countless students, researchers and communities to discover the remarkable individuals, moments and stories that make up the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
The Nunn Center will kick off its anniversary celebration on Friday, Oct. 13, with a lively five-course dinner at the picturesque Fasig-Tipton Farm in Lexington. The farm-to-table, seasonally-inspired menu will be provided by Holly Hill Inn, and the event will feature a slate of speakers made up of prominent Kentuckians and longtime supporters of the Nunn Center:
- Don Ritchie, historian emeritus of the United States Senate
- UK President Eli Capilouto
- Lexington Vice Mayor Dan Wu
- Kim Lady Smith, former director of the Kentucky Oral History Commission
- Anne Ritchie, retired archivist and oral historian for the National Gallery of Art
- Derrick Ramsey, former Wildcat quarterback, NFL tight end and Kentucky Secretary of Education and Workforce Development
- Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers Association
- Ouita Michel, James Beard-nominated chef and restaurateur
Supporters, partners, and individuals from around the Commonwealth are invited to join the Nunn Center in commemorating this exciting milestone and honoring the many industries, institutions, communities and individuals who have made its journey possible. Individual tickets and eight-top tables are available to purchase for the event through Oct. 6.
“I am proud to celebrate together all that we have accomplished over the past 50 years — preserving over 18,000 oral history interviews spanning over 700 projects and creating numerous partnerships to document the life stories of individuals whose rich memories and experiences would otherwise go unrecorded and eventually forgotten,” said Nunn Center Director Doug Boyd.
Over its five decade history, the Nunn Center’s impacts have been felt across campus, throughout the Commonwealth, and around the world.
The Nunn Center’s collection of oral history interviews both preserves and champions the incredible diversity that can be found in every corner of the state, from Civil Rights leaders and LGBTQ+ Kentuckians to quilters, teachers, entrepreneurs, veterans, writers, coal miners, migrants and farmers. With continual improvements in interview quality and coverage, new stories are added to the collection daily.
“Part of UK Libraries’ mission is to preserve the Commonwealth and the region’s history and culture,” said Dean of Libraries Doug Way. “For the past 50 years, the Nunn Center has been crucial to that work, capturing the stories of people from all walks of life in their own words — and perhaps most powerfully — in their own voice. I am so pleased we can come together to celebrate the work of this campus gem.”
The Nunn Center has also been a pioneer in oral history access. The Oral History Metadata Synchronizer — a free, open source digital tool developed by the Nunn Center that improves user experience with online oral history by connecting word-level searches to precise moments within an interview — is now used by oral history repositories in 67 countries around the world and counting. Most importantly, OHMS has boosted usage of the Nunn Center’s archived interviews from 200 interviews accessed in 2008 to over 230,000 interviews accessed by researchers around the world in 2022. “Our innovative technologies ensure that individual stories are heard and become an essential part of the historical record for future generations,” said Boyd.
None of these accomplishments would be possible without the active engagement of community and campus partners. The Nunn Center proudly partners with industries, institutions, and communities across Kentucky to collect the oral histories of bourbon distillers, horse trainers, returned Peace Corps volunteers, and bluegrass musicians. Collaborations with on-campus partners provide students with high-impact learning experiences, and growing faculty and student engagement has led to the increased use of Nunn Center resources and collections in learning environments.
Janice W. Fernheimer, a professor in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and Digital Studies, has been working with the Nunn Center for over a decade. Her partnership with the Nunn Center began with an idea to help first-year writing students learn more about Lexington by listening to and indexing oral histories about the city’s Jewish, Arab and multiethnic immigrant communities.
While working closely with Boyd, oral history archivist Kopana Terry, oral history librarian Jennifer Bartlett, and the entire Nunn Center team, that initial idea has transformed into a multiyear partnership with undergraduate research and inclusive excellence at its core. Fernheimer and students in her classes have developed and grown the Jewish Kentucky Oral History Project, the Women in Bourbon Oral History Project and the Black Women in Bourbon Interviewing Initiative, which was supported by a United in True Racial Equity Grant from UK.
“It's been an honor and pleasure to work so closely with the Louie B. Nunn Center for more than 10 years and counting,” said Fernheimer. “My students have done everything from listening to and helping authenticate transcripts for interviews, indexing interviews using the cutting-edge technology created by the Nunn Center, conducting original oral histories, and presenting on the insights they’ve uncovered both at national conferences and the UK Undergraduate Research showcase.”
“What I'm most grateful for is the opportunity to create high impact learning experiences where students get the chance to engage in real knowledge production, from first-year students to graduates,” she added. Rachel Dixon, a student in one of Fernheimer’s early classes, went on to co-author a now much-cited article with Boyd and Fernheimer about the experiences of encountering oral histories in a first-year writing course.
In its commitment to deep collaboration practices, the Nunn Center offers training in interview structure and technique and provides professional-quality interview equipment and studio space to its partners, empowering students and researchers to pilot their own projects. With more than 50 ongoing interviewing projects, the Nunn Center’s impact across campus and throughout the Commonwealth grows greater every day.
With 50 successful years behind it, the Nunn Center now looks forward to many more: continuing to pursue its mission of engaging and empowering communities, creating connections and life-changing learning experiences, increasing access to oral histories the world over, and collecting and preserving Kentucky’s story.
As the premier research library in the Commonwealth, UK Libraries empowers lifelong learners to discover, create and connect by providing ever-expanding access to quality information and collaborating with academic and creative communities worldwide to advance knowledge, enhance scholarship, and preserve the history and culture of the Commonwealth. More information about UK Libraries can be found on its website.