The Oral History Office at Sangamon State University opened under the direction of Cullom Davis in 1971 and closed in the summer of 1991. Students in Davis' oral history classes collected many memoirs, as did a number of volunteers, but grant-funded personnel also created several series of memoirs, notably the interviews of coal miners and Illinois political figures. While many regions of the U.S. and many other nations are represented in the collection, the lives of most of the narrators are centered on Springfield and central Illinois. Donations of material from individuals and institutions, such as John Knoepfle's "River Tapes" and Columbia University's Adlai Stevenson Project and Institute of Inter-American Affairs series, significantly enriched the collection.
Most of the tapes, memoirs, and collateral files making up the office's collection were transferred to the UIS Archives in 1990-91. When it was received by the Archives, the collection consisted of 1,135 interviews on 2,960 hours of audio tape, and 97,165 transcribed pages. In the twenty years of its existence, the office collected the memoirs of an impressive array of people including: coal miners; members of the African-American, Italian-American, Jewish, and other ethnic communities in and around Springfield; Illinois legislators and politicians; farm families; WWII conscientious objectors and prisoners of war; members of Springfield churches and clubs; teachers in rural one room schools; and many others. The collection is a vital record of life in Illinois and beyond from the late 19th century to the present, and preserves the memories of many individuals whose experiences would not otherwise be recorded.