Recent grad helps uncover St. Louis’ past through oral history.
Daniel Neuhaus grew up in St. Louis, but it wasn’t until his internship at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park in his hometown that he realized how little he knew about the city.
“I knew about as much as a tourist,” says Neuhaus, BA, BA ’14.
Neuhaus spent the summer working on Story Center, an oral history exhibit that will open at the museum in 2016. In an oral history, an interviewee provides an in‐depth recounting of his or her own life experiences or memories or perceptions of an important event or era. Oral historians rely on these interviews to add to the official historical record. Whereas newspaper articles and government documents reveal dates, facts and figures, oral histories uncover emotions, motives and humanity.
Neuhaus interviewed a handful of St. Louisans. He spoke with Bill Keaggy, an artist who collected found grocery lists from around the world and organized them into a book, Milk Eggs Vodka: Grocery Lists Lost and Found. He also interviewed an older man who lived and owned a business in the Gaslight Square, once an artsy, bohemian area of the city that was eventually abandoned.
“Each interviewee revealed parts of St. Louis that I didn’t know,” Neuhaus says. “I realized how many things have come and gone that I’ll never see and had no idea about but were such a big part of the city.”
Because of his internship experiences at the history museum, Boone County Historical Society and The State Historical Society of Missouri, Neuhaus wants to get people more interested in their local history. As a Mizzou student, Neuhaus processed oral histories of individuals involved in the integration of public schools in Columbia in the 1960s for The State Historical Society of Missouri in Ellis Library.
Oral histories are different than history textbooks, he says. “You engage more with the oral history because you’re getting the firsthand account.”
This fall, Neuhaus plans to volunteer at the Landmarks Association of St. Louis to help get buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, at the Missouri Civil War Museum located at Jefferson Barracks, and at the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum.