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New and Improved Voices of Illinois Oral History Portal!

A New Platform for Oral Histories

In the spring and early summer of 2024, Archives Research Assistant Spenser Bailey created a new, Omeka-based Voices of Illinois oral history portal.*  This process entailed making stylistic choices, developing search functions and organizational presentation for the interview collections, and transferring the existing 170 interviews over from the legacy platform.  The new portal is more than just an exact replacement – Omeka’s versatility allowed for the creation and deployment of an individual interview search/browse page, which the old portal did not have.

See the gallery below for examples of the new portal’s features:

View the new portal for the first time using the button below!

The new Voices site is still under construction, with finishing touches being completed.  Additionally, two new collections, chronicling the Unit One Living-Learning Community and queer culture in Champaign-Urbana (produced by students in Siobhan Somerville’s GWS 467/HIST468 class), are in progress and will be the first to deploy solely on the new portal.  Please contact Archivist for Student Life and Culture Ellen Swain if you have any questions about oral histories, would like to discuss a collaboration with the Archives, or have suggestions about the new site.

About This Project

The original Voices of Illinois oral history portal was created as a part of the University of Illinois sesquicentennial celebrations in 2017-18.  For the first time, oral histories and other historical audio recordings were available on a centralized, easy-to-navigate platform.  This increased the visibility and accessibility of these valuable collections, which, in turn, allowed scholars and the general public to use them for academic research and personal enjoyment.  I was an undergraduate at the University in the fall of 2017, and I used an anecdote from a “Great Depression” interview to highlight a point in one of my first ever academic papers.

Some of the sets of interviews in Voices came from oral history initiatives from the University Archives.  For example, in 2000-01, Student Life and Culture Archivist Ellen Swain interviewed 44 alumni from the 1920s and 1930s, and recorded their memories of attending the University before and during the Great Depression.  These coordinated projects contribute immensely to the historical record, as large sets of interviews allow for comparisons and different perspectives on some of the same subjects.  Notably, in at least one interview, the subject mentioned a story about some of his fellow students, one of whom was the subject of another interview!  Other recordings featured in the portal are digitized surrogates of historical conversations, like the Allen Recordings of Agricultural History.  Created by alumnus Ralph Allen from the 1940s to the 1960s, some of these predate the University Archives, and preserve the memories and perspectives of those who have long since passed away.

Further, since the creation of Voices of Illinois, Archives personnel have continued work in oral history, allowing for the Archives’ audio collections to grow in size and scope.  Natural and Applied Sciences Archivist Bethany Anderson spearheaded the COVID-19 Documentation Project, which resulted in 45 interviews with University of Illinois System personnel, in which they recounted memories of and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the Voices portal, which is based on WordPress, has reached the end of its useful life.  Archives personnel had to identify and deploy a replacement platform to avoid losing the capability and centralized resources that Voices brings.  After consultation with the Library’s IT department, Omeka – a  free “open-source web publishing [platform] for sharing digital collections” was selected as the replacement for the outdated WordPress format of the original Voices portal.

*The University Archives would like to thank Krista Gray, program officer at the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections, and Alex Dryden, research programmer with Library IT, for their valuable assistance with the new Voices portal.  Krista introduced Spenser Bailey to Omeka, and provided him with templates and an example Omeka site, which he then built into the new portal.  Alex provided detailed guidance, technical support with Omeka, and solutions and encouragement, without which the new portal could never have been completed.

Exploring Football Materials at the Student Life and Culture Archives

By Katie Higley

With the recent Illini Spring Game and the NFL Draft, football is on the mind for many of us. If you’re missing football, especially your Fighting Illini, you should check out the many football-related collections at the Student Life and Culture Archives (SLC) in the Archives Research Center!

The Fighting Illini football team has a long, rich history documented in our collections. SLC is home to the papers of Arthur Hall, coach of the Illini Football team in 1904 and 1907-1912. The collection features hand-drawn football plays, artifacts such as Illinois athletic sweaters, and football souvenir programs [1]. Memorial Stadium officially opened on November 3, 1923, with a Homecoming matchup against Chicago [2]. Illinois Central Train Service helped fans attend the game by offering a special service from Chicago to Champaign for only $4.56 [3].

Aside from the game being memorable for the opening of Memorial Stadium, it was also a Homecoming victory for Illinois, with the Fighting Illini beating Chicago 7-0 [4]. Memorial Stadium was officially dedicated on October 18, 1924, in another Homecoming victory against Michigan. During the game, Illini legend Harold “Red” Grange ran for five touchdowns and threw a sixth. The Champaign-Urbana Stamp Club celebrated his historic performance in their Early Football Heroes stamp collection [5].


Our long historic tradition with Homecoming celebrations is illustrated in this souvenir Homecoming edition of The Daily Illini, featuring photos of George Huff, Red Grange, and Robert Zuppke from 1925 [6].

SLC is also home to audiovisual collections documenting the Fighting Illini in motion. The Football Game Films and Videotapes collection has copies of Illini football games from 1937 to 1994. Highlights from this collection include footage from the Fighting Illini Rose Bowl appearances in 1952, 1964, and 1984 [7]. The Football Highlights Films and Videotapes collection includes general Big Ten football Highlights and Illinois football highlights [8].

In late 1970, controversy erupted over the firing of head coach James Valek. In a memorandum prepared by Charles E. Flynn, the then President’s and Chancellor’s Liaison Representative to the Board of Directors of the Athletic Association, he wanted to set the record straight by laying out the timeline of Valek’s firing in response to “considerable misinterpretation” of the situation by the media [9]. On October 23, the initial decision to re   lieve Valek of his coaching duties after the Ohio State game on October 24 was made. This caused considerable upset with the team, which led to a revision of the initial decision. Valek would be allowed to continue coaching the final four games of the season. Valek’s contract was officially terminated on August 31, 1971. The public, including alumni, was angered at what they perceived as Valek being “fired twice [10].” Merrill and Zita Holden (class of 1949) wrote to the Athletic Association Board of Directors stating, “Never have we been as ashamed of our alma mater as today …it was Jim Valek who inherited the thankless job of gathering the remnants of a thoroughly demoralized team … it is not fair or honest that someone else reap the eventual benefits of his conscientious and diligent labors [11].” Bob Blackman would replace Valek as head coach in 1971.

In 1989, Illinois football almost made history by competing in the Glasnost Bowl. The Glasnost Bowl, which was planned to be an annual event, would have written Illinois and the University of Southern California (USC) into history as participants in the first football game played in the Soviet Union. The game was initially scheduled for September 2, 1989, in Moscow’s Dynamo Stadium. Illinois head coach John Mackovic stated, “We are proud to participate in a special first event for college football and the history of intercollegiate sport in this country. As a participant in the Glasnost Bowl, we hope that Illinois can be an example of what the finest in college athletics is about [12].” Despite great enthusiasm from both teams at the prospect, the game was officially canceled by Raycom Sports Entertainment on June 7, 1989. Raycom stated the reason for the cancellation was contract issues with Soviet sports authorities. The Glasnost Bowl was downgraded to a regular season game. This flyer for the Glasnost Bowl depicts what could have been [13].

If you are interested in viewing these materials or any other materials at the Archives Research Center, please give us a call at 217-333-7841.

[1] Record Series (RS) 28/3/24 Box 1, “Football Plays and Coaching Materials, n.d.” and “Football Souvenir Programs, 1899-1950.” Box 2, “Artifacts.”

[2], [4] “Memorial Stadium – Facilities,” University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics,

[3], [6] RS 26/2/5 Box 13, “Football, 1920-1929.”

[5] RS 26/20/220 Box 1, “Souvenir Stamps and Envelopes – Illinois Icons, 1943, 2003, 2008.”

[7] RS 28/3/15

[8] RS 28/3/16

[9]-[11] RS 26/1/5 Box 8, “Football Controversy, October 1970.”

[12]-[13] RS 26/2/5 Box 12, “Football – Glasnost Bowl, 1989.”

University Archives: A Nikkeijin Illinois Content Provider

University Archives: A Nikkeijin Illinois Content Provider

By Jason Finkelman

Jason Finkelman

Upon Spurlock Museum’s invitation to curate an exhibition on the Japanese American experience, Jason Finkelman proposed telling the story through profiles of those who had been part of the University of Illinois as students, faculty, and staff. Seeking subjects who had been part of the institution before, during and after the World War II incarceration of over 125,000 Japanese Americans, Finkelman turned to the University Archives to discover and research several of the twelve profiles on display through December 10.

As a Philadelphia-born Yonsei, a fourth generation Japanese American, Finkelman had long pursued knowledge of his Japanese ancestry utilizing historical documents available online and within the WWII Japanese American Internment and Relocation records of the U.S. National Archives. Nikkeijin Illinois provided an opportunity for Finkelman to better understand Chicago and Midwest Japanese American histories, starting with the fact that only 390 citizens of Japanese descent resided in Chicago in 1940. This community increased to 20,000 by 1945-46, relocating to the city for employment and education opportunities outside the ten incarceration centers.

One example of University Archives-based research Finkelman pursued extensively was piecing together the story of Seichi Bud Konzo. Arriving in 1927 as a Research Graduate Assistant Fellow in Mechanical Engineering, Konzo enjoyed an award-winning, lifelong career and affiliation with UIUC spanning over 50 years. First brought to Finkelman’s attention in Bill Hosokawa’s historical monograph Nisei – The Quiet Americans (1969; William Morrow and Company, Inc.) Konzo is listed as attending the inaugural Japanese American Citizens League national meeting in Seattle in 1930 “from Urbana, Illinois, where he was going to the University of Illinois.”

Exhibit panel with pictures of Seichi Konzo and information about his life and work at the University of Illinois.
Konzo panel from the exhibition. 

A bound edition of Japanese Students’ Christian Association newsletters discovered in the student life and culture archives revealed Konzo also served as the 1930 Midwest Representative of this North American organization. During WWII, Konzo’s employment outside of the West Coast military exclusion zone allowed him to maintain his station at the University of Illinois as a research professor and to contribute to the war effort as a fuels consultant for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from 1941-1945. In the archives Finkelman discovered an open letter from University Counsel Sveinbjorn Johnson dated December 10, 1941, declaring Konzo as a loyal citizen of the United States and fourteen-year faculty member of the University, who is required to travel to Cleveland, Ohio on December 11 to consult on “heating plants for defense housing units.” This fascinating document serving as a type of “official” university “leave clearance form” and confirmation of loyalty is included in Konzo’s profile at Spurlock Museum.

Along with the exhibited Nikkeijin Illinois profiles, Finkelman pursued understanding the evolution of University of Illinois policies on admitting Japanese American students during the war years. Research in the archives was critical to the College Nisei story display panel. After President Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, approximately 2500 Nisei students enrolled in West Coast colleges were forced to withdrawal from their programs. As early as March 1942, after receiving numerous transfer inquiries from institutions and students within the Western Military Zone, president W.C. Coffey of the University of Minnesota, corresponded with UIUC President Arthur C. Willard regarding policies to admit Japanese American graduate students. Willard responded, “I do not believe the Board of Trustees and other authorities of this institution look with favor upon the admission of either Japanese aliens or Americans of Japanese ancestry.” This statement was followed in April 1942 by President Willard’s administration adopting a no admissions policy claiming the University of Illinois a military exclusion zone due to government sponsored research and proximity to Chanute Air Force Base.

Under continued pressure from various agencies including the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council working under the War Relocation Authority, the Board of Trustees approved an arduous policy for admittance of Japanese American students in March 1944. The BOT public record states, “The Registrar has been studying this matter and he recommends that the University agree to admit… under the following conditions.” This one statement set Finkelman on a deep archives dive to uncover any record of the Registrar’s report. With the discovery of an undated two-page summary titled “Policy With Respect To Admission Of Students Of Japanese Ancestry”, along with an attached third statement from University of Michigan dated January 31, 1944, Finkelman enriches the record of the College Nisei story by providing access to a unique overview of the policies followed by fourteen peer Midwest institutions.

Wide-angle image of the Nikkeijin Illinois gallery at the Spurlock Museum.
Nikkeijin Illinois exhibition gallery.

Curated through research in the University Archives, as well as in historical newspapers and online Japanese American WWII documents, Nikkeijin Illinois is a revelation of the dynamic histories and events of the Japanese American experience through stories of those who are part of the University of Illinois record.

Finkelman will offer a lecture titled “Nikkeijin Illinois – Extended Stories” on October 6, 2023 at 12:00 PM as part of the Friday Forum + Conversation Café series presented by Diversity and Social Justice Education and University YMCA, sharing new information learned since the exhibition opened in February.