Morris Arboretum

IMG_5181 Background

The Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania is one of Philadelphia’s premier public gardens and centers for interdisciplinary education. It is also is a renowned outdoor museum, a research institution, the official state Arboretum, listed on the national Register of Historic Places, and one of only three botanic gardens in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to be accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. The Arboretum is committed to offering its visitors novel ways in which to learn to “see” nature.

IMG_5192 The Arboretum maintains a historic image collection within its museum-quality archive. In 2013 the staff engaged I’mtellinya! to add to the archive by helping to launch an oral history project with the goal of capturing stories that preserve the rich history of the Arboretum and that describe why the garden is so compelling for those who visit and support it.


Through the planning phase of the oral history project, subsequently named “Arboretum Voices,” I worked with the staff to develop a protocol for the identification, recording, description, classification and coding of stories, employing “finding aids” to enhance the utility and durability of records. The protocol also included developing the appropriate permission forms.

Once the protocols were established, I began the process of contacting those identified as story subjects. The process included telephone pre-interviews, to establish topics and themes that would lend themselves to good stories; an on-site interview, typically lasting from an hour to 90 minutes; logging the tape for easy access within the archives; and sending unedited files to the Arboretum archivist.

Through sound editing, selection of music and sound mixing, I produced three-minute vignettes (mp3’s) for each interview subject, several for some interview subjects. The audio stories were uploaded to a Soundcloud page and later posted to the Arboretum’s website.

Click here to listen to stories produced on the Arboretum’s website.


The stories produced for “Arboretum Voices” were well received by staff, story contributors and donors. Arboretum staff are currently exploring ways to integrate oral history into interpretation and education programs and are committed to implementing programmatic use of oral history resources with funding provided by the Pew Center for Arts Heritage. A description of the work of I’mtellinya! was included in the initial grant request to the Pew Foundation.

The Arboretum’s goal is to develop oral history as an ongoing project, expanding the number and scope as additional resources become available.

“Barbara excels at collecting stories with meaning to the story teller and the Morris Arboretum community. Her creative professionalism as an audio journalist results in frequently-shared stories blending historical value with the joy of listening.”

Robert Gutowski, Director of Public Programs, Morris Arboretum




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