Oral Histories

JFK and RFK Oral History Collections

In 1964, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library began conducting oral history interviews of people whose lives or work intersected with John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and/or the major events and issues of their times. The John F. Kennedy Oral History Collection now holds roughly 1,300 interviews, while the Robert F. Kennedy Oral History Collection houses about 275 interviews. Many of the transcripts have been digitized and are available for viewing online.

Note: In these collections, the transcripts represent the official historical record, and access to audio recordings is not guaranteed. Researchers requesting access to original audio recordings should allow several weeks per interview for archivists to review recordings for potential opening.

JFK and RFK Oral History Collections: Access and Interlibrary Loan

The Library’s main research room houses transcripts of all open interviews from the John F. Kennedy Oral History Collection and the Robert F. Kennedy Oral History Collection, and researchers are welcome to make an appointment to view them at the Library. Please note that due to donor restrictions, some interviews are only available for viewing at the JFK Library.

Those who are unable to visit the Library in person have several options for accessing most transcripts:

Digitized transcripts: Over 1,000 interview transcripts from our oral history collections have been published online. Search or browse them here.

Reproductions: Researchers can order photocopies of most interviews. See our Reproductions page for more information.

Interlibrary loan: We can lend copies of most interview transcripts in the JFK and RFK Oral History Collections through free interlibrary loans. Librarians may submit ILL requests for up to eight transcripts at a time for their patrons; email the archives staff at Kennedy.Library@nara.gov for more information.

Additional Oral History Collections

Outside of interviews conducted by the JFK Library for the JFK and RFK Oral History Collections, multiple archival collections also house oral history interview materials:

Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Collection: Contains papers, photographs, recordings, and oral history interviews with Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, donated to the JFK Library archives by former volunteers and others associated with the Peace Corps.

Note: To listen to recorded interviews in this collection, please schedule an appointment with the Audiovisual Archives (JFK.AVarchives@nara.gov) at least two weeks in advance so that listening copies can be prepared.

Jean Stein Personal Papers: Contains transcripts of interviews with over 300 individuals conducted by Stein while researching her book American Journey: The Times of Robert Kennedy (1970). See the finding aid for additional information about accessing these interviews.

Ernest Hemingway Miscellaneous Accessions Collection: Contains multiple oral history interviews about Ernest Hemingway, including interviews of Mary Walsh Hemingway, Hadley Richardson Hemingway Mowrer, William Walton, and Hemingway's acquaintances at the Toronto Star.

Additional collections holding oral history interviews and notes on interviews, include the Adam Clymer Personal Papers, the Lewis H. Butler Personal Papers, and the Theodore H. White Personal Papers. Access, copyright, and use restrictions often differ from one collection to another, and researchers are encouraged to contact an archivist at Kennedy.Library@nara.gov to learn more about accessing interviews in any collection.

Review Procedures

Many interviews in the JFK Library’s collections (including most of those in the JFK and RFK Oral History Collections) were donated to the Library by the interviewee; in these cases, the interviewee’s deed of gift for their interview governs access and copyright.

Deeds of gift for oral history interviews can include a wide variety of stipulations, including closure of the interview for a specific period of time; restricting access only to researchers who secure permission from the interviewee or their heirs; maintaining copyright protections over the interview; limiting access to the original audio recording; prohibiting interlibrary loan of the transcripts; and other stipulations. In addition, some interviews may be redacted or closed for national security purposes.

In some cases, the interviewee did not donate their interview to the Library directly (for example, if the interviewer donates the transcript as part of their personal papers); access to such interviews can vary from one collection to another.

Please contact the archives staff at Kennedy.Library@nara.gov to determine whether a restriction can be appealed. Library staff members cannot act as intermediaries for obtaining permissions, but will assist researchers in submitting permission request forms. For more information on securing permissions, see our Declassification and Review page.

Use and Copyright

For every oral history interview in the John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy Oral History Collections, the transcript, and not the recording, is considered the official historical record. When recordings are available (not all are), researchers may listen to them for background information, though may quote from or cite the transcript, only.

Unless specific restrictions are included in the foreword to an interview transcript, researchers may quote, paraphrase, or cite the transcript in a publication. The preferred form of citation may be found in our Citation Guide.

Direct quotations from transcripts in which donors have retained copyright are limited to portions allowable under the "fair use" doctrine of the U.S. copyright law. Quotes exceeding fair use require the written permission of interviewees or their representatives; for more information, please consult our Copyright page.

Content Note

Oral histories contain some content and descriptions that may be harmful or difficult to view. Learn more.