By Pat Nanzer, associate director, special projects
Grand Valley State University libraries are committed to providing easy online access to the Digital Collections from anywhere in the world for the academic community and the general public. Resources include a unique collection devoted to philanthropy. One of the most recent additions is a collection of video interviews of philanthropic leaders. Over the past three years, the Johnson Center conducted nine such interviews to expand the knowledge base of philanthropic studies. These video interviews captured first-person historical, philosophical and ethical views of leaders in philanthropy, particularly in Michigan. The videos with full transcripts are available online for serious research — or for browsing for curiosity.
Dr. James Smither, professor of history at Grand Valley State University and director of the GVSU Veterans History Project, defined the basic parameters and procedures for the interview project, and conducted the interviews. He had been doing interviews of veterans for several years, and had worked with the university’s archivist to set up a digitized collection of interview videos similar to what the Johnson Center wanted to create. Although he did not know much about philanthropy or the academic study of it, he had a lot of practice at getting people to talk about their own experiences using a basic biographical approach. Most of the interviews were with academics, with whom he had a certain amount in common, and several of them turned out to be veterans as well, which gave him another connection to draw on.
According to Dr. Smither, “The best thing about the interviews from my perspective is that all the subjects were remarkable individuals who came into the philanthropy business from very different directions, usually involving multiple career and life changes. That sort of thing makes for interesting stories, and several of them turned out to be good storytellers in their own right, which did not hurt.”
The popular video collection was viewed 290 times in September, 2012. Topics covered by these leaders include youth philanthropy, service learning, women in philanthropy, family philanthropy, and volunteerism.
The videos add to an online oral history project of Michigan philanthropy led by the Council of Michigan Foundations in partnership with StoryCorps, Michigan Radio and the Johnson Center. The Michigan Philanthropy Oral History Project holds twenty-eight conversations with 60 philanthropic leaders who have enhanced Michigan’s nonprofit sector.
Items referenced here are available online in the digital Johnson Center Philanthropy Collection.