Oral History Program

Over 400 oral histories supplement the written historical record, offering insights into actual workings of the legislative and executive processes. Interviewees include such important public figures as Ronald Reagan, Edmund G. Brown, Sr., long–time legislator Ralph Dills, Proposition 13 champion Paul Gann, California author Carey McWilliams, former Superintendent of Public Instruction Wilson Riles, and many others.

Since 1986, the California State Archives has administered a legislatively established oral history program (Chapter 965, Statutes of 1985) that has completed over 200 interviews to date. This systematic and disciplined effort to record, preserve, and make interviews available supplements the historical records in the Archives and provides researchers with a broader and more complete picture of California government than can be gleaned from documents alone.

Interview subjects are people who have had a significant role in California state government: former members of the legislature, constitutional officers, agency and department heads, and others who have shaped public policy and/or are identified as being influential in political and public developments at the statewide level. They are selected on a non–partisan basis, with the goal of illuminating key aspects of California government history. The information captured in their interviews prevents information loss and even "corporate amnesia" for future generations of Californians and California government. It also enhances the historical understanding of legislative and executive processes and policy–making in California by capturing the insights of these men and women.

While the program is administered centrally through the State Archives where professional staff analyze gaps in the historical record, set interview priorities and standards, and preserve tapes and transcripts; interviews are mainly carried out through contracts with oral history programs at several participating universities. Interviewers adhere to professional oral history principles, standards, and ethical guidelines. They do meticulous background research, identify key questions and areas of interest, conduct the interviews, and prepare accurate interview transcriptions that are reviewed and approved by the subject. The tape recordings and finished transcripts are deposited at the State Archives where they are open to research by the public. Transcripts are available at the California State Library and the libraries of the participating universities as well.

For more information on the State Government Oral History Program, contact the Oral History Program Coordinator.

Guide to the California State Government Oral Histories

Click here for an introduction to the Guide as well as for links to transcripts.

Recently released Oral History transcripts


Van de Kamp, John (OH 2004–15)

Oral History Interview with John Van de Kamp (PDF) (2003). District Attorney, County of Los Angeles, 1975–1983; Attorney General, State of California, 1983–1991.

Van de Kamp discusses his family background and education, his work with the U.S. Attorney's Office, and running for Congress against Barry Goldwater. He talks about his selection as the first Los Angeles Federal Public Defender and that office. He also relates information about the cases and programs of the Los Angeles District Attorney's office during his time as DA. He speaks of campaigning for the office of California Attorney General and that office's organization, enforcement, and other programs. He focuses on the initiative process and working with the legislature on bills as the Attorney General. He also talks about his unsuccessful campaign for governor and his post–Attorney General activities and career.

Beilenson, Anthony C. (OH 99–3)

Oral History Interview with Anthony C. Beilenson. Vol. 1 (PDF) Vol. 2 (PDF)

Beilenson talks about his childhood and family background as well as his college career. He discusses his time in a law practice and his developing interest in politics. He outlines his state assembly, state senate, and House of Representatives service and comments on the differences in each organization. Beilenson speaks about his legislation regarding abortion and campaign finance reform, his campaigns, and his committee work. He also comments on the governors and presidents he worked with and their different styles.