Biography

Barbara Sommer, a Minnesota native and an oral historian for thirty years, doing business as BWS Associates for more than twenty years, has spent her career in the field of public history. She has served as historical organization director and director or co-director for numerous oral history projects, has led oral history workshops, and has presented at state, regional, and national, and international conferences. She is a founder of the Oral History Association of Minnesota and the Nebraska Foundation for the Preservation of Oral History and is a long-time member of the Oral History Association where she serves as a member of its Nominating Committee. Sommer has taught oral history at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Nebraska Wesleyan University.

She is the author of Hard Work and a Good Deal: The Civilian Conservation Corps in Minnesota, which was released by the Minnesota Historical Society Press in January 2008 and went on to win the 2009 Minnesota Book Award in the Minnesota category and the Northeastern Minnesota Book Award in the General Nonfiction category, as well as the Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH). More recently, her essay, “‘We Had This Opportunity:’ African Americans and the Civilian Conservation Corps in Minnesota,” was published in The State We’re In: Reflections on Minnesota History. She developed and wrote The South Dakota Oral History Center Collections Assessment and Guidelines Report for the South Dakota Oral History Center, including the American Indian Research Project and the South Dakota Oral History Project in 2005. With Mary Kay Quinlan, she is co-author of The Oral History Manual and The People Who Made It Work: A Centennial History of the Cushman Motor Works, and with Quinlan and Paul Eisloeffel, she is a co-author of Capturing the Living Past: An Oral History Primer, on the Nebraska Historical Society Web site. The American Indian Oral History Manual: Making Many Voices Heard by Charles E. Trimble, Barbara W. Sommer, and Mary Kay Quinlan was released in the fall of 2008. Quilt House: The International Quilt Study Center & Museum, a history based in part on oral histories about this internationally-known study center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, came out in the fall of 2012. The five-volume Community Oral History Toolkit, co-authored with Nancy MacKay and Mary Kay Quinlan, was released in January 2013. Practicing Oral History in Historical Organizations was released in 2015, as was Doing Veterans Oral HistoryThe third edition of The Oral History Manual was released in July 2018. Sommer holds a bachelor’s degree from Carleton College and a master’s degree in history from the University of Minnesota.