As part of its charter, the Public Works Historical Society (Society) foster a better understanding of public works through the collection, preservation, and dissemination of public works history.

As part of an ongoing effort to encourage and publish scholarly research, the Society sponsors an oral history program. Oral history is a method of gathering and preserving historical information through recorded interviews with participants concerning past events and ways of life. It is both the oldest type of historical inquiry, predating the written word, and one of the most modern, initiated with tape recorders in the 1940s.

The program goal is to interview practitioners who have made significant contributions to the public works profession in North America. Interviewees come from all facets of public works, but typically are public works managers and engineers with lifetime experiences or individuals who were witness to public works milestone events or projects.

Nominations are encouraged and welcomed from public agencies, private-sector corporations, APWA Chapters, other public works and historical organizations, and individuals. Although no formal application process is followed, nominators are asked to submit a letter of nomination, letters of reference, and a resume of career accomplishments addressing the merits of the interview candidate. Nominations are academically reviewed by a committee of professional peers and historians.

The Society's Board of Trustees makes final selections based on historical importance, availability of interviewers, and funding limitations. Every effort is made to secure outside financial sponsorship to conduct interviews.

Once selected, an interview team is assembled that typically includes a professional historian paired with a local public works practitioner. The interview process is carefully monitored to ensure it is conducted within professional and academic standards. The interview process includes several preliminary interviews to familiarize the interviewers with the subject matter, develop the question list, and allow the interviewee to research and recall information. The formal oral interview is voice tape recorded. In special cases, image and voice tape recordings are made.

The Society holds the preservation of the oral history of public works as a core mission. As a matter of policy, all original tape recordings and accompanying transcripts are provided to the University of Missouri–Kansas City for archiving with their Western Historical Manuscript Collection. The Society actively pursues archiving at multiple locations to ensure preservation by offering duplicate tapes and transcripts to other oral history collections, academic institutions, and interested parties where applicable and feasible.

Only working copies of tapes and transcripts are maintained at APWA offices in Kansas City, however researchers and interested parties should first contact APWA for the location of archive copies.

As part of its goal to foster a better understanding of public works history, the Society supports wide dissemination of the oral history information. Most tapes and transcripts are available for research projects conducted by Society and APWA members. Tapes and transcripts held in archive collections are available in accordance with the collection owner's established policies – typically, these collections are limited to academic and research use.

To protect against unauthorized commercial use, ownership and copyright restrictions are placed on tape recordings and transcripts to ensure that they are only used for academic research and educational purposes.

Over the years, several oral histories have been published under the Society's popular An Interview With series. Due to limited printing, most of these publications are now only available from archives and library collections.

As a general rule, the Society does not internally fund publication of oral histories, however, every effort is made to recruit financial sponsorship from local agencies, private-sector corporations, APWA Chapters, and other organizations to publish oral interviews. Conducting an oral interview does not guarantee publication.

For additional information about the Society's Oral History Program, contact Teresa Hon.