World Bank Group Archives Oral Histories
As early as 1947, the Secretary, Morton Mendels, wrote a memo to the Vice President, Robert L. Garner, saying that “it seems timely to begin a history of the Bank.” However, it was not until 1961, at the initiative of Harold E. Graves, Director of the Office of Information, that a series of tape-recorded interviews were made with key officials of the Bank in preparation for this yet unrealized history. These 1961 interviews, conducted by Robert W. Oliver, describe the World Bank during the presidencies of Eugene Meyer, John McCloy, and Eugene Black. The Bank turned to the Oral History Research Office at Columbia University to produce the transcripts; the Office retained the tapes and transcripts and returned a set of the transcripts to the Bank. These transcripts later were used by Edward S. Mason and Robert E. Asher to write The World Bank since Bretton Woods (1973), the official history of the first 25 years of the Bank.
A second oral history program was carried out in the 1980s. In 1981 the World Bank asked Robert Asher to suggest what would constitute a successful oral history program for the World Bank. Asher contended that oral history is a necessary adjunct to written records as “the inclusion of atmosphere in an office memorandum is considered a waste of words.” Between 1981 and 1989 nearly 40 interviews were conducted, principally by staff members of the WBG Archives but also by consultants.
In 1988, anticipating the 50th anniversary of the World Bank Group, William Diamond proposed that an overall history of the World Bank’s first half century be prepared and both the Archives and the oral history program be strengthened. The Bank’s management agreed and created an Office of the Historian in 1993 as part of the Personnel and Administration Vice Presidency, with Jochen Kraske as Historian. One of its responsibilities was to manage an oral history program. Office staff members and consultants interviewed senior staff and executive directors on a systematic basis. The Office of the Historian was abolished in 1998 and its oral history project was transferred to the WBG Archives, where it continued conducting interviews with limited resources.
In 2003, the Bank asked an oral history consultant to review the program and recommend changes that would broaden the Bank’s efforts to collect, retain and share knowledge. After the report was received, the fourth phase of the oral history program began. The program continues to record interviews as resources are available, with a focus on senior leaders of the Bank, including Presidents, who have recently retired or otherwise separated from the World Bank Group.