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HISTORICAL – Gulf Coast Energy Development in UH Oral Histories


Drilling barge used for marsh and shallow bay drilling to develop networks of canals in coastal Louisiana, circa 1960.

Drilling barge used for marsh and shallow bay drilling to develop networks of canals in coastal Louisiana, circa 1960.

Archival collections preserve history in books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, video images   and exhibits. Early
forms of historical research, however, were oral. Herodotus, Greek historian credited as the “father of history,” constructed his history of the Greco-Persian Wars (5th century B.C.) from interviews acquired during his travels around the area of the Mediterranean and Black Sea. Herodotus brought into his accounts myriad details of the lives and culture of his narrators.

By the 1960s, historians re-introduced oral history as a methodology. Traditional historical inquiry is an isolated undertaking that often privileges the memories and legacies of élites. Although oral history collections include interviews with élites, many collections preserve the memories of ordinary people. History comes from stories, often told in grand narratives. Oral history adds the texture of experiences from sergeants and corporals, cooks and grave diggers.

One of this nation’s grand narratives is the rise of the oil refining industry in the United States, a story essential to the history of Houston’s development and a story most often told by executives, politicians, and news reporters. But who were the people who built the refineries, dug pipelines through the swamps, and staffed the offshore rigs?

Among the stories in the UH oral history collection (1,041 interviews) is Lloyd Anthony “Pete” Rogers’ narrative of his 35 years with Shell Oil, starting in 1935. Pete worked in the saw mills around Patterson, Louisiana. When the mills closed and the local economy plummeted, Pete hired on with Shell. A wartime economy led to layoffs at Shell, so Pete joined the Army.  Trained as an airplane mechanic, Pete tells stories of bombing missions, food rations and living conditions during the war and his service in Africa, Italy and India. When Pete re-entered civilian life in 1945, he joined Shell and laid pipelines in the Louisiana swamps, then worked an offshore rig until his retirement in 1976. Pete’s everyday stories of a regular guy illuminate the action of World War II and offer substance beyond news reports to the rise of the offshore oil industry along the Gulf Coast.

 

Images selected from the MMS (Mineral Management Service)
Oral History Project, Houston History Archives, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries

 

Deep sea welders working on pipelines from an offshore oil platform in Gulf of Mexico, undated.

Deep sea welders working on pipelines from an offshore oil platform in Gulf of Mexico, undated.

 

Pete Rogers and co-worker slogging through Louisiana wetlands to construct pipelines after the Second World War.

Pete Rogers and co-worker slogging through Louisiana wetlands to construct pipelines after the Second World War.

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HISTORICAL – Gulf Coast Energy Development in UH Oral Histories


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