The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Katy Barber Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Janice Dilg.

November 12, 2015


Katrine E. Barber was born in 1969 in southern California. When she was two weeks old, her family moved to Portland, and this is where Katy grew up. Barber spent the majority of her high school years at Jefferson High, auditioning into the school's performing arts program, though she also attended classes at Portland's Metropolitan Learning Center.

During her junior year at Jefferson, Barber took an American Studies class that inspired her to pursue the discipline at the university level. She initially enrolled at Reed College, but after one term made the decision to transfer to Oregon State University. She began her studies at OSU in January 1989, and majored in American Studies from the outset. In fulfilling the requirements of the major, Barber took numerous classes in U.S. history and literature, as well as coursework in religious studies. To obtain her bachelor of science degree, Barber was also required to focus on a non-western geographic area, and wound up taking several courses in African history and African literature.

Barber completed her OSU American Studies degree in 1992. She originally planned to obtain her teaching certificate and begin teaching immediately after, but a few influential professors encouraged her to go on to graduate school in pursuit of a master's degree. Barber ultimately chose to attend Washington State University, believing that a master's degree would make her more competitive in the job market. She wound up continuing at WSU and completing a doctorate in American Studies in May 1999. During this time, she also joined the Center for Columbia River History (CCRH) as a fellow.

In 2001, Barber joined the History faculty at Portland State University. In this capacity, she continued her work with CCRH, developing projects for students and community members on the history of the Columbia River. She also began researching World War II conscientious objectors, interviewing a group of individuals who opted out of military service and chose instead to enter the United States Forest Service's Civilian Public Service Camp 56.

In 2005, Barber published Death of Celilo Falls, a book that emerged from her doctoral dissertation and that explores the impact of The Dalles Dam on the communities of Celilo Village and The Dalles. In 2007, the CCRH - which Barber now directed - hosted a public conference on the building of The Dalles Dam with funding from an NEH grant that Barber had received. In 2009, Barber created the PSU Oral History Project and in 2011 she published Nature’s Northwest: The North Pacific Slope in the Twentieth Century, co-authored with her OSU mentor, William Robbins.

Barber is currently an associate professor of history at Portland State University, and her fields of expertise are public history, the Pacific Northwest, and the Columbia River. In addition to directing the Center for Columbia River History, she also serves on the editorial board for the Oregon State University Press.