The Claremont Graduate University Oral History Program was inaugurated in January of 1962 to collect research material by conducting interviews with persons whose life experiences merited preservation. Allan Nevins, founder of the Columbia University Oral History Research Office, served as consultant to the program.

The Oral History Program is part of the History Department of Claremont Graduate University and is housed within it. Professor of History John Niven, a doctoral student of Allan Nevins, had initial responsibility for the program and served as Faculty Coordinator. Professor JoAnna Poblete currently serves in that position. The interview manuscripts developed by the program are deposited in the Special Collections Room of the Honnold Library, the joint library serving The Claremont Colleges. The Oral History Program Office holds the tapes and records developed for each interviewee.

Because of the relevancy of oral history techniques to an area in which persons were still alive who were intimately associated with the initial development of its economic, political, and cultural institutions, in its early years the program concentrated on the history of Southern California. Also, early interviews were developed by faculty members in pursuit of their research interests. Since that time the recording of interviews dealing with the history of each of The Claremont Colleges, and the group plan, has remained a major focus.

The first major project undertaken was the China Missionaries Oral History Project, funded in 1968 by the Henry Luce Foundation, Incorporated. The goal of this project was to produce material dealing with the interaction of Western values and traditional Chinese values. At the time of the interviewing China was closed to all Christian workers and it could not be foreseen when that situation would change. The New York Times micro-published this collection.

The program has developed many interviews dealing with politics and government. A great number of these were under the auspices of the California State Archives Government Oral History Project, which was established by the California legislature in 1985.