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Oral History, Radical Honesty and #metoo in our Challenging Times: Reflections on this Year’s Annual Meeting

Anna Sheftel reflects on the Oral History Association’s Annual Meeting that was held October 11-14th in Montreal, Canada

By Anna Sheftel

In my recently published article for the Oral History Review, “Talking and Not Talking about Violence: Challenges in Interviewing Survivors of Atrocity as Whole People”, for the special section, Inside the Interview: The Challenges of a Humanistic Oral History Approach in the Deep Exchange of Oral History, I talk about how we are all more than our stories. In particular, I argue that when interviewing survivors of mass violence and genocide, it can be difficult to see the whole person behind the narrative of violence, because of how we frame our projects, as well as how we construct meanings about people’s lives.

Having just come down from the intensity of this year’s Oral History Association’s Annual Meeting in Montreal, I am struck that this is true for oral historians as well. We are also more than our stories. I was tremendously moved by what I saw as a real, radical honesty coming from so many scholars and practitioners this year. It made for a transformative few days. In my co-edited volume with Stacey Zembrzycki, Oral History Off the Record, we called for a more honest discussion about what it means to do oral history; we argued that reflecting deeply on our processes would help us understand our resulting work better. This year was the most honest Annual Meeting I have yet to experience; people spoke openly not only about our interviews, but also about everything around them, including the profession itself.

My awe began during the plenary on “Centering Indigenous Storywork: Listening to and Learning from Stories of the Past,” when Autumn Varley described going head to head with her university’s Ethics board as they told her she needed to get permission from her community’s Elders in order to be allowed to interview her own grandmother. She countered that she had her own family and community’s ethics to ground her; the university’s regulations were not at the centre of her practice. I was buoyed by this gutsiness and honesty. Throughout the weekend, I kept finding myself at panels in which Indigenous women spoke openly, personally, compellingly and unapologetically about what it really means to listen to another person, and what it looks like to do so when working to decolonize these lands.

I stumbled into a panel entitled “The Challenges of Dealing with Precariousness, from the Precariat” led by Andy Clark, only one of four UK presenters who made it to Montreal, which in and of itself demonstrated the relevance of the topic. Andy deftly made connections between oral history as being in the business of precarity (as he called it, “oral history as a precarious resource”), the precarity of academic labour and the recent strike in the UK, and then the specifically precarious position of oral historians. Often hired to work on projects with finite mandates and funding, most oral historians struggle to find permanent work. How does this affect our projects, and of course, our lives? We see ourselves as working in a progressive field and yet the labour of doing oral history often puts people in very precarious positions. Andy and his colleagues (through him) powerfully shared the personal impacts of their uncertain professional trajectories. They presented their work and their lives as symbiotic and intertwined.

Leyla Neyzi delivered a powerful keynote talk in which she seamlessly made connections between her personal circumstances, the changing political landscape of Turkey, her work as an oral historian, and the struggles of her narrators. Leyla also demonstrated how our lives as oral historians are not divorced from the circumstances we live in, how our narrators challenge us, and how the politics of our projects connect to the larger political context that is constantly changing.

Finally, in a panel that I chaired as part of the new edited volume, Beyond Women’s Words: Feminisms and the Practices of Oral History in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Katrina Srigley, Stacey Zembrzycki and Franca Iacovetta, I listened to women talk about what it means to do oral history, especially when engaging with new technologies, with more thoughtfulness and reflection than one usually encounters in discussions of the digital. Sady Sullivan aptly pointed out, during her presentation, that she has found that she is taken less seriously when she talks about nurturing relationships in her work. And then she talked about just that.

This honesty, and this understanding of oral history as part of our whole selves, came out not just in papers, though, but in spaces; for example, at the launch for Beyond Women’s Words, where we were treated to the warmest hospitality, with children running around (my own included) with hands full of delicious Syrian food and where we collectively shed tears over the Tasht Collective’s moving performance of Come Wash With Us. It was in conversations I had with beloved colleagues and new friends, about the hard years we have been having, and how we are working through it, how we are mobilizing and resisting it, how we are surviving in these “challenging times”.

As I looked through the #OHA2018 Twitter hashtag, I fell in love with this tweet, which was my favorite from the conference:

This openness, this exuberance, this connection that happens in the best moments in our work—I am happy to see us naming it, inhabiting it and celebrating it.

I was also moved by the robust conversation, in and around the conference, about #metoo and the OHA’s approach to it. I have been impressed by the organization’s dedication to meaningfully responding to this political moment, and especially by Todd Moye’s unequivocal letter in this regard. I have been reflecting that #metoo is in many ways a natural fit for oral history; it is all about bringing to light stories that had previously been hidden, or whispered, or silenced. And it is about believing people when they share those stories. This filtered into many of my conversations, usually with other women. We talked about how women and non-binary people, in particular, have been crucial to making our work more honest and making space for our lives within our work. We also talked about our own #metoo stories; some about sexual harassment and violence, but also some more generally about what it means to be a woman or non-binary person in this field.

It made me reflect on the often painful stories that we oral historians carry with us: the stories of our narrators, and also our own. Even in a field that is all about talking, there are secrets…

It made me reflect on the often painful stories that we oral historians carry with us: the stories of our narrators, and also our own. Even in a field that is all about talking, there are secrets; the sleazy senior scholar, the exploitative project manager, the supervisor who can’t seem to keep female grad students. I carry my own stories about how I have been hurt in this field, and I doubt I know a woman or non-binary person who does not have one. We carry them with us because it is so difficult to speak, because we don’t want these experiences to define us and because we know that there is no honesty without consequences. We share them with safe people, we warn each other, we exercise our small forms of solidarity, so they are never entirely secret, but we rarely make them fully public. In this way we protect ourselves but also the people who have harmed us. I love going to the OHA because it is an energizing and inspiring place for me; and yet this side of it means it is always somewhat fraught, never uncomplicated.

This negotiation, about when the risk of speaking is worth it, is one that every single person we interview engages in, whether the project is inherently political or not. It is one of the reasons, as I argue in my article, that we never get the “whole story.” I hope that our own #metoo moment will encourage us to recognize this and be humble in awe of what people give to us despite the risk. I also hope it will encourage us to continue to speak openly about the strengths and the limits of what we do, the political contexts in which we work, and the people who help us and hurt us. And I hope that we will believe each other.

The honesty that I heard at the OHA this year felt like a radical act. I am so thankful for it. It was a balm during these challenging times. I will carry it with me until we meet again next year.

American Indian Poster Session

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@sohporalhistory Come find our incredible interns presenting their work on #americanindian activism at @uncchapelhill at #oha2018 poster session. @uncsouth


Anna Sheftel is an associate professor of Conflict Studies at Saint Paul University, in Ottawa, Canada. She has done oral history work with Bosnians and Canadian Holocaust survivors, and written extensively on ethics and methodology, most notably in Oral History Off the Record: Toward an Ethnography of Practice, coedited with Stacey Zembrzycki, which won the Oral History Association’s 2014 Book Award. She completed her PhD in modern history at the University of Oxford.

Featured image was taken by the author: Tasht Collective’s performance of Come Wash With Us: Seeking Home in Story at the OHA Annual Meeting on October 12, 2018.

5 Questions About: I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival

 

We’re kicking off a recurring blog series spotlighting books recently reviewed in the pages of the Oral History Review. We’ve asked authors of those books to answer 5 questions about why we should read them. In our inaugural post, here’s Rick Massimo, discussing I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival.

Read the review by Rebecca Brenner in OHR

What’s it about and why does it matter?

This is the first-ever book devoted to the history of the Newport Folk Festival, which began in 1959 and (with two interruptions) continues today. It’s been a launching pad for stars such as Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Arlo Guthrie; it’s as popular today as it’s ever been, and it has maintained that popularity by changing with, and reflecting, the musical and cultural times that surround it – sometimes to the consternation of its oldest fans.

How does oral history contribute to your book?

As a journalist, I work with interviews to construct a narrative all the time. Probably the most obvious contribution of oral history comes in the chapter about Bob Dylan going electric in 1965. I structure this chapter by stringing together quotes from people who were at the show as it happened, from observers and critics in its aftermath, and people looking back on the event today.

What do you like about using oral history as a methodology?

I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival. By Rick Massimo. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2017. 244 pp.

In the case of the Bob Dylan chapter, oral history served to convey the kaleidoscopic nature of the event and of its effects. While the tapes are out there for anyone to hear for themselves, the impact of Dylan’s 1965 performance was different for virtually everyone who saw it, and after a certain point there is no single interpretation of what the performance meant. That made a collection of quotes – roughly chronologically organized, sometimes contradictory, sometimes showing one speaker contradicting himself – the form that makes the point I wanted to make.

Why will fellow oral historians be interested in your book?

Oral historians of music will be interested in the many interviews included in the book, from modern-day rock stars such as Jeff Tweedy, Colin Meloy, and Jim James, to longtime observers such as Dar Williams and Tom Rush, as well as original organizers such as George Wein, Bob Jones and Pete Seeger – all talking about the history of Newport and their place in it, as well as Newport’s place in the musical and cultural life of the U.S. over the past 60 years.

What is the one thing you most want people to remember about the book?

I conclude the introduction by describing the Newport Folk Festival as an annual posing of the questions “What is folk music?” and “What can it do?” And I describe the musical progression at Newport over the past six decades – and the disagreements over legacy that can ensue – as “one conversation stretched out over a lifetime.” With any luck, the reader comes to the end of the book convinced of the implication there – that for all the musical differences between the people who have performed there, they ultimately have more in common than not.

Inside the Interview

Hot off the presses, the new OHR features a special section, Inside the Interview: The Challenges of a Humanistic Oral History Approach in the Deep Exchange of Oral History, co-edited by Andrea Hajek and Sofia Serenelli. Here, Hajek shares its origins and themes.

By Andrea Hajek

The idea behind this special section originated during a series of oral history seminars and workshops, which I co-organized on behalf of the Warwick Oral History Network, between 2011 and 2013. The network’s first conference (‘Gender, Subjectivity and Oral History’), in particular, evoked many questions about the kind of relationships that make interviews possible, and the interviewer’s ambiguous position within the interview process. Keynote speaker Penny Summerfield, as well as other speakers and attendees, discussed a whole range of variables, such as age, ethnicity, religion and gender, and the particular dynamics these can bring to the interview, both facilitating and impeding the quest to find out more about a person’s life.

In this same period, Stacey Zembrzycki and Anna Sheftel published the volume Oral History off the Record: Toward an Ethnography of Practice (2013). The essays gathered here all focus on those aspects of oral history research that tend to remain unexplored in oral history scholarship, such as the relationships that unfold between interviewer and interviewee. Zembrzycki and Sheftel thus explain that the aim of the volume was ‘to explore how a more holistic approach to the interview might help us better understand the work we do and the people with whom we engage’.

Scholars in the field of oral history have continued in this direction, engaging more and more in discussions about the practical challenges of oral history research, and addressing issues such as intersubjectivity and ethics. Edited together with a member of the Warwick Oral History Network, Sofia Serenelli, the special section ‘Inside the Interview. The Challenges of a Humanistic Oral History Approach in the Deep Exchange of Oral History’ aims to contribute to this development, by investigating the complexity of the relationship between individual and collective memory, and the ambiguity of the interviewer’s own position as either insider or outsider in terms of age, nationality, ethnicity, or gender. Most importantly, it seeks to redefine oral history as a humanistic and processual methodology: one centered on the humanity of two human beings with different cultural and social backgrounds, and which considers the interview as intrinsically affected by what happens before, during, and after the interview.

We seek to redefine oral history as a humanistic and processual methodology: one centered on the humanity of two human beings with different cultural and social backgrounds, and which considers the interview as intrinsically affected by what happens before, during, and after the interview.

In sum, this special section analyzes the impact of self-reflexivity and personal identification on the interviewer-interviewee relationship within a variety of geographical environments and sociocultural contexts, focusing on memories of sensitive and traumatic events. Following Alessandro Portelli’s opening essay on the international development of oral history practice and the specific status of the interview, Angela Davis examines generational difference in the interview encounter, drawing on a wide body of oral history interviews that she conducted in Oxfordshire, and focused on the experience of sexuality and motherhood. Darshi Thoradeniya’s essay, which takes us to a totally different geographical context, focuses on her position as both insider and outsider in the interview process, which enabled her to both gain trust yet also posed important challenges. Anna Sheftel’s analysis of memories of atrocities among survivors of the Holocaust and the Bosnian war in Bosnia-Herzegovina raises ethical and methodological issues, in particular with regard to the limits of framing lives within the context of violence. Cahal McLaughlin, finally, analyzes the psychological and relational effects of video-recording, in his discussion of two documentary projects about the Troubles in Northern Ireland and apartheid in South Africa.

By disclosing interview experiences that reflect on the ways we listen to stories and shape them into narratives, we may come to a more profound understanding of oral history practice.


Andrea Hajek is a former British Academy postdoctoral fellow and a freelance academic editor. She is managing editor of the journal Memory Studies, and an associate editor of Modern Italy. She is also a founding member of the Oral History Network (University of Warwick), and an affiliate member of the Centre for Gender History (University of Glasgow). Her research interests include cultural and collective memory, gender and women’s history, Italian social movements, oral history, second-wave feminism, 1968 and the 1970s in Italy.

Featured image “Interview” is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)  by Flickr user Pierre Selim. We have cropped the image. 

Behind The Scenes At OHR : First Months as the Book Review Editor

In this first installment of a series going behind the scenes at OHR, in addition to overviewing her job, book review editor Nancy MacKay invites YOU, dear reader, to browse books available for review and join the OHR reviewer squad.

By Nancy MacKay

Like many OHA members, I have fond memories of browsing new titles at the OHR table at our annual conference, often selecting a book to review. I enjoyed reading the book and writing the review, but once I submitted the review I didn’t think much more about it. I didn’t think about the author of the book who might be eagerly awaiting a review, or about the readers who would be scrutinizing reviews for a class reading list or a dissertation.  And if I thought about the editor at all, it was as a friendly person greeting me at the OHR table.

It is an understatement to say that I was naïve when I began my position as book review editor nine months ago. I envisioned a scenario where I would fill my home with all the new books on oral history, distribute them to eager reviewers at the conference, and meet a lot of interesting people along the way. I soon learned that about 95% of the work of a book review editor is done behind the scenes.  Here is a short list of the tasks that make up my days.

  • keep up to date with current publications related to oral history;
  • develop relationships with publishers and their idiosyncratic ways of handling review copies;
  • request books from publishers and prod them if the books don’t show up;
  • maintain a database of reviewers and their subject interests;
  • match books to reviewers, send them a copy, and assign a deadline;
  • politely nudge reviewers who get behind with deadlines;
  • read, edit, and approve each book review;
  • prepare 20-40 reviews for each semi-annual issue by a production deadline;
  • send published reviews to the reviewer and to the publisher upon request; and
  • keep smiling along the way.

I’d like to tell you about what I’ve learned from the first nine months as OHR book review editor, and about some of my goals for the future. First, I want to acknowledge the work of my predecessors, David Caruso, John Wolford, and Valerie Yow, and their contributions to building a strong foundation for managing reviews. When Valerie Yow held the position in the early 2000s, the task was not automated and Valerie had the brilliant idea to bring books to the conference. This distribution method has continued to be a mainstay for matching books to reviewers. Though he had the role well into the 21st century, John Wolford’s tenure bridged the gap between the old and new ways. He kept  records with spreadsheets, yet occasionally received typewritten reviews sent through the US mail, which he personally had to type into a word processor.

My immediate predecessor, David Caruso, took the record keeping system to a new high by creating a relational database linking publisher, book, reviewer, and review in a system that gives a pretty good idea of what is happening with every book and every review at any point in time. The files I inherited consist of 150 publishers, 340 reviewers and 500 books, interconnected so they track steps by action date, featuring typeface that turns red if the action date is not met. All of the innovations of my predecessors have built a framework for a strong reviewing ecosystem.  These are some goals I’d like to contribute to that ecosystem:

  1. Diversify the ways to identify new publications of interest to oral historians.
  2. Review books closer to the date they are published.
  3. Give reviewers a chance to browse books and select one according to their interests.
  4. Make it easier to become a reviewer and to suggest a work for review.
  5. Work with Media Review editor to increase the number of non-print/media reviews.

We have launched a new space on this website dedicated to writing reviews for OHR, featuring links and resources for getting involved. From here, you can join our Reviewer Community by setting up a profile with your mailing address, subject interests, and availability. We invite reviewers for both book and non-print/media works and you can specify your preference. Having accurate and up-to-date information will help us keep abreast of your interests and availability.

Our list of books for review includes the titles in our offices currently available for review. If you are interested in reviewing a book, browse through the titles and fill out the form to select a title to review. Even if you aren’t interested in reviewing a book right now, browse the list to keep up with current publications in oral history.

We also welcome you to Suggest a Book or Media Work for Review, that relates to OHR‘s mission. You may suggest your own work. Though the majority of our books come from academic publishers, we welcome suggestions from any source. We do ask that works to be available in English and easily available for purchase in the United States. Non-print/media reviews include documentaries, performances, symposia, digital or physical exhibitions, websites, podcasts, radio programs, DVD components linked to books, and apps.

Please try out these new features and consider joining our community of reviewers. The quality of OHR reviews depends on the participation and expertise of our readers. Stay tuned for future posts in this series going behind the scenes of journal editing. Next month, I’ll discuss the book in book reviews.


Nancy MacKay is the book review editor and a reviewer for the Oral History Review; author of Curating Oral Histories (2nd ed., 2016), reviewed 45:1, April 2018); and the co-author with Barb Sommer and Mary Kay Quinlan, of the Community Oral History Toolkit (2013), reviewed 42:2, September 2015). Current research interests include community oral history, metadata for oral history, and scholarly publishing. Nancy would like to read every book she sends out for review. 

You can contact Nancy by emailing ohrbookreviews@gmail.com

Featured photo by Flickr user Wonderlane shared courtesy of a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Decentering and Decolonizing Feminist Oral Histories: Reflections on the State of the Field in the Early Twenty-First Century

OHR Guest Editors Katrina Srigley and Stacey Zembrzycki reflect on the origins of their new book, Beyond Women’s Words, and a special section of the OHR they co-edited, both of which are rooted in feminist oral history practices. The post also previews upcoming sessions at the Oral History Association’s annual meeting related to this work.

By Katrina Srigley and Stacey Zembrzycki

*This is the first of a two-part post that will offer reflections on the Winter/Spring 2018 Oral History Review special section on feminist oral history.

When we began to think seriously about issuing a call for papers for a collection on feminist oral history in 2014, we had no idea how big the project would become or how incredible the response would be from feminist oral historians around the globe. In May 2014, we helped to co-organize a roundtable discussion about the now twenty-six-year-old classic feminist oral history text, Women’s Words: The Feminist Practice of Oral History, for the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, held for the first time outside the United States in Toronto, Canada, under the direction of Franca Iacovetta. Despite an early morning timeslot, more than one hundred people squeezed into a classroom better suited for thirty to both reflect on the book’s early insights and center the histories of women and other marginalized people in discussions of the past. The session also raised difficult questions about feminist oral history that we felt required further consideration, hence our decision to pursue these important conversations in print.

Like the Big Berks roundtable, the recent publication of a special section of the Oral History Review (Winter/Spring 2018) and a 25 chapter volume entitled Beyond Women’s Words: Feminisms and the Practices of Oral History in the Twenty-First Century (Routledge, 2018) are rooted in Women’s Words and our own feminist oral history practices. When we developed the oral history projects that led to our first books—Breadwinning Daughters (University of Toronto Press, 2010) and According to Baba (University of British Columbia Press, 2014)—we did so from within the discipline of history, where questions about objectivity and the validity of memories as historical sources still had significant traction. Discovering feminist oral history through a book like Women’s Words was intellectually liberating: the authors offered a variety of meaningful starting points for redirecting our approach to oral history. Deeply engaged in the practices of oral history and attuned to the rewards and pitfalls of carrying them out, they tackled head on critical questions regarding self-reflexivity, authorial power, and the challenges inherent in presuming a collaborative process between ourselves and our narrators. Our research careers expanded our engagement with questions at the heart of feminisms and oral histories and brought us to that conference room on that spring day.

Our subsequent call for papers asked contributors to consider a number of pressing concerns, including: how do unequal relations, in all of their iterations, affect the ways we collaborate with our subjects? Does building relationships with marginalized narrators enable us to write egalitarian scholarship? Is feminist oral history a form of political and social engagement that necessitates advocacy and activism or detachment? We wanted to consider whether and how feminists and others have moved beyond women’s words and what, exactly, feminist oral history looked like in the twenty-first century. Having received more than sixty proposals to our CFP, we knew that an edited collection of essays as well as a dedicated section in an issue of the leading journal in the field offered a perfect way of sharing the dynamic work being done by a wide range of feminist oral historians—be they artists, community activists, or scholars—from around the world.

In addition to publishing Beyond Women’s Words with Franca Iacovetta, in May 2018, we produced a special section of the Oral History Review (Winter/Spring 2018) dedicated to feminist oral history. The articles by Katrina Srigley and Lorraine Sutherland, Ioana Radu, Margaretta Jolly, Li Huibo and translator Ding Zhangang, and Jennifer Brier seek to decolonize and decenter the field of feminist oral history. To decolonize is to engage in oral history practices and produce scholarship that challenges ongoing and historic forms of colonialism. Decentering supports decolonization by forcing us to reflect critically on the centers and edges of our field in the spirit of anti-colonial thinkers like Lila Abu-Lughod, Chandra Mohanty, and Linda Tuhiwai Smith, who have long researched, written about, and talked back to global imperialism in all its forms.

In challenging the field’s centers and edges, the contributors in this special section do not only accept the messy and intellectually rigorous reality of this demanding and complex scholarship. They also highlight the varied ways that it is responsive to the key epistemological, ontological, and methodological challenges involved. Moreover, they demonstrate the different ways in which this work is built on and sustained through diverse and complex relationships. This published cluster addresses the long-established storytelling and story listening theories and practices of Ininiw and Anishinaabeg people, and how equitable research partnerships on Eeyou Istchee, the ancestral territory of the Cree Nation in eastern James Bay, provide critical insights into health and healing. From oral historians in China, the UK, and the US, we learn about efforts to decenter patriarchal national narratives in China, and about collaborations that make space for women—predominantly those of color—living with HIV/AIDS by centering and decolonizing their voices, experiences, and stories. This is not easy work, as we will discuss in an extended recorded interview with contributors that will be published in the second part of this blog. Accepting, working, and thriving with this sort of dynamism is challenging at the best of times but is ultimately central to change and growth in the field.

If you are coming to the annual meeting of the Oral History Association, in Montreal, Canada, between October 10 and 14, and are interested in this conversation, please consider coming to one of these sessions. A number of them will be showcased in the conference’s public stream and so they are free to attend!

Friday October 12

8:30 – 10:00 AM Beyond Women’s Words: Decentering and Decolonizing Feminist Oral Histories

FREE PUBLIC SESSION, J.W. McConnell Building: LB de Sève Cinema (off LB Atrium)

Participants:

  • Decolonizing, Indigenizing, and Learning Biskaaybiiyang in the Field: Our Oral History Journey, Katrina Srigley, Nipissing University, and Lorraine Sutherland, Mushkegowuk Council Blurred Boundaries,
  • Feminisms, and Indigenisms: Co- Creating an Indigenous Oral History for Decolonization, Ioana Radu, Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique
  • Hearing Her: Comparing Women’s Oral History in the UK and China, Li Huibo, China Women’s University
  • I’m Still Surviving: Oral Histories of Women Living with HIV/AIDS in Chicago, Jennifer Brier, University of Illinois
    Notes from the Editor’s Chair, Kathryn Nasstrom, University of San Francisco
    Chair: Kathryn Nasstrom, University of San Francisco

Friday October 12

10:30 AM – 12:00 PM, Beyond Women’s Words: Feminisms and Oral Histories, Then and Now

FREE PUBLIC SESSION, J.W. McConnell Building: LB de Sève Cinema (off LB Atrium)

Participants:

  • “Don’t Mention the F-Word”: Reconciling Fragmented Narratives with the Feminist Research Frame, Lynn Abrams, University of Glasgow
  • Are You Only Interviewing Women for This?”: Indigenous Feminism and Oral History, Lianne Leddy, Wilfrid Laurier University
  • Living, Archiving, and Reflecting on Feminism and Activism in India: An Oral History with Uma Chakravarti, Uma Chakravarti, University of Delhi, and Ponni Arasu, University of Toronto

Chair: Linda Shopes, Oral and Public History Consultant and Freelance Editor

Friday October 12

2:15 – 3:45 PM Beyond Women’s Words: Feminist Oral Histories of Memory, Trauma, and Breaking Silences

FREE PUBLIC SESSION, J.W. McConnell Building: LB de Sève Cinema (off LB Atrium)

Participants:

  • Speaking Private Memory to Public Power: Oral History and Breaking the Silence on Sexual and Gender- Based Violence during the Khmer Rouge Genocide, Theresa de Langis, American University of Phnom Penh
  • “This thing we are doing here”: Listening and Writing within Montreal’s Haitian Community, Stéphane Martelly, Concordia University

Chair: Franca Iacovetta, University of Toronto

Saturday October 13

9:00 – 10:30 AM Beyond Women’s Words: Feminist Oral History in the Digital Age

John Molson Building: MB9F

Participants:

  • The Medium is Political and the Message is Personal: Feminist Oral Histories Online, Mary A. Larson, Oklahoma State University
  • Feminist Oral History Practice in an Era of Digital Self-Representation, Margo Shea, Salem State University
  • “Shut the Tape Off and I’ll Tell You a Story”: Women’s Knowledges in Urban Indigenous Community Representations, Heather Howard, Michigan State University
  • Public Homeplaces: Collaboration and Care in Oral History Project Design, Sady Sullivan, Independent Oral Historian

Chair: Anna Sheftel, Saint Paul University

Saturday October 13

11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Engaging/Critiquing LGBTQ+ Oral Histories

FREE PUBLIC SESSION J.W. McConnell Building: LB de Sève Cinema (off LB Atrium)

Participants:

  • The Oral Biography: Social Movements and Change through a Single Life Story, Ian F. Bradley-Perrin, Columbia University
  • Making History, Claiming Identity: Oral History and the Politics of Community, David S. Churchill, University of Manitoba
  • Locating Lesbians, Finding ‘Gay Women,’ Writing Queer Histories: Reflections on Oral Histories, Identity, and Community Memory, Valerie Korinek, University of Saskatchewan

Chair: Valerie Korinek, University of Saskatchewan

In addition to these sessions, we are also hosting a launch for Beyond Women’s Words and the special section on feminist oral history published in Oral History Review. Please join us on Friday October 12th from 5:00–8:00 PM at the Atwater Library (1200 Atwater Avenue, Westmount, QC, Canada, H3Z 1X4, Atwater Metro Station). The reception will be followed by a performance of Come Wash with Us: Seeking Home in Story by the Tasht Collective. Books will be available for purchase from Librairie Paragraphe Bookstore. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Oral History Association’s program committee, as well as funding from Concordia University, the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling, Nipissing University, and the University of Toronto, without which this event would not be possible. Please RSVP here.


Katrina Srigley is an associate professor of history at Nipissing University in Ontario, Canada. Her research interests are in Anishinaabe histories and ways of knowing, with a focus on women’s and gender history, and oral history. Dr. Srigley works in partnership with Nipissing First Nation to examine the history of Nbisiing Anishinaabeg through Anishinaabe ways of knowing, recording, and sharing the past.

Stacey Zembrzycki teaches History at Dawson College in Montreal, Quebec. An award-winning oral and public historian of ethnic, immigrant, and refugee experience, she is the author of According to Baba: A Collaborative Oral History of Sudbury’s Ukrainian Community (UBC Press, 2014) and its accompanying website: www.sudburyukrainians.ca, and is co-editor of Oral History Off the Record: Toward an Ethnography of Practice (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) and Beyond Women’s Words: Feminisms and the Practices of Oral History in the Twenty-First Century (Routledge, 2018).

The authors gratefully acknowledge Odjig’s family for giving them permission to use Daphne Odjig’s Aunt Grace and the Elders as the book cover design.

Collecting, Archiving, and Preserving Oral Histories from the Muslim American Community

Founder of the Muslim American Leadership Alliance, Zainab Zeb Khan, reflects on the importance of oral history in preserving, exploring and understanding the many identities within the Muslim American community.

By Zainab Zeb Khan

The Muslim American Leadership Alliance (MALA) has its genesis in storytelling. And as MALA has grown since its inception in 2015 to include leadership development and arts engagement, the organization remains deeply anchored in its oral history collection. As a grassroots non-profit dedicated to fostering cultural pride, we hope to serve as a research center and repository for stories that have cultural, artistic, aesthetic, and historical significance.

The oral histories that MALA collects are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress through a community partnership with StoryCorps, and are a key component of the LOC collection on the Muslim American experience. Titled “Muslim American Journeys: In, Out, and Through,” the groundbreaking joint venture is building a unique collection focused on our complex identities, challenges, and triumphs. MALA’s stories span the United States, and include immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, veterans, as well as families who have settled in the United States as early as the 1800s. The Muslim American community holds the widest range of diversity in the United States, spanning different ethnicities, nationalities, and socio-economic demographics. These recorded and documented histories ultimately help avoid sweeping generalizations that stereotype people, engender prejudice, and overlook important variables in any historical context.

Excerpts of Muslim American oral history interviews

Many of our storytellers have also experienced life in closed societies, where basic human rights – such as freedom of speech and women’s rights – were severely compromised. War, conflict, trauma, and other forms of turmoil undermine and weaken cultural identity. These storytellers have shared how our national values of freedom, democracy, and opportunity allowed them to draw new blueprints for their lives. MALA provides a platform where their voices and identities can be re-centered, allowing for the preservation of the richly diverse and vibrant communities that are now fused into the American experience.

And oral history is not simply the property of the past: it can be a powerful catalyst for change.

And oral history is not simply the property of the past: it can be a powerful catalyst for change. The documentation of lived experiences can significantly contribute to society by celebrating, challenging, and re-defining our national identity. In a country as diverse and complex as the United States, the histories of Muslim Americans remain layered and contested. By sharing a broad range of diverse narratives and experiences, MALA’s grassroots efforts aim to help Muslim Americans be proud of their identities while strengthening social cohesion in America. In the process of preserving these unique histories, we can explore new, emerging expressions of identity in the present and future. The project fosters inter-group awareness, respect, and multicultural understanding.

MALA’s oral history project also opens the richness and diversity of the Muslim American experience to the American public at large. It celebrates the significant influence and contributions of Muslim Americans in the US; through these stories, we hope to stimulate inter-cultural dialogue that promotes tolerance, understanding, and a sense of shared community. Through personal narratives, MALA challenges stereotypes and the “essentialized” views of what Muslim identity truly means. It is vital to empower communities at risk, raise awareness about conflict, and preserve pride through the collection of such stories for generations to come.

MALA’s long-term vision for its oral history project includes the desire to preserve a collection of stories that will ultimately facilitate research, strengthen teaching, and provide opportunities for life-long learning in the humanities. By providing a place for Muslim Americans to share their stories with their communities and the general public, MALA hopes to enhance popular discourse, positively impact perceptions, and inspire a refreshing perspective in the area of values, traditions, and beliefs. MALA is proud to provide a platform where we can learn what we don’t know, and help others gain insight into our shared American heritage.

MALA is excited to be presenting at the Oral History Association conference for the first time, where we will discuss the complex challenges of surfacing voices from an extremely diverse community with multifaceted identities, and the role that oral history can play in the power of belonging.


Zainab Zeb Khan is Chair and Cofounder of the Muslim American Leadership Alliance. Born in the US to Asian immigrants, she became an activist after eye-opening experiences counseling survivors of domestic violence and organizing exhibitions for artists facing repression. A former Senior Clinician holding a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology, Zainab also co-curated the International Museum of Women’s exhibition “Muslimah: Muslim Women’s Arts and Voices” and served as a United Nations Association delegate to the 59th Commission on the Status of Women. Most recently, she contributed a chapter to the book Can Art Aid in Resolving Conflicts (Amsterdam: FRAME Publishers, 2018).

Oral histories can be accessed on MALA’s SoundCloud channel and website.

Social Media links:

Twitter: @MALAnational

Facebook: MALAnational

Instagram: @MALAnational

Featured image courtesy of the author 

OHR Conversations: Carrie Hamilton on Animal Studies and Oral History

In this installment of Oral History Review’s OHR Conversations, independent scholar Carrie Hamilton discusses ways in which the sub-fields of oral history and Animal Studies can inform one another, drawing from her article published in the Summer/Fall 2018 issue, “Animal Stories and Oral History: Witnessing and Mourning across the Species Divide.”

 

Listen to audio only.


Carrie Hamilton is an an independent scholar and writer living and working in London (UK). Her research interests include oral history, animal studies, veganism and feminist theory. She is a member of the editorial collective of the journal Feminist Review. Her book Veganism, Sex and Politics will be published by HammerOn Press in 2019. 

Featured image by Flickr user Martin Fisch, licensed with a Creative Commons 2.0 license (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Oral History’s Role in Preserving Palestinian History

In this week’s post, Rosemarie Esber discusses how oral history has served a vital role in preserving Palestinian voices during the post-1948 period. Here she recounts some of her experiences interviewing Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

By Rosemarie M. Esber

From cutting funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)—which provides 5 million Palestinian refugees with healthcare and education—closing the Palestinian embassy in Washington, DC, and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the Trump administration’s goal is to impose a solution to the Palestinian–Israeli conflict.

Despite these efforts to silence Palestinian voices, others are amplifying them through oral history projects, including Palestine Remembered, the Palestinian Oral History Archive, and the Nakba Archive. These projects aim to record, preserve, and share the diverse culture, traditions, and history of the Palestinian people, and particularly their first-hand experiences of the Nakba (meaning “catastrophe” in Arabic), a defining period of Palestinian history.

How did the Palestinians become refugees? In 1947, the Jews of Palestine owned 6 percent of the land and were 30% the population. The Palestinian Arabs and other ethnic groups owned the majority of the land and lived in hundreds of towns and villages. In November 1947, the UN General Assembly recommended partitioning British-governed Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, sparking the 1948 Palestine war, even as Britain rushed to withdraw its military forces and abandoned the country to chaos.

The 1948 Palestine War

I organized my first Palestinian oral history project in 2001 at the University of London during my doctoral studies. I quickly realized that I would not find many Palestinian civilian accounts of the 1948 Palestine war in the British National Archives. In 1944, the Palestinian Arab population was 66% agrarian with a literacy rate of about 15%. Palestinian documentary records were scarce or had been seized or destroyed in successive wars. Oral history became indispensable to record the Palestinian narrative of the war.

I traveled to Jordan with a list of several hundred Palestinian villages and towns. My goal was to interview Palestinian refugees displaced during the last six months of the Palestine mandate, from November 1947 to May 15, 1948, while the British still controlled the country.

Conducting oral history in Jordan posed numerous challenges. I required permission from the Ministry of Palestinian Affairs to conduct research in the camps. Tensions were high in the camps since the Al-Aqsa Intifada was raging in occupied Palestine territories. A Palestinian research assistant from Wihdat camp was invaluable. She reduced the suspicion that I was an intelligence agent bent on harm.

Because of the mass dispersal of the Palestinians during the war, finding individuals from specific locales who could recall the events required me to travel to the official UNRWA refugee camps across Jordan and into many neighborhoods. While most Palestinians readily agreed to my request for an interview, a few were fearful of Israeli reprisals against themselves or their families living in occupied Palestine.

Syrian refugee children in the Wavel camp

I was humbled by the Palestinians who shared their traumatic experiences with me, a graduate student. It was not unusual for families to follow me from one interview to the next to listen quietly to Nakba accounts. My most memorable interview was with an elderly man in Hittin camp. My entourage of interested neighbors appeared unannounced at Abu Mahmoud’s door. He invited all of us into his home, and like many times before, Abu Mahmoud changed into traditional Palestinian clothing—a suit with the kufiyah for the men, and hand-embroidered thobes for the women. The elder Palestinians were testifying to injustice, and I was bearing witness.

The elder Palestinians were testifying to injustice, and I was bearing witness.

Abu Mahmoud started to recount the attack on his village, and then he began to weep. I quickly turned off the camera, and told him we need not continue. He insisted. The interview continued, stopping and starting for several hours, due to tearful breakdowns. It was the first time Abu Mahmoud had shared his story of survival and loss.

From the 225 known villages, towns, and cities that fell to Israeli forces during the first six months of the 1948 war, I interviewed about 135 Palestinians from 75 of the locales. Israeli forces drove over 800,000 Palestinians from their homes and lands during the 13 months of war.

The Palestinian refugees I interviewed reported consistently that the Israelis employed terror, massacres, rapes, and destroyed entire villages to force them from their homeland. Those are the same violent tactics that the Myanmar army has recently used to rapidly expel a similar number of Rohingya civilians from their homeland, which the chief UN human rights official described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon

The majority of Palestinians in Lebanon are indigenous to or are the descendants of those from the Galilee area of northern Palestine, now Israel. They sought refuge in Lebanon in 1948, and have lived in exile ever since.

Nahr El Bared refugee camp Kindergarten class

In September 2017, I traveled to Beirut with two survivors to commemorate the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre. Kassem Aini, the Palestinian director of Beit Atfal Assumoud (BAS), organizes the annual international commemoration, which includes visits to many of the 12 refugee camps in Lebanon to meet and talk with refugees.

During the Sabra and Shatila massacre, Lebanese Christian militias murdered an estimated 3,500 civilians, mostly elderly Palestinian men, women, and children, and Lebanese. The occupying Israeli army aided and abetted the massacre, which was also a direct result of the United States’ failure to honor its pledge to protect the camps’ civilians. Professor Bayan Nuwayhed al-Hout, a Jerusalemite, preserved the oral histories of the survivors.

Sabra and Shatila camp residents live off dark, narrow winding alleys crisscrossed with electric wires. The dense camp population swelled with the influx of Syrian refugees. One in four people in Lebanon is a refugee. The smell of sewage permeates the camps, an odor intensified by the heat and humidity. The camps, and much of Lebanon, has intermittent electricity and lacks potable water. The homes are dark and unsanitary, with scant sunlight and ventilation.

In Bourj Al Barajneh camp, we visited the home of Soleiman, who fled Kabri in north Palestine during the 1948 war. He was 8 years old when Israeli forces attacked his village, killed his father, and massacred other villagers. His testimony aligns with my oral histories recorded in 2001. In Shatila camp, Jamila, a young female survivor, told us how her father was murdered during the massacre. Imagine living on the site where members of your family were murdered.

Resilience and Hope

The Palestinians welcomed us with homemade meals and fresh fruits. At Nahr El Bared camp in the north, we watched youth practice the dabke dance. In Rashidieh camp in the south, young Palestinians performed folksongs and dances. Deprived of basic human rights, those young refugees transcended their surroundings through the beauty of their culture.

The Palestinians repeatedly told us, “We want peace, and we want to go home.” As Amnesty International states, “The right to return to one’s own country is based in international law and is the most obvious way to redress the situation of those who are in exile.”

I asked Aziza at the Wavel Camp in Baalbek how I could support the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. She told me, “Tell our story.” And, she added, “Tell Mr. Trump that we are human too.”

In an effort to amplify the Palestinians’ stories in their own voices, my colleagues and I will be presenting our oral history research and films about the Nakba at 70 during four sessions at the OHA Conference in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


Rosemarie M. Esber is an international development professional and gender specialist. She is the author of Under the Cover of War: the Zionist Expulsion of the Palestinians. Dr. Esber taught oral history methodology as a Fulbright Scholar in Saudi Arabia. She will present her current research at the OHA conference in Montreal on Panel 149: Decolonizing Official Narratives of the Palestinian Nakba at 70.

Media courtesy of the author

Chinese Women’s Oral Histories

Li HuiBo, a librarian at the China Women & Gender Library at Chinese Women’s University, and contributor to the recent OHR article, “Hearing Her: Comparing Feminist Oral History in the UK and China,” explores the challenges of collecting and processing women’s oral histories at the Research Center for Chinese Women’s Oral History.

By Li Huibo

When I did my doctorate at Capital Normal University, I interviewed more than one hundred people over age 70 about their marriages and family as part of my PhD thesis, “Studies in the transmutation of Marriage Culture in Beijing (1949-1966).” In light of these interview experiences, I came to the China Women & Gender Library (CWGL) at Chinese Women’s University to work in 2012. In addition to everyday affairs of the library, my main work related to the women’s oral history project includes recruiting and training interviewers, interview data collection, editing interview data, publishing interview data, and doing related research.

CWGL constitutes a site for reading and research that encompasses a wide range of academic resources for women’s/gender studies, including paper documents, e-documents, as well as multimedia audio-visual materials. The vision is to advocate and spread advanced gender culture and build a women’s and gender library with strong influence both at home and abroad. The mission is to search, collect, and archive resources for women’s/gender studies, and initiate instructional and academic activities, so as to provide support and service for teaching, research, and social practice.

Women’s oral history materials constitute the highlight of CWGL’s resources. We know that women’s histories have been insufficiently recorded and that oral history is part of a wider commitment to understand both past experience and struggles. By providing the opportunity for women to describe their own life stories, we hope to know about their living conditions in the process of participation in social life, and discover the important contributions of Chinese women to society in different life stages. Perhaps we can even affect the country’s public policy-making by showing women’s stories and related research.

So far we have trained 300 interviewers. Most of them are Masters and PhD students and teachers, who come from universities and research institutions around the country. We have completed over 400 transcripts of interviews (about 10 million Chinese characters), including women’s individual life stories, women activists’ stories, and “Female educated youth” stories focused on stories, focusing on the late 1960s and early 1970s campaign during which urban, educated youth went “up to the mountains and down to the countryside.” Educated urban youth were a major component of the movement, in which the learned from rural citizens and devoted energy and enthusiasm to construction projects in remote areas.

Author LiHuibo at the China Women & Gender Library

Life story interviewees included women older than 70 years, some of whom participated in the revolutionary war, some who were leaders of National Federation of Women’s Institutes and others who were educators, legal practitioners, health care workers, railroad engineers, or geological exploration workers. Interviewees also included female youth in support of the Xinjiang Construction Corps, as well as members of neighborhood cadres, family workers, housewives, and others. The collected interviews include original recordings with transcriptions, with the interviewees also supplying old photos and family trees.

The year 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the UN Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing. We have masterminded the project of “Hearing and Narrating: Dialogue and Inherit the ’95 Spirit.” The concept was that younger interviewers would dialogue with women activists who experienced the landmark Conference, and that this dialogue would promote a younger generation’s commitment to gender equality.

In 2012 the CWGL helped establish the Research Center for Chinese Women’s Oral History. Focusing on in-depth analysis of and research into women’s oral history materials, the Center organized a number of activities, including the Seminar on Women’s Oral History and Seminar on Qualitative Research. Continuous practice allowed us to gradually establish a set of canonical management procedures, enabling the collected resources to be processed in a professional and sustainable way. The joint research project, “Hearing Her: Oral Histories of Women’s Liberation in China and the United Kingdom,” conducted by CWGL and the University of Sussex, and funded by The British Academy, will also strengthen our work in this field. Partnering with Professor Margaretta Jolly, we compared the CWGL project with Sisterhood and After: The Women’s Liberation Oral History Project, a large-scale oral history of UK feminists partnered with The British Library. Our OHR article “Hearing Her” explores in depth what happened as we compared our two projects to further understand each other’s ideas of gender and of oral history’s political purpose, particularly as institutionalized through state-funded universities and libraries.

We at the CWGL have made abundant achievements, but still face some challenges. First, due to academic pressure or work, many of the interviewers can’t complete their interviews within the stipulated time. Second, many interviewers have experienced the phenomenon of drain, leaving them unable to continue collecting data for us. Thirdly, some interviewees don’t want to sign consent forms, making it unethical to use the interview as part of our research.

In order to improve the collection and increase use of women’s oral history data, we need to continue to work hard. Firstly, we should inspire the interviewers’ interest in various ways to make them feel like part of the project. Secondly, we should make efforts to communicate with interviewees and their families, in order to gain their trust. Thirdly, we should be prepared for cataloguing, and meet the needs of our existing and hoped for users and researchers. We are a unique resource – and we welcome all who wish to discover our riches!


Li Huibo is a librarian at the China Women’s University Library, where her research focuses on oral history, library and information. Projects have included Chinese Contemporary Women’s Oral History Research, Beijing + 20: History/Herstory, Special Olympics Oral History, Marriage History Studies in the 20th century. She is the co-editor of the series of “Listening and Discovering: The China Women’s Oral History.” With Margaretta Jolly, Li Huibo contributed to “Hearing Her: Comparing Feminist Oral History in the UK and China,” in the Winter/Spring 2018 issue of the Oral History Review.

Images courtesy of the author

Teachers Need Oral History and Oral History Needs Teachers

This week doctoral student Jennifer Standish turns our attention to building a mutually beneficial relationship between teachers and oral history archives, drawing on the experiences of the Carolina Oral History Teaching Fellowship.

By Jennifer Standish

K-12 teachers need oral history, and oral history needs K-12 teachers. This is the basic premise of the Carolina Oral History Teaching Fellowship (COHTF), which debuted last summer as a collaboration between the Southern Oral History Program (SOHP) and Carolina Public Humanities’ Carolina K-12 program.

Unlike many professional development opportunities for K-12 teachers, COHTF recognizes that the fellows, who had been selected from a large pool of highly qualified applicants from across North Carolina, brought their own knowledge and expertise to the table. In both 2017 and 2018, these teachers came to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill for a deep dive into oral history and the Civil Rights Movement. They learned from Movement scholars, toured the rich SOHP archives of over 6,000 interviews, and developed techniques and tools for incorporating oral history into their classrooms. When the four-day workshops were over, the teachers chose oral history clips from the SOHP archive to incorporate into lesson plans or teaching activities that will be made publicly available.

“I felt like we were contributing and that made the entire experience valuable.”

The idea behind this assignment is that K-12 teachers—not just university professors and oral historians—are experts as well. These teachers don’t only participate in the COHTF to learn from historians, but also to workshop with other experts in K-12 teaching to develop concrete ways to bring oral history into the classroom. While oral historians are primarily trained to use oral histories as a research tool, K-12 teachers are trained to engage students in critical thinking and learning. In our post-fellowship survey, Watauga County middle-school teacher and 2017 Fellow Allison Hodge articulated this principle especially clearly:

“I thought it was a great model of learning from professionals in history and then using resources we have as professional educators. A lot of times professional development for teachers is more of a here-is-what-you-should-do experience, but this was very different! I felt like we were contributing and that made the entire experience valuable.”

Equipped with the skills needed to access and use oral history interviews, teachers can apply their own expertise in teaching to choose interview segments that will enhance their students’ understanding of history. Instead of waiting for the historical and educational value of oral history to trickle down from academia, students—guided by their teachers—can jump right into these sources. At the end of each oral history fellowship, teachers were confident that their students would benefit from listening to oral histories. Jen Painter, Durham Public Schools teacher and 2017 Fellow, explained:

“My students are typically very interested in and inspired by stories of ‘ordinary’ people overcoming oppression. These lessons do that in a way that is engaging, inter-disciplinary, and that works across language domains, including the often-neglected area of listening…This will be huge for my student to understand historical people were just humans and my students who speak English as a second language will experience conversational learning.”

In addition to oral history’s transformative potential for K-12 teaching and learning, bringing teachers directly into the archives may also have implications for the field of oral history as well. If we really want to take seriously K-12 teachers as experts in using oral history interviews, there are some things we may want to consider.

We accept that oral history is not simply a received document, but one collectively created between interviewer and interviewee. So, if we know that K-12 teachers may use interviews to engage their students, should we adjust the way we conduct interviews? Thinking more broadly, do we need to reconsider which interviews we prioritize? In other words, should oral history programs now consider K-12 classrooms when deciding into which projects to invest resources? Instead of trying to answer these questions, I can highlight what our teaching fellows found most salient about oral histories for their K-12 students.

“I hope that the actual voices they will hear from the oral history project will help them understand that these were real people who participated in the movement.”

Almost unanimously, teachers discussed how students would benefit from hearing the “actual voices” of those who participated in the Civil Rights Movement. “I hope,” explained 2018 Teaching Fellow and Brunswick County School teacher Lisa Chinn, “that the actual voices they will hear from the oral history project will help them understand that these were real people who participated in the movement.” Particularly powerful for their students to hear, many teachers believed, would be oral histories about or by people their own age. While the SOHP and other archives offer thousands of fascinating interviews with adults, K-12 teachers are eager for youth voices. Perhaps oral historians should reconsider how strictly we limit ourselves to interviews with older adults or dedicate more time and thought to interviewees’ younger experiences.

Teachers also noted oral history’s power to simply demonstrate to students the wide range of people who exist in the world and shape history. In their lessons, for example, teachers emphasized the voices of a teenager who desegregated a library in Oxford, Mississippi, a queer black woman who contributed to the legal case that won Brown v. Board of Education, African-Americans living in Appalachia, and Lumbee Indians who also struggle against racial discrimination in North Carolina. Many oral history projects are designed to highlight the voices of groups otherwise marginalized by prevailing historical narratives. Yet, are there groups or people whose value as interview subjects become more apparent in the framework of K-12 teaching?

In creating their lessons for students, COHTF fellows used the SOHP archives to explain why equal access to democratic processes is so important, to discuss why certain people and groups are written out of the popular narrative of history, and to affirm the role and existence of overlooked people in creating social change. Their expertise in K-12 teaching allowed them to use oral history to inspire and engage students while guiding us at the SOHP on reaching audiences beyond the academy. Again, K-12 teachers need oral history, and oral history needs K-12 teachers.


Jennifer Standish is a doctoral student at UNC Chapel Hill, with a research focus on civil rights and Southern labor history. She has worked at the Southern Oral History Program on the Carolina Oral History Teaching Fellowship during the last two summers, and will begin as a field scholar at the SOHP in the fall.

Featured image courtesy of the Carolina Oral History Teaching Fellowship 2017

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