“Writing” Oral History at the Organization of American Historians

The Philadelphia-based team of OHR editors welcomes the Organization of American Historians‘ Annual Conference to their home town this April, where they will lead a workshop Writing” Oral History. 

By Janneken Smucker 

Editor in Chief David Caruso, managing editor Abigail Perkiss, and digital editor Janneken Smucker each call Philadelphia home, so we are thrilled that the Organization of American Historians is coming to us this year, April 4-7. As locals, we are happy to tell you the best places to escape for a beer, coffee shops with free wifi and great brew, where to score the best falafel and tahini shakes, and about the cool neighborhoods to explore. We are also leading a mini-workshop, “Writing” Oral History, Friday, April 5, 8:00-9:30. Recently we shared a preview on the OAH Blog, and we are reposting it below. We hope you can join us in Philly!

The academic journal, particularly in the field of history, is not necessarily known for innovation. Many of the core principles on which scholarly publishing was founded—blind peer review, citation, rigorous editing—are inherently conservative, following longstanding forms and traditions. While scholars have begun to debate the merits of some of these conventions, in the field of history we have not yet fully felt the winds of change reshaping academic publishing: few history journals have turned to open access, online only, or open peer review, as the logistics and financial realities of the field make it challenging. But in what ways are we able to innovate the forms historical writing takes?

The subfield of oral history—an interdisciplinary approach of gathering, preserving and interpreting the voices and memories of people, communities, and participants in past events”—has been wrestling with the ways that our methods have the potential to change the way we disseminate our research. In the twenty-first century, these conversations have taken on increased urgency, as the ease of recording and disseminating digital audio with relatively low cost and accessible equipment has resulted in a proliferation of media that has the potential to profoundly augment the aurality of oral history. By integrating this aural experience into our scholarship, we offer readers more direct engagement with the primary texts of the field – the recordings themselves. The Oral History Review (OHR), the field’s flagship journal published by the Oral History Association, has a mission of sharing original research focused on the practice, methodologies, theories, and pedagogy of oral history, while reflecting its interdisciplinary nature. And as its editors, we have been thinking a lot about how modes of writing about/through/with oral history can also transform.

At OHR, we’ve been eager to adopt digital technologies to integrate digital audio and video into authors’ articles. But, as we’ve discovered again and again over the last decade, sometimes our digital ambitions have been ahead of the realities of academic publishing. Expanding the forms that “writing” oral history can take entails more than just inserting links to digital audio in the middle of a traditional journal article; it requires thinking about the sustainability of those links and files, long term storage capacities, and the ways in which readers will interact with the articles today and in the future.

In our OAH session, “Writing” Oral History, we, the editorial team of the Oral History Review, will explore how oral history provides historians with new ways of approaching topics, particularly how writing with oral history elucidates memory, voice, and emotion, particularly by integrating digital audio directly into articles. We will also showcase our digital presence at oralhistoryreview.org, where we aim to complement and supplement what we do in the print pages of our journal. Still a work in progress, we strive to use this space to deepen the conversations started by our articles, and to extend them to a wider community that may not have access to an expensive journal subscription.

Featured image courtesy of Brian W. Schaller under the License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 — or — FAL 1.3