We’ve asked authors of books reviewed in the pages of Oral History Review to answer 5 questions about why we should read them. In our latest installment of the series, Mary Adkins discusses Making Modern Florida: How the Spirit of Reform Shaped a New State Constitution.
Read Thomas Saylor’s review of Making Modern Florida: How the Spirit of Reform Shaped a New State Constitution.
What’s it about and why does it matter?
Florida’s 1968 Constitution was the product of dramatic change in Florida. In the 1960s, the space program was centered in Florida; Disney was building its Florida theme park; but Florida’s government was stuck with a structure born of the post-Reconstruction South. The Constitution called for segregated schools, had no unified court system, and enshrined nineteenth-century population patterns in its legislative apportionment, preventing new growth centers in South Florida from adequate representation and therefore sufficient services. How a group of reformers turned the government around and drafted a new Constitution is an entertaining and absorbing story.
How does oral history contribute to your book?
My first “mother lode” of information was a batch of oral histories I found in University of Florida’s Samuel Proctor Oral History Program’s digital collection. The interviews were recorded on the occasion of the twenty-year anniversary of the Constitution Revision Commission that drafted the new constitution. From these oral histories I branched out to find other documentary evidence and conduct oral histories of my own.
What do you like about using oral history as a methodology?
Oral histories almost invariably provide a personal touch or a small detail that has been left out of the official history. These anecdotes add life to the narrative of a story. I was concerned that a history of a constitution could be expected to be dry. I knew that it was much more interesting than it sounded. The personal stories the oral histories provided gave me many opportunities to add a human touch or a personal perspective.
Why will fellow oral historians be interested in your book?
My book not only has earlier oral histories and those I conducted, but also has excerpts from less formal conversations and excerpts from the transcripts of the Constitution Revision Commission meetings. Oral historians can compare and contrast the uses of all of these forms of oral contributions to history.
What is the one thing that you most want readers to remember about the book?
That constitutions are the products of people living in their times but trying to think long-term. They are interesting. They are vital. They are worth your time.