OHR Welcomes New Editor-in-Chief

As 2024 began, Abby, Dave, and Janneken wrapped up their six years serving as editors of the Oral History Review, and Holly Werner -Thomas stepped in to lead the new editorial team. We asked Holly a few questions about what she plans for the next several years. This is a first in a series of posts featuring members of the new team.

What new directions do you anticipate going in during your tenure?

I first want to thank the outgoing editors – Abigail Perkiss, Dave Caruso and Janneken Smucker – for all of their work and creative vision in making the Oral History Review into what it is. We are going to be building on their work, and also the work of the editors who preceded them, Kathy Nasstrom, Troy Reeves, and Kim Porter.

Most readers won’t know this, but at one time, the Review mostly published project-based work. While it was good work, it didn’t necessarily offer new insights into the field, but rather reported on project-based research. The difference can be subtle, and the journal continues to receive many submissions that are project-based only. However, while using oral history to make an historical argument is an important component of oral history, as is oral history that documents events, especially when the written record is insufficient, the journal’s mission is to offer new insight into oral history practice, theory, and methodology.

A project (whether the authors’ own work, or analysis presented from an archival collection or elsewhere) is therefore the first necessary element of a submission, but published articles strive to push beyond projects toward insights that all readers will gain something from. An example might be the difference between if, for his renowned essay, The Death of Luigi Trastulli, Alessandro Portelli had set out to collect the experiences of those who were connected to the police killing of a young steel worker in a town in Italy (perhaps there was a dearth of written records), versus analyzing the varied memories collected in those oral histories surrounding the killing of this young Italian worker, as well as what those reconstructed memories in turn said about Italian society, and, significantly, how oral history as a methodology was the only way to gain that insight. Anyway, we want to continue on that path, but do have Special Issues and other ideas planned.

What Special Issues or sections do you have planned?

We have several ideas, and I’m sure there will be more. The first Special Issue that we have planned is the one already announced on Oral History and Disability, which is slated for Spring 2025, with a submission deadline of March 31, 2024. We wanted to begin there for several reasons, not least because Disability Studies is an enterprising field, but also to emphasize the technological practices inherent in oral history that focuses on disability. I think it’s going to be a really dynamic issue.

We have a lot of ideas for other special issues, although with only two issues a year published, some of these may become special sections. These include but are not limited to: Oral History and the Arts, Oral History and Incarceration, Oral History and Climate Change, and Indigenous Oral History. Moreover, people in the oral history community will bring their own ideas and endeavors to us. One important one that comes to mind is the Oral History Association’s (OHA) upcoming virtual symposium on Oral History and AI. Who knows what that will result in in terms of publication, but I can certainly imagine a special section.

Speaking of technology, you’ve referred to it a couple times here. Anything that you want to add?

Yes, I want to emphasize our renewed focus on multimedia. We cannot know yet how this will tie into OHA’s new website, but I am hoping to make the interaction between the OHA website and to what is now the OHR’s blog, more explicit. The outgoing editors created this current site, with its own domain, www.oralhistoryreview.org, at the beginning of their term in 2018. At that time, submitting blog posts to OHR’s publisher took months of approval. Having a separate website was also a way for them to showcase multimedia connected to journal articles and communicate on a regular basis with the oral history community.

So again, I would like to make the interaction between the OHA website and the supplemental blog/website more explicit, perhaps with a visual or link on OHA’s landing page. The blog already uses graphics, audio, and author interviews. We hope to both continue building on what they’ve created, but more than that it is too early to say. Stay tuned.

The good news is, our current publisher, Routledge/Taylor & Francis, has recently developed the capability to showcase audio and even video in our digital issues. What’s more, the print and digital issues no longer need to mirror each other, as they did in the past. This means that we can refer to, say, an audio clip so that print readers can go online to hear it, but that online readers will be able to hear it directly within the digital text.

In terms of technology and publishing platforms more generally, clearly both are changing, and quickly, and some members want to see an Open Access journal. While not strictly Open Access, I want to emphasize that the Oral History Review is a hybrid, Open Select journal. Open Select journals represent most of Taylor & Francis’s journals, including those published on behalf of learned societies like OHA. According to T&F, this provides authors with the choice to publish their research on a traditional paywall basis or make their research Open via an Article Processing Charge (APC) if they have the funding to do so, or if their institution is in a read and publish (also known as transformative) agreement with T&F. Currently—and for the foreseeable future—the Oral History Review as an independent, peer-reviewed academic journal and its parent organization, OHA, rely on funding from subscription and membership revenue plus Open Access revenue received from APCs and transformative agreements. In turn, the OHA membership relies upon the Oral History Review for its content as the flagship journal of the oral history field. Still, I am sure that there will be many evolving discussions around publishing, platforms, and financial models as academic publishing and technology continue to evolve.

What about your team and your backgrounds? Is there anything you would like to mention beyond the OHA newsletter announcement that includes your bios?

Just that I feel really lucky to have the people we do in place. We are quite a varied group. I myself used to work in publishing before I became a historian and oral historian. I am based out of Los Angeles but have lived all over. Our copyeditor, Robert, is a librarian at the central library in Washington, D.C. Molly, our managing editor, is an academic historian based out of Montana. But I want to take a moment here to emphasize our wonderful new Review editors, the work they are seeking, and the fact that the journal needs reviewers.

Our new Book Review editor, Sharon Raynor, who we are really lucky to have working in this capacity (she is a professor of English and Digital Media, and works from North Carolina), will be on top of assigning newly published books pertinent to oral history for review, and will manage two new review sections, Classics Revisited and Featured Reviews. These will highlight specific work in the field. (I want to note that it was outgoing editor, David Caruso, who thought of both.) I’ve even asked Sharon to write a Classics Revisited review for 2024 on Bloods, Black Veterans of the Vietnam War: An Oral History by Terry Wallace, on the occasion of its fortieth anniversary, and given Sharon’s own work in oral history and with Black American war veterans, she is the ideal person to write it. Other Classics Revisited features might include Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s by Kathleen M. Blee, which turns 35 years old in 2026. Featured Reviews might include the works of Luisa Passerini, E. Patrick Johnson, or Svetlana Alexievich. I’m sure there are many others to consider. For all book reviews, please contact Sharon for more information and to contribute (and please, follow through with those contributions!) at: ohrbookrevieweditor@gmail.com.

We are also lucky to have Bud Kliment as our Media Review Editor. Bud works with the Pulitzer Prize Board at Columbia University and used to manage a record store. He is looking for significant applications of oral history in settings other than in books. For example, in music or theater pieces, museums or art exhibits, online archives, podcasts or other interactive presentations. Works to be considered ideally should be broadly available, with a lifespan that allows OHR readers to experience them, in person or online. The Media Review section will also be a wonderful place to showcase multimedia, so please always consider audio, video and visual elements when contributing. Bud can be reached at: OHRMedia@outlook.com.

Do you have anything else to add that we haven’t covered?

I’m excited, we’re excited, to be working together and within the larger community. We are happy to be working with the new OHA Executive Office at Baylor University—they’ve all been so helpful there—and look forward to getting to know the people on OHA’s Council and learning from the committees. There is also some turnover on the Editorial Board and a new Editorial Board mandate coming soon, so also stay tuned for those exciting developments.

And finally, I’d just say, and it sounds painfully obvious, but if you plan on submitting an article, please read the journal. We have noticed that because submitting authors represent many different disciplines, they tend to speak through those using both jargon and references that are opaque to people outside of those disciplines. There is an assumption of knowledge about certain things (for example, an eminent sociologist you’re referring to by last name only), while at the same time a lack of engagement with current topics and conversations in the field. So, my advice is: Consider the audience. Our readers understand the value of oral history. At the very least, they will not need to be convinced of its value or told that its use as historical evidence was once contested by academics. On the other hand, readers of the Review will be a lot less likely to know the major figures or important literature in your own fields or subfields, or wherever you are working, so do please provide that context. Also, avoid jargon, and when you do use it, use it sparingly. Ensure that it is substantively adding to your own thesis but note that we prefer plain English in most cases.

That’s it for now but stay tuned. Send us your best work – and thank you.

Featured Image: New OHR Editor, Holly Werner-Thomas, discusses gun violence with narrator, and friend, Kenny Barnes, Sr., whose son was killed in a robbery in his store in Washington, D.C. in 2006. Listen to their interviews here.