OHR Virtual Issue: from roots to the digital turn

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By Andrew Shaffer

We spend a lot of time in this space pointing to particular people or projects that we think are doing interesting things with oral history. In June we talked to Josh Burford, who is using oral history to start important conversations in North Carolina. In April, we heard from Shanna Farrell, who discussed Berkeley’s Oral History Summer Institute. Last September we talked to Doug Boyd about how he uses oral history in the classroom, and the incredible potential that OHMS (Oral History Metadata Synchronizer) has for making oral histories more accessible. We love highlighting the exciting things others are doing, but sometimes we can’t help but brag about our own work. We’ve done something really cool, and we are so excited to share it with you.

This week, in recognition of the OHA’s 50th anniversary, we are releasing our very-first-ever-super-exciting virtual issue of the OHR. This special edition draws from more than forty years of work in the Review, from as far back as our first issue in 1973 and as recent as 2013. The articles included all investigate – from different angles – the nature and value of oral history. Together they demonstrate some of the ebbs and flows at work within our discipline over the last four decades.

The earliest article in the virtual issue, “Black History, Oral History, and Genealogy” by Alex Haley (yes – that Alex Haley!) retraces his steps as he uncovered his family history, from fragmented oral histories, to international research, and which would eventually become the beloved book and multiple television seriesRoots. In the process, Haley makes a compelling case for the value of oral history, connecting it to his family’s oral memories. The article is especially timely with the reboot of Roots, and could be a useful teaching tool for oral historians hoping to demonstrate the power of oral history.

On the other end of the spectrum, the most recent article republished in the virtual issue “Shifting Questions: New Paradigms for Oral History in a Digital World” by Steve Cohen asks how the digital turn makes us reconsider fundamental questions about the form and presentation of oral history. Despite four decades separating these two articles, they both demonstrate the value of oral history – and the work it takes to do it well.

In addition to these authors, the issue includes work from Ron Grele, Michael Frisch, Charlie Morrissey, Gary Okihiro, Linda Shopes, Kathryn Anderson, Susan Armitage, Dana Jack, Judith Wittner, Alessandro Portelli, Valerie Yow, Daniel Kerr, Mark Feldstein, Jerrold Hirsch, Erin Jessee, and Siobhán McHugh.

Putting together this special issue required months of soliciting suggestions, digging through back issues, and continually narrowing down a long list of articles until we felt confident that the 15 selections we made were some of the best reflections of the nature and value of oral history. In the process we were continually reminded just how much incredible content we’ve published over the years. Over the next few months we’ll be unlocking some of these articles, in addition to those selected for the virtual issue, so make sure to keep an eye on our TwitterFacebook, and Google+ pages every #ThrowbackThursday for greatest hits from over 40 years of the Oral History Review.

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Note: the article “The Affective Power of Sound: Oral History on Radio” within the virtual issue contains audio files that work best in Internet Explorer. If the audio files appear as a link, you can access the files by right clicking on the audio links, saving them to your desktop, and playing them from there.

Featured image: Neon by nuzree, Public Domain via Pixabay.