What were Tampa’s top Twitter debates at #OHA2015?

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By Jessica Taylor

Some of you open a can of soup and tweet about it, others of us would never know about your tweet since we don’t use Twitter. Others at this year’s Oral History Association annual meeting put their phones away for a second to do what they do best: listen. Although the conversation continued in between sessions and into the evenings in quips of 140 characters, we worried that it was buried underneath the huge volume of tweets and retweets. Whether polite or Luddite, many oral historians missed debates to which they contribute offline with thought and authority. Here’s your chance to catch up and weigh in on the top five Tampa Twitter debates.

What are the implications of oral history in “real-time?” Are people with smart phones the new oral historians? 

This question has enormous implications for oral historians, radicals, activists, journalists, and public historians. In her Friday presentation on documenting Ferguson and new social movements, Nailah Summers asserted, “History isn’t just being written by historians. It’s everyone with a smartphone now.” The discussion began right then and there: do historians have a special place in this movement? Or do they and their privilege need to take a step back? Do activists reliant on technologies disempower those without it?

What do we do to make our work more accessible and organized?

Twitter master Doug Boyd, librarians from small communities and big universities, and many others led us through sessions about OHMS, metadata, old tapes, and new platforms. Every new solution produces a thousand more questions. Are we all— with varying resources, manpower, and skills—on the same page? If you check Twitter, you’ll find a bucketful of thoughts, retweets, and very few answers.

Is the recent IRB recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services a sign of good things to come?

Most of you seem to think so, but there are some doubts out there about maintaining accountability. Read more in Donald Ritchie’s wonderful post.

Speaking of accountability, how do we address the race, class, and gender divisions inside our own field?

Image courtesy of author.

This is an awkward dilemma oftentimes answered behind the scenes by academe. Oral history’s position as “the voice of the people” is fragile and dependent in part on mutual accountability and self-policing. Did you notice that the sessions you attended exposed you to new conversations, or rehashed old ones? Is the phenomenon of an all-female audience in a panel on women’s stories a healthy breakdown of scholars into subfields, or are we constructing a wall between scholars on the same side? With so many speakers who emphasize intersectionality and boundary-crossing alliances, we should know by now that these are issues that concern us all. What do you think?

Where’s the line between oral history and public history, and what’s their relationship to one another?

Phew, this is a big one. With goals of public accessibility at the center of many cutting edge projects, the line between public history and oral history seems fuzzy. How are their respective missions different from one another with concern for disseminating knowledge at the core of both? The hierarchy between “academic” and “nonacademic” historians complicates feelings and conversations further. Both public and oral historians seem far from consensus on which is a subfield of which or where these overlap, but the presence of public historians in an OHA discussion is encouraging.

A warm thanks to those who tweeted from their panels, planes, dinner tables and hotel bathrooms – and to those who listened to your comrades’ concerns. Social media may not be the answer to our academic and societal problems, but Twitter helps us reach others near and far who share our battles.

Image Credit: “We don’t realize” by Ed Yourdon. CC BY NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr.