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Call for Papers

When Women’s Words: The Feminist Practice of Oral History (1991) was published nearly twenty-five years ago, it sought to push past the celebratory tone that had then defined much of women’s oral history. In their respective contributions, a diverse and multidisciplinary group of feminist scholars honestly discussed and rigorously debated how the dynamics and complexities of power affect the process, content, and outcomes of interviews and the nature of the scholarship produced. To this end, the volume reflected on the ways in which feminism had influenced the larger field of oral history to that point, even pre-figuring paradigmatic shifts and debates that later generated their own extensive historiographies.

Since Women’s Words first appeared, important works in oral history—such as Women’s Oral History: The Frontiers Reader; Recording Oral History; Oral History Theory, Bodies of Evidence: The Practice of Queer Oral History, and Oral History Off the Record—have continued to invoke feminism in order to ponder critical questions related to the challenges of doing oral history. How do unequal relations, in all of their iterations, affect how we collaborate with our subjects to either produce empowering histories or render us complicit in the disempowerment of others? How do we build relationships with the narrators whose histories of marginalization we hope to write or is egalitarian scholarship an unattainable goal? Is feminist oral history necessarily a form of political and social engagement involving advocacy and activism, or can we practise it as detached scholars?

Despite many conversations prompted by such questions, oral historians have yet to assess feminism’s impact on the field of oral history. What is the relationship between feminist theory and practice and how have they informed one another? In what ways, if any, have we moved beyond women’s words? What will feminist oral history look like in the twenty-first century? Although now widely associated with the production of more inclusive and diverse histories, and a collaborative humanist ethos, oral history remains gendered in ways that continue to marginalize oral historians. Why are most practitioners women? Why do we still defend the legitimacy of our sources? And, what does it mean to decolonize or decenter our practice, to listen well to different intellectual traditions and focus on histories and historians on the edge?

The remarkable interdisciplinary scholarship and deeply political practices that have developed around the world since the publication of Women’s Words were on full display at the 2014 Berkshire Conference on the History of Women in Toronto, Canada. Numerous panels reignited old debates and initiated new discussions that spoke to the importance of developing an engaged methodological practice that reconsiders feminist oral history for our current time. We need scholarship that not only highlights the stories, voices, and memories of the women, men and, increasingly, transgender people with whom we work, but also probes and challenges the intersections of power and inequality that determine our every exchange. If Women’s Words helped to initiate this dialogue and subsequent works have sustained it, then the exciting work currently being done through various feminist approaches and collaborations must be brought together to assess the field and consider how we might continue to move it forward.

This international, multigenerational, and multidisciplinary volume will reflect upon and rethink the intersections of feminism and oral histories in the ways we record, analyze, and mobilize stories. How has feminism, broadly defined, informed and been shaped by oral history theory over time and through practice? In what ways have varied feminist approaches to the craft proven to be inclusive or alienating to those within or outside the academy? What does it mean to embrace feminism in oral history? How is self-reflexive scholarship gendered and how does it call into question researchers’ authority? What relevance does feminist oral history have for engaged, activist, decolonized practices? How has it worked to embrace, challenge, or exclude various forms of storytelling, listening, recording, and archiving? We are particularly interested in papers that are grounded in practice and engage with feminist approaches to the following themes:

Decentering and Decolonizing

-Indigenous feminism and oral history

-Indigeneity, oral tradition, and storytelling

-LGBTQ oral histories, memory, and memory making

-Testimonios and Latin American histories

-African, Asian, and Middle Eastern oral histories

-Intersectionality and identity: (dis)ability, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, class, and race

Activism and Community Engagement

-Collaborative research with communities

-Engaged scholarship and/or activist work

-Interview spaces that involve third persons, such as translators

-Negotiation of insider/outsider status

Oral/Aural History, Soundscapes/Memoryscapes, and Archiving

-New media and digital oral history

-Performance and narrativity

-Talking with/back, listening to, and creating living archives

When Women’s Words: The Feminist Practice of Oral History (1991) was published nearly twenty-five years ago, it sought to push past the celebratory tone that had then defined much of women’s oral history. In their respective contributions, a diverse and multidisciplinary group of feminist scholars honestly discussed and rigorously debated how the dynamics and complexities of power affect the process, content, and outcomes of interviews and the nature of the scholarship produced. To this end, the volume reflected on the ways in which feminism had influenced the larger field of oral history to that point, even pre-figuring paradigmatic shifts and debates that later generated their own extensive historiographies.

Since Women’s Words first appeared, important works in oral history—such as Women’s Oral History: The Frontiers Reader; Recording Oral History; Oral History Theory, Bodies of Evidence: The Practice of Queer Oral History, and Oral History Off the Record—have continued to invoke feminism in order to ponder critical questions related to the challenges of doing oral history. How do unequal relations, in all of their iterations, affect how we collaborate with our subjects to either produce empowering histories or render us complicit in the disempowerment of others? How do we build relationships with the narrators whose histories of marginalization we hope to write or is egalitarian scholarship an unattainable goal? Is feminist oral history necessarily a form of political and social engagement involving advocacy and activism, or can we practise it as detached scholars?

Despite many conversations prompted by such questions, oral historians have yet to assess feminism’s impact on the field of oral history. What is the relationship between feminist theory and practice and how have they informed one another? In what ways, if any, have we moved beyond women’s words? What will feminist oral history look like in the twenty-first century? Although now widely associated with the production of more inclusive and diverse histories, and a collaborative humanist ethos, oral history remains gendered in ways that continue to marginalize oral historians. Why are most practitioners women? Why do we still defend the legitimacy of our sources? And, what does it mean to decolonize or decenter our practice, to listen well to different intellectual traditions and focus on histories and historians on the edge?

The remarkable interdisciplinary scholarship and deeply political practices that have developed around the world since the publication of Women’s Words were on full display at the 2014 Berkshire Conference on the History of Women in Toronto, Canada. Numerous panels reignited old debates and initiated new discussions that spoke to the importance of developing an engaged methodological practice that reconsiders feminist oral history for our current time. We need scholarship that not only highlights the stories, voices, and memories of the women, men and, increasingly, transgender people with whom we work, but also probes and challenges the intersections of power and inequality that determine our every exchange. If Women’s Words helped to initiate this dialogue and subsequent works have sustained it, then the exciting work currently being done through various feminist approaches and collaborations must be brought together to assess the field and consider how we might continue to move it forward.

This international, multigenerational, and multidisciplinary volume will reflect upon and rethink the intersections of feminism and oral histories in the ways we record, analyze, and mobilize stories. How has feminism, broadly defined, informed and been shaped by oral history theory over time and through practice? In what ways have varied feminist approaches to the craft proven to be inclusive or alienating to those within or outside the academy? What does it mean to embrace feminism in oral history? How is self-reflexive scholarship gendered and how does it call into question researchers’ authority? What relevance does feminist oral history have for engaged, activist, decolonized practices? How has it worked to embrace, challenge, or exclude various forms of storytelling, listening, recording, and archiving? We are particularly interested in papers that are grounded in practice and engage with feminist approaches to the following themes:

Decentering and Decolonizing

-Indigenous feminism and oral history

-Indigeneity, oral tradition, and storytelling

-LGBTQ oral histories, memory, and memory making

-Testimonios and Latin American histories

-African, Asian, and Middle Eastern oral histories

-Intersectionality and identity: (dis)ability, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, class, and race

Activism and Community Engagement

-Collaborative research with communities

-Engaged scholarship and/or activist work

-Interview spaces that involve third persons, such as translators

-Negotiation of insider/outsider status

Oral/Aural History, Soundscapes/Memoryscapes, and Archiving

-New media and digital oral history

-Performance and narrativity

-Talking with/back, listening to, and creating living archives

We invite 250-word abstracts from academics as well as artists, activists, community organizers, curators, and other oral history practitioners. Individuals at any career stage are welcome to apply. We also ask authors to consider integrating photographs, digital stories, artwork, annotated transcripts, field notes or other research materials into their papers. This collection is under consideration by Oxford University Press, for publication in its Oral History Series.

Please send an abstract, along with a current CV and a 100-word biography describing your areas of research/practice, to Katrina Srigley (katrinas@nipissingu.ca) and Stacey Zembrzycki (stacey.zembrzycki@gmail.com) by March 6, 2015. Contributors will be notified of the status of their chapter by April 17, 2015 and completed chapters (first draft, 6000 words) will be due November 6, 2015.

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