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OHA workshop at OAH, April 2014

Oral History, Living History – Oral History Workshop Presented by The Southern Oral History Program at UNC-Chapel Hill

Southern Oral History Program Workshop presenters: Malinda Maynor Lowery, Director; Rachel F. Seidman, Associate Director; Seth Kotch, Digital Humanities Coordinator.
Thursday April 10, 9:00 am – 1:00 pm
Cost: $10.00
Limit: 40
Sponsored by: OAH Committee on Public History and the Oral History Association

This half-day workshop will introduce students, teachers, public historians, and community members to the art and methods of oral history. We will explore the practical and ethical issues involved in creating, designing, and executing effective oral history research projects, and explore the opportunities that oral history provides for experiential teaching and civic engagement.

Topics that the workshop will address include
• What is oral history and why do it?
• Defining an oral history project
• Preparing and conducting interviews
• Ethical and legal considerations
• Public presentation and analysis of completed research

Participants will have the chance to discuss their own research projects in small groups. Workshop leaders will also present case studies based on cutting-edge digital humanities work being done at the Southern Oral History Program in our research projects on Media and the Movement: Journalism, Civil Rights, and Black Power in the American South, and on the Long Women’s Movement in the American South.

To register for the conference, use the following link:
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Blog: Dismantling the Barriers that Exclude: Lessons in how students react to challenging stories

By Katie Kuszmar 

I teach at a high school in San Jose, and we recently had the opportunity to meet Father Greg Boyle, who started Homeboy Industries in East Los Angeles. Homeboy Industries is a very successful intervention and rehabilitation program for “homies” who want out of gangs. We read Boyle’s bestselling memoir, Tattoos on the Heart as a school, and he visited in October with Laura and Francisco, two married homies, who happened to be rival ex-gang members. Boyle contends that the reason why people join gangs is that they have suffered loss, and are running away from that loss.

As they walked up to the podium to face a dead-silent audience, Francisco and Laura personified this loss. Laura began her story by telling us that she witnessed a murder when she was nine years old, which triggered a progressively traumatic childhood. Francisco told us that he also witnessed a murder during his adolescence, which exacerbated an unbelievably abusive familial situation. Not until after he got out of jail as an adult, did Francisco hear the words, “I am proud of you.” Boyle was the first to tell him. As if in a narrative dance, Boyle then provided mystical reflections that helped to engage our sense of kinship in the midst of witnessing such struggle.

Boyle always brings a few homies to his public engagements because their stories are the center of his message, as he explains in Tattoos on the Heart: “If there is a fundamental challenge within these stories, it is simply to change our lurking suspicion that some lives matter less than other lives.” Boyle contends that after homies tell their stories, they inevitably realize that their lives matter, especially when the audience enthusiastically applauds for them. Despite the standing ovation that the students offered at the assembly, some students didn’t quite know what to do in the intimate presence of Laura and Francisco’s loss.

After the assembly, Father Boyle, Laura and Francisco came to a dinner that the school hosted for them and some of our student leaders, who were working locally on gang prevention mentoring programs. As we sat down to eat, I glanced over at the table where Laura and Francisco were sitting with a small group of students, and there was minimal conversation. The barriers of discomfort seemed to be growing between their dinner plates. Eventually, there was complete silence between them. I cringed. Laura and Francisco looked uncomfortable as the main characters in that day’s narrative focus. They eventually pulled out their phones to check in on their small children back at home.

As an oral history educator, I was perplexed by my students’ silence; however, this momentous post-narrative dynamic is not new to me. The stories that they told hours before the dinner put a human face on gang violence. Though the students at their table were not conducting a proper oral history interview, the challenge of Laura and Francisco’s stories somehow disengage the students, right at a moment when it seemed like it was the students turn to be vulnerable. To make matters more complicated, some other students not sitting at their dinner table ran up to them right before they left and asked, “Can we interview you for our oral history class on Skype?” Their desire to communicate on Skype was a very telling observation. In their oral history class, their teacher often conducts class interviews via Skype as a way to diversify their practice. In this case, I think the request to Skype evidences their interest to keep talking, but it also allowed them to avoid reacting to the reality of the stories that so challenged them.

The reason why I love oral history education is because students get the chance to practice plugging in to the human connection right before them. It encourages them to practice being present and obliges teachers to help them figure out how to react with compassion, engaging in the moment when the narrative is exposed. It would seem that when a narrator bears her soul, the listener/interviewer would be encouraged to warm up in mere gratitude, but the truth of the matter is, as many oral historians know, it isn’t easy to react. In this instance, though not exactly an oral history interview but close in context, my students didn’t have the capacity to grapple with climactic narrative in a timely matter, and I didn’t anticipate a lag time. I imagine that some of the lagging was exacerbated because the homies’ reality was either so disparate from their own safe childhoods or too close to home.

The exposure to raw narrative that often occurs in oral history interviews, especially at highly climactic moments of human struggle, impels students to figure out how to react to the narrator when the story gets intense. There is a great balancing act to consider in oral history education as far as “creating safe spaces” (as Cliff Mayotte, the Voice of Witness Education Program Director, calls it). Creating safe spaces can be a vital entry point to learning for many students who have access to stories that break silences of harsh realities. It is important to pay attention to the lag times and disengagement that might occur in our students’ projects, thus we need to revise our lessons in all the stages of oral history education to help our students figure out how to, “dismantle the barriers that exclude,” as Boyle says, even if the barriers are unintentional.


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Blog: International Committee reflections on 2013 Annual Meeting pt 2

By Leslie McCartney, International Committee Web Liaison

Over the next couple of months we will feature comments from recipients of this year’s OHA scholarships as designated by the Oral History Association’s International Committee. This month we feature comments by:

Marica Šapro-Ficović, PhD. (Public Library Dubrovnik, Dubrovnik, Croatia)
Paper Title: Oral History Shows Vibrant Life in Libraries Under War Conditions in Croatia: 1991-1995

After the completion of my research about the life of libraries under siege in Homeland war in Croatia 1991-1995, I was eager to share my experience in conducting oral history research with other oral historians. Unfortunately I didn’t have opportunity to find them in Croatia, particularly within library and information science. Though I worked hard for 6 years to collect interviews all over the country, and obtained outstanding results, I lacked knowledge about the work of other oral historians. I was wondering if the problems in conducting oral history research happened to me solely or if those were common problems.

Then I was given a fantastic opportunity to obtain the OHA international scholarship – thank you OHA- and to present my research at the Annual Meeting.

The question that followed the presentations of my session, related to the curation of oral history records, reminded me of the urgency of depositing my research materials in the Memorial and Documentation Center of Homeland War in Zagreb. However, this discussion as well as some other talks and round tables, provoqued my thoughts about the management of archival records and legal and ethical issues concerning donnations. It’s very important side of oral history research, that I wasn’t fully aware before this conference.

At the OHA AM I experienced three things that I found highly beneficial:

1) This is the first time that I have opportunity to present the results of my oral history research at the conference that had presentations of oral history researchers. Naturally, I had some trepidation, but met with great understanding;
2) This was an occasion for me to meet with people from number of countries that shared my interest in oral history research. Main thing that struck me is their enthusiasm.
3) I gathered the number of ideas for further research and other presentations;
All in all I found this conference as a great place to get assurance and make new friends.

Read the first of this blog series here.

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