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Blog: “My Talent in Life is Being a Friend”

Post written by Katie Crook, originally published at the Southern Oral History Program blog, Field Notes

I was a little apprehensive, to say the least. On a Friday afternoon at rush hour, I found myself driving away from the happy little bubble of Blue Heaven to a city with which I had absolutely no familiarity. I was nervous about finding parking, arriving on time, finding the right building. Mostly, I was nervous about my first interview for the Southern Oral History Program. I had no idea what to expect, hoping fervently that my recorder—and backup iPhone—would capture the interview I had anticipated for weeks. I was nervous about how the interview would proceed, what I would say, what he would say. In short, as I waited for Dr. Jim Carmichael to return to his fourth floor office at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, I wished I were back home in the familiar folds of Chapel Hill, with friends on this wintry Friday evening.

What happened next caught me completely off-guard. As I anxiously walked to my interviewee’s office, I caught my first glimpse of him. A small man, he was dressed in a fashionable leather jacket reminiscent of a cowboy, a resemblance echoed by his handlebar moustache. Dr. James Carmichael, an esteemed professor of library history, literally welcomed me into his cozy office with open arms, opting not for a handshake but a full hug. He graciously thanked me for coming to interview him and invited me to take a seat. Instantly, I felt my nerves disappear as we began discussing familiar topics, like the notoriously hellish parking in Chapel Hill. I found myself easing up, even smiling, as I plugged in my recorder and began asking my questions.

As it were, my nerves for this interview proved to be completely unfounded. Dr. Carmichael had me laughing and reminiscing right along with him as he detailed his life’s story, full of colorful characters like himself. Again and again, I was struck by the sincerity of his words and his complete vulnerability. We talked about his substance abuse, his “bizarre” wedding to ex-wife Bunny, the antebellum house he called home, and his road to sobriety. We talked about his lovers, his emotional turmoil, and his subsequent recovery and victory over alcoholism and mental illness. Clearly, my apprehension about interviewing a stranger was not shared by my interviewee, as he seemed to relish this opportunity to express himself.

Dr. Carmichael refused to shy away from sensitive topics, willing to discuss anything from his original rejection from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to the sexual favors he granted to a guard so he could place a phone call from jail. He talked about his lowest point, in the throes of mental illness and at odds with himself and his own sexuality. He discussed his recovery, his discovery of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and the many eccentric friends who helped him along his path to sobriety. In the end, this unassuming professor gave a profoundly honest and touching account of the incredible life he had led.

Dr. Carmichael’s life—as far as I could tell from the two hours I spent interviewing him that February Friday night—is not defined by failures or defeat. His story is one of marked triumph, over illness, abuse, and insecurity. Though he described himself as a “troubled” person as a young man, any trace of that trouble seems to have been replaced by his exuberance and love of life. His love of his family, friends, and cats (yes, his cats) was absolutely infectious, and I left his office wanting only to someday be able to spend more time talking to him about his life. During his interview, Dr. Carmichael said to me, “I think my talent in life is being a friend,” and after listening to two hours of his life story, I can certainly agree. Dr. Carmichael is one of those rare people that we only meet occasionally in our lives—full of life, humility, and a contagious love of all people. I felt truly honored to have met him.

As I was leaving his Greensboro office, I felt honestly disappointed that our interview was complete. As anxious as I had been just hours earlier, my interview with Dr. Carmichael was not only fascinating, but helped put my own life in perspective. I suggested that we should share coffee and more stories the next time Dr. Carmichael finds himself in Chapel Hill, as he often does for research. I sincerely hope he takes me up on my offer.

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Blog: International Committee wants your input

This month the International Committee’s blog is asking for input from readers. We would like to hear from you and learn about what new oral history projects you are working on, specifically what international projects you are working on, hope to work on or have just completed. We would also be interested in hearing from researchers who are working on multi-country oral history research such as looking at labor movements in the United States and South Africa or Poland for example. Please submit a 100 word paragraph about your international research to ude.a1632497861ksala1632497861@yent1632497861raccm1632497861l1632497861. We will review the submissions and highlight them on this blog over the coming months.
Also, just a reminder that the deadlines for the various Oral History Association’s Annual Meeting Scholarships are drawing near:

  • The International Scholarship Applications are due by April 18
  • The Presenter Scholarship Applications are due by May 1
  • The Non-presenter Scholarship Applications are due by June 1

Further information about the Annual Meeting Scholarships can be found at

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OHA Strategic Plan for 2014 to 2017 now available

The OHA Council recently completed a year-long strategic planning process to guide the organization through 2017.  Numerous individuals had input into the process.  The strategic plan includes our mission, vision, values and objectives in a number of interrelated areas.  A longer version of the plan includes specific actionable items grouped under each area, which Council has prioritized.  If you wish to see the longer version of the plan, or if you have any comments about it, please contact the OHA office at ude.u1632497861sg@ah1632497861o1632497861.  We look forward to your further interaction with the process as the OHA moves forward.

OHA Strategic Plan for 2014 to 2017 (pdf document)

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Blog: Publications Committee in the Digital Age…

Post written by Doug Lambert, moc.e1632497861crofd1632497861nar@g1632497861uod1632497861

In Oklahoma last fall the OHA publications committee welcomed Douglas Lambert as its new chair.  Three new committee members (Molly Rosner, Jeff Corrigan, Teresa Barnett) were added for a three year term, joining Nancy Berlage, Nick Meriwether, and Lambert. Our new group has already been active over email and conference calls addressing the items outlined in the committee’s updated charge.  Activities for this year will include more engagement in the OHA’s blog, an exploration of how we can embrace open access journals like the University of Michigan’s Oral History in the Digital Age (OHDA) website, consideration of a new print pamphlets, and a reevaluation of the committee’s own identity in the context of a reduced emphasis on print in the digital era.  The group has members with between 5 and 30 years’ experience with oral history and OHA and we enter 2014 with great enthusiasm.  We also plan to develop some internal discussions that are philosophical in nature, and hope to extend the discussion into the OHA blogosphere!

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Featured Member Institution: Minnesota Historical Society

Since 1948, the Minnesota Historical Society has used oral history to document Minnesota’s past and present. The Oral History Collection of the Minnesota Historical Society includes more than 1600 interviews with Minnesotans from across the state. Our collection deals with a wide range of issues from government and business history to labor and LGBT issues.
Since 2000 the Oral History Department has focused on immigrant communities in Minnesota. Having recently partnered with Asian and Latino groups we are now working with the Somali population in Minnesota to preserve their stories and document their contributions to Minnesota history.
We also serve the state of Minnesota by teaching oral history and by awarding grants to local organizations.
Our entire collection of oral histories is available to listen, watch, and read online at our ‘Voices of Minnesota’ website