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International Committee Scholarships

Each year scholarship applications submitted by selected international participants for the upcoming OHA annual meeting are reviewed by the International Committee.  This year ten applications were reviewed. With only $3,500.00 in total to offer, the decisions on which applications to fund were difficult ones for the committee.

The following six participants were granted scholarships:

Tetiana Borka from Kyiv, Ukrakine
Sevil Cakir from Mersin, Turkey
Katherine Fobear from British Columbia, Canada
Selma Leydesdorff from Amsterdam, Netherlands
Jo Roberts from Ontario, Canada
Stacy Zembrzycki from Quebec, Canada

In June, we featured abstracts from Tetuaba Borka and Sevil Cakir.  This month, abstracts from Katherine Fobear and Selma Leydesdorff are highlighted.

Katherine Forbear:  Accordion Homes: Understanding Memory and Emotional Attachment in Queer Refugee’s Stories of Home in Metro Vancouver
Abstract: For the past decade, the number of individuals claiming refugee asylum based on sexual orientation and gender identity has risen dramatically, making this one of the fastest-growing refugee populations in the world. Despite this record, little is known about the settlement experiences of sexual and gender refugees once they have received their refugee status. This article explores sexual and gender minority refugees’ settlement in Vancouver, Canada, based on one year of in-depth oral history interviews with fifteen sexual and gender minority refugees and a participatory photography project with five sexual and gender minority refugees.

In this project, home becomes a framing device in which participants take photographs and share stories of home and belonging. Through the participants’ photographs and personal stories of settlement, the creation of home is seen not as a linear or singular process, but an ever shifting emotional and mnemonic journey that is intimately tied to sexual and gender minority refugees’ subjectivities and their sense of place. For sexual and gender minority refugees, memory serves as a mechanism for individuals to create a place for themselves in Metro Vancouver and a feeling of belonging that spans across national borders, creating an in-between space. Through the participants’ photographs and stories, we see how memory is always on the move by constantly creating new places of attachment and association. What emerges from this project is the complexity of sexual and gender minority refugees’ lived experiences as they continue to navigate around and challenge oppressive structural barriers and form complex relationships across various communities and spaces in order to build a home for themselves in Canada.

Selma Leydesdorf:  Listening on the Edge: Oral History in the Aftermath of Crisis
Abstract: From the headlines of local newspapers to the coverage of major media outlets, scenes of war, natural disaster, political revolution, and ethnic repression greet readers and viewers at every turn. The complexity and texture of these situations are most evident in the broader personal stories of those whom the events struck most intimately. Oral history has emerged as a forceful approach to exploring the human experience of crisis.

Oral history in crisis environments can help those who have suffered trauma appropriately process the experience into memory; it can help communities contextualize crisis and move beyond it; and it can record the emotional perspective and short-term memory of those involved. The emergent inclination for oral historians to document crisis calls for a shared conversation among scholars as to what we have learned from crisis work so far. This dialogue at the OHA will build off the publication Listening on the Edge: Oral History in the Aftermath of Crisis released by Oxford Press in spring 2014. From the perspective of crisis and disaster oral history, this book addresses both the ways in which we think about the craft of oral history, and the manner in which we use it.

The roundtable will include seven contributors to the book, who have interviewed those impacted by a half-dozen world crises—including the Rwandan genocide, 9/11, the massacre in Srebrenica, Bosnia by Serbian forces, and Hurricane Katrina. Presenters will reflect on the methodological issues inherent in the practice of oral history in such environments.

OHA Annual Meeting: Spotlight on “Uncivil Disobedience”

The opening special session for OHA 2014 will showcase our Madison host site by featuring a staged reading of the innovative documentary theater piece, “Uncivil Disobedience.”  This performance, held in the newly renovated Memorial Union Theater, will highlight oral histories of a thunderous event in the Vietnam-era anti-war movement, the 1970 Sterling Hall bomb explosion on the campus of the University of Wisconsin.  The Wisconsin Story Project, in partnership with the Oral History Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, developed the performance after years of collecting oral histories from people who experienced the bombing firsthand and from people whose lives were profoundly affected by the event and its aftermath.  The bomb, intended to destroy the Army Mathematics Research center, killed physics researcher Robert Fassnacht, injured three other people, caused tremendous damage to the building, and sent aftershocks through both pro- and anti-war America.

The original documentary theater piece played to sold-out audiences in its 2012 Wisconsin premiere.  It has been enhanced for this conference by multi-media additions developed by the UW-Madison Oral History Program.  As professional actors speak their parts, primary source documentation will appear on a screen above them.  This kick-off special session will introduce both the OHA 2014 conference theme, “Oral History in Motion: Movements, Transformations, and the Power of Story,” and the local conference setting.  Funding from the Wisconsin Humanities Council and Friends of the UW-Madison Library System makes possible this unique special event, which will be free and open to the public.

OHA election open through September 30

Current OHA members have the opportunity to vote for leaders in the organization. Click to vote in the 2014 election.  We encourage all members to take part in the process.  You may read biographical information and a personal statement from each candidate on the election website.  You will need your OHA member number to vote.  Contact the OHA office at ude.u1638800216sg@ah1638800216o1638800216 or 404-413-5751 to request your number if needed.

We will also be mailing a paper ballot to members who have not already voted online. If you prefer to vote by mail, look for election materials to arrive in early September.


August Blog: Education Committee

By Michael Grathwohl 

          When I read or watch the news (on both sides of the political aisle) I find myself spending an inordinate amount of time lamenting that one person’s story told in minute detail can be spun in such a way as to overwrite the experiences of others to serve overtly political ends. These observations had made me cynical about the uses of personal narratives. But twice now I have observed, up close, the power of oral history, and it has begun to reshape my attitude toward the importance of stories.

          My first experience with oral history as a pedagogical tool came in high school during my participation in the band for The Parchman Hour, a play written and directed by Chapel Hill playwright Mike Wiley that chronicles the experiences and struggles of the 1961 Freedom Riders during their integrated journey into the heart of the deep South. The play is named both for Mississippi’s most notorious penitentiary and for the make-believe variety show that the riders cooked up to keep themselves sane while imprisoned there.

          Part of Parchman’s power is that its dialogue featured direct quotations of icons such as John Lewis and Stokely Carmichael right alongside those of folks who Cornel West might call “everyday people.” As a result, Parchman presents a refreshingly grassroots image of the movement, and that image is more dirty, more intricate, and, I would argue, more fruitful. The inclusion of testimonies from often-unheard participants adds important texture to the play’s portrayal of the movement; it has a gritty, truthful quality and doesn’t shy away from ambiguity. We see the Freedom Riders not as a monolithic group but rather as a collection of real people with real baggage and, sometimes, real disagreements with one another. The play is teeming with complexity: there is struggle within struggle, and the result is beautiful.

          This summer I had another, perhaps more intimate encounter with oral history as a volunteer for UNC-Chapel Hill’s Southern Oral History Program. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the program helped carry out a large series of interviews on the industrialization of textile factories in North Carolina’s Piedmont region. The interviewees were predominantly former mill workers who had experienced these technological changes firsthand, and my first project at the SOHP was to prepare a research dossier for a new interview with Helen Lyerly, the daughter of one couple who had been interviewed thirty years earlier.

          I was asked to come along for the interview for which I had compiled the dossier. I spent a good deal of time thinking about how the interview would go, what questions to ask, and how I should present myself. As it turned out, everything fell into place and I wound up thinking that the term ‘interview’ is a misnomer: it was organic, fun, and moving in ways that I hadn’t anticipated. Mrs. Lyerly had also invited her sister and daughter-in-law to come, and the most glaring thought in my mind as I left was that oral history has important implications far beyond the confines of academia. We had all laughed, philosophized, and gotten choked up together for an hour and a half that went by in what felt like fifteen minutes. The interview conducted in the 1980s is the only recording of Mrs. Lyerly’s parents, and she said repeatedly how much she appreciated listening to their voices, hearing them tell stories she had never heard of how they met and fell in love. It was clear that oral history can be important on a human level even more than an academic one.

        Not unlike The Parchman Hour, both parts of my project with the SOHP had the insistent feeling of something that is important in its particularity— the stories of the women and men portrayed in Parchman are engaging at least partially because they tell stories that few can truly relate to; part of their value is their novelty. Yet as I read through interviews with mill workers from Greensboro, Concord, and Burlington and participated in the interview, it also struck me that one of the sources of the power of the interviews was precisely their pertinence to a great many people’s own experiences. In their own ways, both the stories from Parchman and the Piedmont industry series form repositories of narratives that simultaneously reflect and help form the collective memory of a time. The kind of history work that resulted in The Parchman Hour and the Piedmont interview series is refreshingly democratic, and my volunteer work this summer with the SOHP helped me begin to rehabilitate the notion that narratives can be used positively in practice and not just in theory.

OHA Annual Meeting: Spotlight on “The Sharecroppers’ Troubadour” Plenary Session

The Sharecroppers’ Troubadour: African American Songs and Oral Poetry as Oral History

In the Thursday plenary session at the OHA annual meeting, historian Michael Honey and music educator Pat Krueger will present a mix of oral history analysis, songs, and oral poetry performed by themselves and, through short digital presentations, by John Handcox (1904-1992). Deemed the “poet laureate” of the interracial Southern Tenant Farmers Union, Handcox was hailed by Pete Seeger as a “people’s songwriter,” influential in African-American and labor struggles from the 1930s onward. By singing songs such as “Roll the Union On” and “There Is Mean Things Happening in this Land,” Handcox became one of the most beloved folk singers of the prewar labor movement. Sharecroppers’ Troubadour links generations of struggle in the South through African American song and oral poetry traditions. This session will give new meaning to oral history as freedom songs and oral poetry.

Michael Honey is currently the Haley Professor of Humanities and American History at the University of Washington Tacoma. Honey’s new oral history-based work, Sharecroppers’ Troubadour: John L. Handcox, the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union, and the African American Song Tradition (Palgrave Macmillan Oral History Series, 2013) links generations of struggle in the South through African American song and oral poetry traditions. He has written five acclaimed books on labor and civil rights history, many grounded in oral history, including Black Workers Remember: An Oral History of Segregation, Unionism, and the Freedom Struggle. He has won numerous awards for his publications, and is also the recipient of the Weyerhaueser Foundation’s Martin Luther King Award for community leadership and service.

Pat Krueger chairs the music education program at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA, and teaches courses in music education. She maintains an active commitment to urban and multicultural arts education, and her research focuses on socialization of beginning music teachers in public schooling. Dr. Krueger previously taught K-12 music in Wisconsin public schools. She earned her BME from the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire, and her MM and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Her publications include chapters in The Oxford Handbook of Qualitative Research in Music Education (Oxford, 2014), Great Beginnings for Music Teachers: Mentoring and Supporting New Teachers, and articles in Journal of Research in Music Education, Music Educator’s Journal, Update, Journal of Music Teacher Education, and Arts Education Policy Review.