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Jacquelyn Dowd Hall Reflects on Four Decades of Oral History Work

From North Carolina Public Radio:

Founder of UNC Southern Oral History Program Reflects on Four Decades of Work

By LAURA LEE & FRANK STASIO

When Jacquelyn Dowd Hall started the Southern Oral History Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 40 years ago, documenting the lives of ordinary people was not part of most history departments.

Telling the stories of minority communities, particularly African-Americans and women, ran counter to the academic endeavors sanctioned by many universities. But Jacquelyn saw an importance in preserving the stories and perspectives of people from all walks of life. And she insisted the program be fully integrated into the history department at Carolina.

Her tenacity paid off and four decades later, the Southern Oral History program is one of the preeminent repositories for oral histories in the region. Host Frank Stasio talks with UNC professor emerita Jacquelyn Dowd Hall.

Listen to the interview at: http://wunc.org/post/founder-unc-southern-oral-history-program-reflects-four-decades-work

 

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2014 Emerging Crises Oral History Research Fund Recipient

The 2014 Emerging Crises Oral History Research Fund grant was awarded to Luke Eric Lassiter’s project “Oral Histories of the Charleston West Virginia Chemical Spill.”  Affecting the drinking water of over 300,000 people in nine counties, the January 2014 chemical spill in the Elk River was dubbed by the New York Times as “one of the most serious incidents of chemical contamination of drinking water in American history”.  The Emerging Crises Grant committee appreciated the project’s focus on social and economic concerns as a counter-narrative to a story thus far framed primarily in psychological terms.  It was also impressed by the collaborative nature of the proposal and its support for informed public dialog and policy in West Virginia given emerging doubts over the desirability of Charleston as a place to live and do business.  Additionally, in light of the myriad environmental concerns over the impact of hydro-fracking and the transport of more volatile shale oil across the country, the committee found this project to be representative of larger emerging environmental concerns in this country and abroad.

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Recaps of the Annual Meeting from Attendees

From Baylor University:

http://www.baylor.edu/oralhistory/news.php?action=story&story=147488

From Bryn Mawr College:

http://greenfield.blogs.brynmawr.edu/2014/10/16/gender-and-generations-oral-histories-of-colleges-and-universities-at-oha-2014/

And from the Southern Oral History Project newsletter:

Director’s Note

Staff, students, and friends of SOHP recently gathered at the 2014 Oral History Association (OHA) annual meeting in Madison, Wisconsin. I felt all the satisfaction, inspiration, and exhaustion that a great conference brings. OHA is a unique meeting–it is a refreshing combination of presentations about historical findings, project workflows, archival tools, teaching methods, engagement strategies, artistic work, and ethical issues. The conference touches on every aspect of oral history work in every setting (communities, universities and schools of all sizes and shapes, non-profit organizations and corporations). It reminds us that regardless of our specialty, all of us have a role to play in moving our field forward, and that, as Seth Kotch, late of the SOHP, stated during the panel presentation he shared with our Coordinator of Collections Jaycie Vos and NC State Library Fellow Virginia Ferris, “oral history is not over when the interview is done. That would just be an interview.”

We had recently seen many of our alums and friends at the Symposium and Celebration for Jacquelyn Dowd Hall here at UNC, but reconnecting with so many of the SOHP family involved in planning the OHA conference was a particular thrill. Current and former staff and students of SOHP belonged to (or chaired!) the Program Committee, gave over a dozen presentations, and were members of the OHA executive leadership as well. Associate Director Rachel Seidman shared the stage with Founding Director Jacquelyn Dowd Hall and two other noted historians for a thought-provoking plenary session, “Academics as Activists,” which SOHP sponsored. Former Outreach Coordinator Beth Millwood’s smile was pleasantly ubiquitous, as she chaired both a panel and OHA’s International Committee. The conference also featured the documentary film I co-produced, Private Violence, right on time for our nation’s current and extensive discussion of domestic violence. The film features DV victim advocate Kit Gruelle, who was interviewed by SOHP in 2013 as part of the Moxie Project. Jaycie also presented on the physical and digital exhibit she curated for our 40th anniversary. Two of our graduate students, Rob Shapard and Sarah McNamara, gave papers on their research, and UNC Professor Hannah Gill, who directs the New Roots project on Latino migrants to North Carolina, also gave a compelling presentation. The conference was also a great opportunity to connect with our collaborators at Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies and the University of Mississippi, and regenerate relationships with colleagues from all over the country. Oral history offers a window into the world that is unlike any other field; it is a method and a discipline that helps us imagine a future, using both the past and present to incubate our ideas and connect to each other in new ways.

The variety was stunning. If you want a glimpse yourself, check out the Storify presentation that Jaycie created for OHA. It was a pleasure and honor for me to witness how our SOHP community continues to lead the field in every respect, and how we are embracing every opportunity to learn and advance our work.

–Malinda Maynor Lowery

Updates to the Program

Thursday, October 9

  • Session #13: Recovering Endangered Narratives- Session Canceled
  • Session #16: Oral History Recording tours as Visionary Journalism: The SoMove Social Movement Oral History Tour Reportback and Roundtable- Session Canceled
  • Session #18: A Holistic Partnership Approach to Oral Histories with Ethnic Minority Refugees from Burma- Keith Yanner will Chair this session.
  • Session #21: Showcasing Fringe Narratives: Grassroots Latina Activists in Southern California- Natalie Fouseskis will chair this session.
  • Session #25: Implementing OHMS: Multi-Institutional Perspectives- Session moved from Saturday to Thursday at 10;15.

Friday, October 10

  • Session #60: New Bottles for Old Wine: New Media, Oral History, and Digital Storytelling- Mike Lyons will not present his paper.
  • Session #61: Militaries and Civilians- Major Marico Bergo will not present his paper.  Tetiana Boriak will present her paper originally scheduled for Session #24.

Saturday. October 11

  • SATURDAY TEACHER WORKSHOP– the location has changed to the Madison Concourse Hotel, Capitol Ballroom B.
  • Session #89: Life Histories- Megan Gough will not present her paper.
  • Session #111: Healing History? Transforming Narratives in Post Conflict Settings- Natalie Fousekis will chair this session.
  • Session #112: Innovations in Education- Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis will present her paper previously scheduled for Session #123.

Sunday, October 12

  • Session #120: Refugee Memories- Session cancelled. Katherine Fobear will present her paper in Session #123.
  • Session #123: Activism and Memory- Kristen Delegard, Historyapolis Project, will chair this session. Katherine Fobear will present her paper originally scheduled for Session #120.  Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis will present her paper on Saturday in Session #112.

 

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International Committee Blog

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 Tetiana Borka and Sevila Cakir. In September we featured abstracts from Katherine Fobear and Selma Leydesdorff. In this final blog about the upcoming OHA conference, we highlight abstracts by Jo Roberts and Stacy Zebrzycki.

Jo Roberts:
Title: Stepping Out of the Collective Memory: Jewish Israelis Engage with the Palestinian Nakba

Abstract: Palestine, 1948: as Britain’s colonial mandate ended, Jewish and Arab Palestinians were caught up in an increasingly brutal war. While Jewish refugees, survivors of the Holocaust, struggled towards Palestine, Arab refugees were leaving, many under duress. Out of the chaos and violence,

a new Jewish state was born. After the 1948 War, the founding story of the state that took shape in Jewish Israeli collective memory did not include the disquieting narrative of the Palestinian Arabs and their removal.

Now Zochrot, a primarily Jewish Israeli NGO, aims to change that. Zochrot “works to make the history of the Nakba accessible to the Israeli public so as to engage Jews and Palestinians in an open recounting of our painful common history.”

Zochrot’s work is predicated on the power of story: allowing space for the Palestinian narrative of 1948 to emerge within the Israeli landscape, both physical and political. Its projects include mapping former Palestinian villages, and collecting testimonies from Nakba survivors. Through performative acts such as posting signs on village ruins, Zochrot “renders the Nakba in Hebrew” for a Jewish-Israeli audience.

Beneath Zochrot’s work are the stories of individuals who have not only renegotiated their understanding of their country’s history but also of their own remembered pasts. Zochrot co-founder Eitan Bronstein told me of the visceral shock he felt on discovering that the ruined crusader fortress

he had played in so often as a child had also been the site of a Palestinian market town. Such experiences have propelled him and others to do counter-cultural memory-work that, they believe, could “make a qualitative change in the political discourse of this region.” Using interviews with

Bronstein and several others, this presentation will explore what motivates members of Zochrot to step outside Israeli collective memory.

Stacy Zembrzycki:
Title: Humbling Moments: Facing Failures in the Field and Debriefing on Oral History Practice

Abstract: Beginning a new oral history project is always a daunting but exhilarating task. Upon entering the field, our carefully crafted methodologies quickly fall by the wayside, evolving as the people we meet bring our projects to life and make them their own.

Every encounter we have with our interviewees is unpredictable because we tend to know little to nothing about them until we sit face to face and strike up a conversation. Sometimes we connect immediately, bonding midway through a good story. In other instances, building trust takes time and occurs over a series of meetings. The potential for outright failure also looms large in these spaces. On occasion, it is difficult to find common ground with an interviewee. Informants may reveal too much or too little. Or, they reveal all and then retract their permission to use the interview. They may spend the interview assessing your right to hear their story or they may assume authority on the interviewers part that may effect change, bring closure, or result in assistance.

It is next to impossible to forget these breakdowns in communication. These moments, which some deem to be outright failures and others view as opportunities for learning, can change the direction of our projects and alter the relationships we build thereafter. This roundtable will provide an opportunity to debrief about these sorts of encounters, offering a space to explore how these experiences shape oral

historians, their interviews, and the work that results.

The format of this roundtable will be non-traditional and collaborative in nature, with the aim of

encouraging discussion amongst everyone in the room. Roundtable panelists will help to make

connections between the audience’s contributions, drawing together the general themes that arise out of people’s particular experiences and offering ways to move forward.

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