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Annual Meeting Spotlight: Oral History in Spaces at the Boundary-Narratives of Social Change

Oral historians often work with activist communities that occupy spaces at the boundary of social change. Narrators, many in states of transition, describe their collective struggles for social justice. In the Thursday plenary session at the OHA annual meeting, veteran oral historians explore their experiences working with several such communities. Filmmaker, curator and activist Jim Hubbard, who co-directs the ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) Oral History Project will discuss his oral history based films and exhibitions about AIDS activism. Yolanda Chavez Leyva, Chair of the History Department at UTEP and Director of the Museo Urbano, that documents a Mexican immigrant barrio in El Paso, Texas will share some of the experiences of oral history projects that taught students not to “speak for those without a voice,” but to listen to them instead. Kim Diehl, a writer, listener and organizer whose profession is communicating stories about the power of people working collectively, will reflect on her experience using oral history to support hospital and nursing home worker organizing in Central and South Florida from 2008-2015. Aleia Brown, who co-founded the #MuseumsRespondToFerguson monthly Twitter chat that discusses how museums can address race inequities and contested contemporary issues, and who is part of the consortium that released the Joint Statement from Museum Bloggers and Colleagues on Ferguson and Related Events, will serve as the plenary commentator.

Annual Meeting Spotlight: Workshops and Tours

The Oral History Association is offering a dynamic array of workshops and tours at the OHA annual meeting in October. Five half-day workshops will take place on Wednesday, October 14, on a wide range of topics. On Saturday morning, October 17, OHA hosts a teacher workshop led by renowned performance artist Judith Sloan for those interested in transforming stories into artistic expression. For full details about the workshops, see Workshop Information.

The 2015 program also features two tours led by local experts on Florida’s rich occupational and immigrant history. On Friday evening, historian Gary Mormino will lead a walking tour of Ybor City, the historic community founded in 1886 for the manufacture of hand-rolled Cuban cigars. By 1900, thousands of Cuban, Spanish, and Italian immigrants had arrived and created an extraordinary built environment with a vibrant tradition of culture and mutual aid.  On Sunday morning, folklorist Tina Bucavalas will lead a tour of the Tarpon Springs Greektown Historic District in Pinellas County, Florida’s first Traditional Cultural Property National Register listing. Since 1905—when Greeks first arrived in large numbers—it has been significant for its tenacious continuity of traditional culture, extensive Greek infrastructure, and as the only Greek American community based on the sponge industry. Learn more about tour offerings at Tour Information.

2015 Oral History Association Awards announced

OHA is pleased to announce the 2015 Oral History Association award winners. The awards will be presented at the OHA annual meeting in Tampa.

Article Award
“Squatting History: The Power of Oral History as a History‐Making Practice”
Amy Starecheski
The Oral History Review, Summer/Fall 2014

Book Award
Listening on the Edge: Oral History in the Aftermath of Crisis
Mark Cave and Stephen M. Sloan, editors
Oxford University Press, 2014

Elizabeth B. Mason Project Award (major project)
Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations
Brooklyn Historical Society

Elizabeth B. Mason Project Award (small project)
Freedom Summer Oral History and Library Curation Project
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program in collaboration with the George A. Smathers Libraries,
University of Florida
Sarah Blanc, Jana Ronan, and Diana Dombrowski, Coordinators

Martha Ross Teaching Award
David Jones
Eastside High School, Gainesville, Florida

Oral History in a Non-Print Format Award
“Goin’ North:  Stories of the First Great Migration to Philadelphia”
Charles Hardy III, Janneken Smucker, and Doug Boyd

Stetson Kennedy Vox Populi (“Voice of the People”) Award
Michael Kline, Talking Across the Lines

Emerging Crises Oral History Grant
Groundswell Oral History in Movements to End Police Brutality

International scholarship presentations at the 2015 annual meeting

Over the next three months, abstracts of papers to be given at this year’s OHA annual meeting in Tampa by International Committee scholarship recipients will be featured.

Sean Field, South Africa
Panel: Listening Compassionately, Mindfully, Empathically, and Cooperatively in Oral History Interviews
Presenting Author on individual submission: The Meaning, Practice and Limits of Empathy in Oral History

“Empathy”, interwoven with listening techniques, is a significant skill for oral historians across the globe. In this presentation, I hope to deepen our understanding of “empathy” while doing oral history fieldwork in a post-conflict society. Empathy is neither sympathy nor an emotion but a tool of understanding, which involves historically imagining specific points in time and space in the past that the story teller is communicating. My presentation will explore various interviewing examples and that empathy can be an effective tool of historical understanding for researchers working in a culturally diverse and multi-lingual context such as South Africa. But empathy has real limits and ethical risks, especially when interviewing people who have suffered past violence and the systemic oppression of apartheid. I will argue that a focused empathy that acknowledges and works through forms of difference within oral history dialogues not in search of a contrived reconciliation nor equality but with deep respect for contrasting views, ideas and knowledge forms between interviewer and interviewee is crucial. However, many oral history teachers tell their students that creating “rapport” is necessary but what does that mean in practice? The problem is when “rapport” is striven for as a mythically power-free or equal state between interviewer/interviewee, when supposedly hidden truths will be revealed or recovered. Rather, oral historians need to constantly navigate the shifting inter-subjective atmosphere that involves both emotional connectedness and disconnectedness, and which invests cultural, racial and other differences with much emotion. How we empathically facilitate interviewees’ efforts to “culturally translate” their memories and stories poses ethical challenges but paradoxically also opens up possibilities for learning more through cultural differences and emotional disconnectedness within oral history practice.

Adam King, Canada
Panel: Revealing Resilience: Workers’ Narratives of Life and Labor
Presenting Author on individual submission: Making Sense of Change: Sudbury Mine Workers on the 2009 Vale Strike

The mining industry has been historically central to Sudbury, Ontario’s economy. Over a long period of struggle, it also developed as a focal point of unionized workers. Beginning in the late 1990s a period of ownership changes began. Vale Inc. (a Brazilian corporation) and Xstrata (a Swiss corporation) eventually acquired ownership of Sudbury’s two largest Canadian-owned mining corporations, Inco and Falconbridge respectively. A period of downsizing and contract renegotiation followed, with the issues of pensions and pay rates for new hires figuring prominently. In January, 2014 I began interviewing unionized mine workers in Sudbury about their changed workplace relations following the international purchases of their employers, and a long, bitter strike in 2009 against Vale. This paper explores the contradictory narratives these workers used to explain this period of structural transformation, and their responses to it. Dealing specifically with the issues of national identity and class formation, international solidarity, and the history of unionized work in Sudbury, I utilize a collective memory studies approach to analyze workers’ process of meaning-making and recollection. Setting the remembering of the 2009 strike against Sudbury’s history of strikes and workers’ resistance, workers present complex, and at times contradictory, narratives of resilience, continuity, and exception. In this paper, I seek to analyze workers’ presentations and read them critically against the class restructuring that has taken place in Sudbury’s mining sector. While some important work has been done on the political economy of mining in Canada, little has been undertaken qualitatively on workers in this sector. Using oral history interviewing, in this paper I seek to fill this scholarly gap.