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Advocacy alert regarding NEH funding

News broke last Thursday morning that the Trump Administration is considering the elimination of NEH, along with other cultural agencies!

It is important to remember that we have built considerable support in Congress over the past years and we can fight this proposal.

It is time to take action and make clear to the President and Members of Congress that you value federal funding for the humanities!

Click here to take action.

Together, we will communicate that public support for the humanities benefits students, teachers, and communities across the country!

Learn more about this blueprint and plans to stop it here.

Thank you for your support!

-The National Humanities Alliance and the Oral History Association


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Revised Federal Policy regarding IRB’s and the Protection of Human Subjects Announced, impacts Oral Historians

New federal government protocols that better define the Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects have been announced in an effort to make more effective the promulgated regulations known as the Common Rule. According to the announcement, “this final rule is intended to better protect human subjects involved in research, while facilitating valuable research and reducing burden, delay, and ambiguity for investigators. These revisions are an effort to modernize, simplify, and enhance the current system of oversight.”

The most critical component of the new protocols for oral historians explicitly removes oral history and journalism from the regulations. The final rule provides that, “For purposes of this part, the following activities are deemed not to be research: (1) Scholarly and journalistic activities (e.g., oral history, journalism, biography, literary criticism, legal research, and historical scholarship), including the collection and use of information that focus directly on the specific individuals about whom the information is collected.”  The new protocols will take effect on January 19, 2018.

The relationship of oral history to human subject research regulations has been widely debated since the 1990s, in particular whether Institutional Review Boards, or IRBs should review oral history.  OHA has played a central role in these discussions and for many years has actively advocated for changes.  We are grateful to OHA leadership, especially Don Ritchie, Linda Shopes, and Cliff Kuhn for their dedication and hard work on this issue over the years. The review process has generally not been constructive for oral historians, and, in many cases has been quite contentious and burdensome, as principles and practices developed within biomedical and behavioral frameworks have been incompatibly applied to a more humanistic form of inquiry like oral history. 

OHA President Doug Boyd, Director of the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries, welcomed the change.  “It has been long in coming and is welcomed in the historical community. However, it is now more important than ever that oral historians closely follow best practices with the creation and preservation of oral histories to uphold certain principles, professional and technical standards, and obligations. These include commitments to the narrators, to standards of scholarship for history and related disciplines, ethics, privacy, consent, and the preservation of interviews and related materials for current and future users.”

OHA’s Best Practices are outlined at Principles and Best Practices.

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President’s Letter

by Doug Boyd

When I was first agreed to go up for First Vice President, I remember the OHA Executive Director Cliff Kuhn calling me just minutes after I had accepted.  The conversation went something like this:

BOYD: Hello, Nunn Center, this is Doug.

KUHN: Hi Doug, It’s Cliff.  Thanks for accepting the nomination.  You know as Vice President you will be planning the annual meeting in 2016.

BOYD: Right, because I am First Vice President in October of 2014, then Vice President in 2015.  That makes sense.

KUHN: You know what this means right?

[Awkward Pause]

BOYD: Uhm, that I will be planning the meeting in Long Beach?

KUHN: You will be planning the annual meeting honoring our 50th anniversary.   It will probably be the most expensive meeting ever and we will have to honor everyone so you need to get started now.  No pressure,  I am sure it will be great.  Hey, good to talk with you, I need to run. [Kuhn hangs up]

At that point, Cliff hung up the phone. As most of you know, Cliff Kuhn, the first Executive Director of the Oral History Association passed away later that year. The success of the 2016 annual meeting meant a lot to Cliff.  If you knew Cliff, you knew that he loved to talk about OHA business.  So, for my first President’s report in the newsletter, I have drafted a report addressed to Cliff.

Dear Cliff,

You will be so happy to know that the 2016 OHA annual meeting in Long Beach was, indeed, a great success.  We had incredible attendance numbers, (almost 600 attended), we raised a lot of money and connected with many new sponsors.  Despite the fact that it was one of the more expensive meetings in history, we actually made money on this meeting.  Our workshops were full, our panels were well attended, the presentations were brilliant, and our membership grew.

More important than the numbers, you would have been so proud to see how OHA came together in a big way this year.  We celebrated our 50th anniversary just as we had envisioned, by honoring the past while also looking forward.  Sarah Milligan and Sady Sullivan were incredible program co-chairs. Remember how we wanted the 2016 annual meeting to capture the spirit of that first meeting in 1966? Together with a phenomenal program committee (far too many names to report here), we designed a program that did just that. We asked hard but important questions, exploring new opportunities for practicing and engaging in oral history practice and interpretation. We explored and considered the implications of technologies that would have been, once, considered science fiction. In every session, this conference explored and discovered new and interdisciplinary perspectives on major themes. We brought together a wide range of diverse perspectives; we pushed the boundaries of genre. The program explored oral history as public history as well as oral history as activism, and we had important conversations about race, gender, identity, community, environment, conflict, oppression, social justice, and memory.  We saw new theoretical perspectives begin to emerge and we did a better job connecting to undergraduate and graduate students.  I felt that this year’s conference was an incredible blend of youth and experience. Finally, this conference asked hard questions about ethics and we did a better job connecting with the archival community by escalating the important conversations on digital access strategies and effective digital preservation.  We celebrated the OHA and SOHA anniversaries in a powerful way. Our Labor Working Group led the way in helping OHA successfully navigate our difficult hotel situation and the Local Arrangements committee did a tremendous job opening the Long Beach community to us.

We have much work ahead of us as an organization.  We are in the process of finding a new institutional partner, hiring a new Executive Director, as well as replacing the un-replaceable editors of the Oral  History Review Kathy Nasstrom and Troy Reeves.  Gayle Knight and  Kristine Navarro McElhaney (who stepped up to play the role of  interim Executive Director) are doing an incredible job keeping us on task and moving OHA forward.  Council is working to develop stronger policies and implement our strategic plan.  We are working to grow our membership, our finances and, most importantly, effectively represent our membership.  Oral history is more popular than ever and the OHA is playing an increasingly central role in leading the way for a whole new generation of oral history practitioners.

Cliff, you would have been proud. I miss you, old friend.


Share your work at 2017 OHA conference in Minneapolis

The Oral History Association invites proposals for papers and presentations at the 2017 annual conference in Minneapolis.  The meeting will be held Oct. 4-7, 2017, at the Hilton Minneapolis Hotel. The theme of the conference is Engaging Audiences: Oral History and the Public. The submission deadline is Jan. 31, 2017.

Oral histories, from their initial creation, address real and perceived audiences.  Narrators reflect on their past experiences in dialogue with their interviewers; they do so while recording equipment documents these stories for future listeners that neither participant in the interview process can fully imagine.

Nonetheless, the narrators and interviewers seek to actively engage and manage these audiences through the questions they ask, the narratives they tell, the release and consent forms they sign, and the interpretations and products they create. Archivists seek to preserve and provide access to oral histories for unknown future audiences, and the decisions they make have significant consequence in determining who will be able to encounter these transcripts and recordings

How do these real and imagined audiences affect the work we do and the choices we make as oral historians? How do new methods of dissemination to audiences–podcasts, digital humanities, apps–shape our assumptions, our research, our interpretations, our project designs and our daily work? What is the place for print as we disseminate our oral history work in the future?  Are there creative new ways to integrate oral histories into museum exhibitions and theatrical productions?

Oral historians throughout Minnesota have a long and proud tradition of utilizing oral history in creative ways to reach a variety of audiences, whether in museums, schools and universities, public art installations, theater performances or public dialogues.  The site of rapid demographic change over the past 20 years, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul have grappled with major social, political and cultural shifts, making the need to understand history and its relationship to the present highly visible in many arenas.  With their top-notch museums, historic sites, institutions of higher education and engaged and active citizenry, the Twin Cities offer us an excellent site for our conference.

The Program Committee welcomes broad and diverse interpretations of the conference theme.  We especially encourage presenters to think about innovative delivery models including dramatic performance, interactive sessions and use of digital media.  We welcome proposals from academics, independent scholars, archivists, librarians, museum curators, web designers, public historians, educators, media artists, filmmakers, journalists, social justice activists, community organizers, playwrights, performers, storytellers and all people working in oral history’s continuum of practice.

International presenters whose proposals are accepted may apply for partial scholarships.  Small scholarships are also available for accepted presenters and others who attend the meeting.

Proposal format:

The online submission site is open at OHA 2017.

Questions? Contact:

Dan Kerr, 2017 Program Co-chair
Public History Program
American University
email: ude.n1632501088acire1632501088ma@rr1632501088ek1632501088

Rachel F. Seidman, 2017 Program Co-chair
Southern Oral History Program
University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
email: ude.c1632501088nu@na1632501088mdies1632501088.lehc1632501088ar1632501088

Todd Moye, 2016-2017 OHA Vice-President
UNT Oral History Program
University of North Texas
email: ude.t1632501088nu@ey1632501088om1632501088

Oral History Association

Georgia State University


Telephone:  (404) 413-5751


Interim Executive Director’s Report

By Kristine Navarro-McElhaney

2016 was a quite a year for the Oral History Association!  We celebrated our 50th anniversary in Long Beach with close to 600 of our fellow members, colleagues and friends from across the globe.  We saw an increase in membership, and a notable rise in the number of students joining OHA.  Our social media footprint has grown extensively.  Our volunteer committees did great work to provide oral history resources to educators, expand our international presence, promote diversity and bolster the institutional soundness of OHA moving forward.

Of course none of this would be possible without great leadership.  Like many of you, I am grateful for the guidance and stewardship of outgoing OHA President Annie Valk and the members of the OHA Council, who have invested countless hours to ensure that OHA remains the preeminent organization for people committed to the value of oral history.  Our good fortune continues with incoming President Doug Boyd, who serves as the Director of the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries.  I am also grateful for the tireless work and attention to detail of Program Associate Gayle Knight.

2017 promises to be a pivotal year in the field of oral history with endless possibilities and opportunities.   We are already under way with plans for the annual meeting in Minneapolis October 4-7, with the theme Engaging Audiences: Oral History and the PublicWe will continue to strive to provide our members with updated and useful information from the field, including our efforts in education, community practice, advocacy and stewardship.

This year, your active participation in OHA is more important than ever! There are many ways you can serve – from sharing your ideas and thoughts with us to attending the annual meeting and workshops, serving on a committee, encouraging your colleagues to become members, submitting articles and reviews to the Oral History Review or supporting scholarships by contributing to the endowment fund.

As always, many thanks for your continued support of OHA and best wishes for a successful year!

Genocide testimonies become teaching tools, Shoah Foundation director says

If you want firsthand testimony about the Holocaust, of course you will visit (online, naturally) the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive,, which has more than 50,000 testimonies from Holocaust survivors, collected primarily during the 1990s in more than 60 countries and 40 languages.

But Stephen D. Smith, executive director of the foundation, told a Friday keynote audience that the efforts to document the stories of survivors of other crimes against humanity has not stopped with the Holocaust. Nor has the foundation ceased to explore new ways to make those stories accessible in the digital age, including recreating scenes using virtual reality and interactive video technology.

“The stories we have been given were intended to be shared,” he said.

In recent years, the foundation has added to its archives testimonies related to the 1915 Armenian genocide, the 1937 Nanjing massacre and the 1994 Rwandan Tutsi genocide.

The foundation’s extensive online and social media presence and educational outreach reflect its efforts to take advantage of different platforms to repackage and reuse the wealth of material in the archives, Smith said.

“At the hub of what we do is preservation,” he said. But the wealth of material and the ongoing reality of crimes against humanity make it imperative for the foundation to extend its educational reach.

“Just because the Nazis are gone doesn’t mean evil is gone in the world,” he said, adding:

“We all have opportunities to make a difference.”

Among its other projects, Smith said, the foundation also is engaged in digitizing and restoring old collections “sitting in closets,” transforming them from materials not being seen at all to being available to people everywhere.

Oral history methods draw scholars from widely different perspectives

The Sioux Indian nation, Southern black gay men and San Francisco’s queer community in the 1940s might appear to have little in common.

But three scholars featured in an OHA conference plenary session illustrated how oral history can cross a multitude of disciplinary boundaries.

Over the years, said moderator Donald A. Ritchie, a past OHA president, “We’ve had just about every possible use of oral history.”

Nan Alamilla Boyd, professor of women and gender studies at San Francisco State University, said she was warned against trying to write her dissertation in the 1980s about the history of San Francisco’s queer community. For her, oral history was not merely a methodology; it was essential because so few print sources documented information about the 1940s sex workers and cross-dressers in San Francisco that were among the sources for her historical research.

She attempted to establish historical credibility for the interviews with such sources by cross-referencing them against each other.

With a somewhat similar focus on race, gender and sexuality, performance artist E. Patrick Johnson used oral history in his doctoral dissertation—the story of his grandmother’s life as a live-in domestic for a Southern white family.

Johnson created a one-man show based on stories of black gay men in the South and is working on a companion project based on oral history interviews with Southern black women. Most of the women who have been interviewed report having experienced sexual trauma at the hands of a male family member, Johnson said, noting that telling one’s story in an oral history interview is a way of validating that story.

Moreover, he added, using those stories in an oral history performance has “healing potential.”

For historian and human rights activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, oral history also emerged in a federal courtroom.

Dunbar-Ortiz was recruited by American Indian lawyer, author and activist Vine Deloria Jr. to be an expert witness on a motion to dismiss charges against nearly 300 defendants, mostly members of the Sioux nation from Pine Ridge, South Dakota, in the aftermath of the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

Dunbar-Ortiz, serving on the legal team as well as in her role as an expert witness, recalled how the testimony by tribal elders evolved into “an extraordinary oral history” of the Lakota people.  “There is a lot of rich oral history in court testimony,” she said.

Ad hoc labor working group organizes solidarity actions

An OHA ad hoc labor working group, formed after the Marriott Renaissance Hotel in Long Beach became the target of a labor organizing dispute, spearheaded a number of solidarity actions during the OHA conference aimed at showing support for hotel workers.

The labor dispute emerged in January 2016, long after the OHA had contracted with the hotel for the 2016 conference. Canceling the contract would have cost the OHA a $100,000 penalty.

The OHA Council approved a policy to prioritize booking future conferences at union hotels and to require that future contracts include a cancellation clause without penalty in the event of labor disputes.

To support UNITE-HERE, the labor union attempting to organize hotel workers, the ad hoc working group sold $10 red, union-made T-shirts that proclaimed “Oral Historians 4 UNITE-HERE,” participated in informational picketing and a rally in front of the hotel and urged conference participants to attend a labor forum at the International Association of Machinists Hall, away from the hotel.

Members of the ad hoc labor working group include:  Sherna Berger Gluck, Karen Harper, John McKerley, Paul Ortiz, Rosalie Riegle, Harvey Schwartz and Claytee White.


Oral history, now (and tomorrow)

If you’ve ever been to an Oral History Association meeting, you’ll know there’s really only one theme:  What is oral history?

That’s what Stephen Sloan, OHA past president and director of Baylor University’s Institute for Oral History, told an OHA plenary session—and he was only partly joking.

He and four other panelists at the Thursday afternoon session pinpointed key developments in oral history in the past half-century and sparked lively discussion from the audience.

Amy Starecheski, co-director of the Oral History M.A. Program at Columbia University, noted that unlike prevailing conditions in the academy at the time of the first oral history colloquium, today’s oral historians typically no longer have to fight for legitimacy. She pointed to the growth and democratization of the field and noted a surge of interest in using oral history for social justice.

OHA past president Paul Ortiz, director of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida, echoed Starecheski’s observations about the role of social justice and social change as elements of oral history.  Oral history took off as a discipline in the 1960s during a time of social crisis and social change, he said, with oral historians uniquely positioned to help people tell their stories and bridge differences.

Natalie Fousekis, newly elected OHA first vice president and director of the Center for Oral and Public History at California State University, Fullerton, highlighted the role of feminist thought in the evolution of oral history practice. Oral history interviews, she said, allow women—and all interviewees—to interpret their own lives and experiences. But she noted a growing dilemma oral historians face in recording in-depth, lengthy interviews while at the same time emphasizing a desire for greater access to those interviews.

Sloan noted that the past half-century in oral history has been driven by changes in technology and by the “big-tent-ness” of oral historians making room for various practitioners motivated by a “desire to do something.”

“Good oral history,” Sloan said, “has always been about crisis.”

Doug Boyd, who took the helm as OHA’s new president, said his interest in oral history has been shaped by frustration over lack of use of archival collections.  Without access, oral histories only have potential impact, he said.

Boyd, who directs the University of Kentucky Libraries’ Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, spearheaded creation of the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS), an open-source, web-based application that allows users to quickly search oral history interviews online.

But greater online access to interview content has created a “new frontier” for oral history, he said, creating challenges to the privacy of oral history content and raising the bar for informed consent.

Boyd called it challenging to try to anonymize interviews by stripping out identifying information.  A good life history interview includes extensive personal information, he noted, enough so that an unscrupulous reader could use that information to create phony bank accounts.

“There was a safety in archival security,” he said, suggesting that oral historians should consider focusing on doing better interviews instead of doing more interviews.

Fousekis said interviews that have already been collected create opportunities to teach through their rich content.

Past OHA president Rina Benmayor, speaking from the audience, noted that existing interview materials also create opportunities for creative work.

Ortiz noted that performances, along with booklets, teacher guides, DVDs and other low-tech tools have become increasingly important ways to share oral history interview material.

Remembering Cliff Kuhn, 1952-2015

Laughter and tears characterized a memorial tribute conference session for Cliff Kuhn, who died Nov. 8, 2015, after two years as the Oral History Association’s first executive director, and who was remembered as an always-enthusiastic historian, father and friend.

OHA past president Stephen Sloan noted Kuhn’s enthusiasm for the wide-ranging content at OHA conferences.  “Cliff loved every session he went to; there wasn’t a session he didn’t love.”

Another thing he loved, said OHA Program Associate Gayle Knight, was working with students. He would always say after meetings involving students, “aren’t they terrific?” she recalled.

Knight said his colleagues at Georgia State University observed that Kuhn had never before seemed so happy or so alive after the OHA chose him as its first executive director.

“It was a great privilege to get to know Cliff,” she said.

A Georgia State graduate student recalled Kuhn, his thesis adviser, demanding high-quality work. “There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t just really need to talk to him.”

Kuhn’s widow, Kathie Klein, thanked OHA members and expressed “the deep gratitude of all of Cliff’s family.”