By Natalie Fousekis
I hope this message finds everyone enjoying the slightly slower pace of summer and with that time to engage in oral history work, attend one of the many workshops offered across the country, or turn your interviews into an exhibition, a monograph, a podcast, digital project, article, performance or one of the other creative ways our members use oral history in their work.
Since my May newsletter report, I traveled to the Whiting Foundation’s convening held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City where oral and public historians from the academy – incoming fellows and outgoing fellows – met to share their work. It was a mini-OHA reunion as Troy Reeves and I both served as oral history experts commenting on and providing feedback to fellows. OHA member Christian Lopez also attended and discussed the Whiting-funded African American community oral history project he’s launching in Athens, Georgia. Among the 20 projects or so featured at the convening, close to half incorporated oral history work. We learned about a walking tour of the Pilsen neighborhood in Chicago that will tell the stories of its murals and incorporate interviews with the muralists; a traveling exhibition of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee’s Snowbird Day School developed with images, documents and oral histories; the Gay Rodeo Oral History Project and its curated digital exhibit, The Voices of Gay Rodeo; a crowd-sourced digital project on the Baltimore Uprising that includes oral testimony; an oral and public history project on race in Tacoma, Washington; and a Wisconsin traveling exhibition on land, farming and food that emerged from oral history work (you can ask Troy more about this one).
Most of those engaged in oral history work at the Whiting Foundation convening had never attended an Oral History Association conference nor were they members of the organization. Thankfully, with Troy, Christian and myself serving as unofficial OHA ambassadors, we invited them to attend our upcoming conferences in Salt Lake or Baltimore and share their work, suggested they explore our website, and encouraged them think about preservation as they carried out and wrapped up their projects. It reminded me that we still have work to do to expand our membership and draw in emerging practitioners and scholars. We would all benefit from exposure to this innovative work, and they would be introduced to this supportive, creative and engaged group of oral historians.
The OHA strategic plan remains our top priority this summer. We have entered the information gathering stage. Council members are completing a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis and are working with our strategic planning consultant to develop a member survey, which should go live in the next week or so. We hope many of you will take time to respond to the survey. The more members who respond, the better data we’ll have to guide us as we brainstorm, meet with our consultant in October and begin to develop a framework for the strategic plan. We value and depend on your feedback as we undergo this critical process.
Finally, I again want to thank members who have stepped up to assist the organization with our work, most recently, those who said yes to my requests to serve on awards committees and accepted nomination to an elected office.