I’m writing to update you on the Oral History Association’s continued response to COVID-19, especially as it relates to the annual meeting.
First, as shelter-in-place orders begin to lift or relax within parts of the United States and internationally, it will be a challenge for all of us to navigate shifts (or the lack thereof) in our work and home lives, in those of our loved ones, and in our communities. As I stressed before, following social distancing guidelines, including wearing a face mask, is as important as ever. I will say I have been dismayed to see not only COVID-19 disproportionately impact vulnerable communities in terms of infection rates, death, and economic impact, but also the lack of response from local and state officials in some parts of the country to combat this. I want to take a moment to highlight the OHA’s Statement on Diversity and Inclusivity. Though our ability to practice oral history in these times may be limited, our commitment to respect, inclusivity, equality, and dignity has not wavered. As we negotiate these times, centering the well-being of our fellow humans is and will continue to be essential.
Second, work continues on our 2020 Annual Meeting, though admittedly it looks increasingly different from previous years. Typically we open our conference registration portal in May, but we’ve decided to postpone registration. There are many unknowns that we are still working through, and given this we feel we need more information and decisions in place before we can begin registration. We hope to open the portal later in June, but if there are any delays, I will let you know as soon as possible. I thank you all for your patience on this.
Unfortunately, it is also still not yet clear what direction the meeting will take, whether all in-person, all virtual, or a combination. As projected timelines for when large group gatherings can resume only increase, though, we know the likelihood of having an all-virtual meeting increases. Accordingly, we’ve taken multiple steps to begin concrete planning for this possibility. This includes convening the Virtual Meeting Task Force to assist the Program Committee and Local Arrangements Committee with planning the annual meeting. This task force is assisting in a variety of ways, from reviewing available best practices for virtual meetings, to assessing potential digital platforms, to thinking about how we maintain essential aspects of any meeting, like networking. All these capable people are also continuing to develop the meeting program. Sessions, plenaries, the keynote address, workshops, tours, and networking events all will be held no matter what direction the meeting takes. One important tradition at our meetings is honoring the annual award winners. And fortunately there is still time to get in applications! The current deadline is June 1, and you can find more information about the awards and how to apply here. The Call for Posters is still open as well. This would be a great way to feature any recently started projects or efforts.
As we continue to plan, we need your help. The Program Committee, the Local Arrangements Committee, and the Executive Office have developed a survey about the annual meeting. You can access it here, and I hope you will take it. It will help us assess considerations related to an in-person vs. virtual meeting, travel restrictions, registrations costs, potential digital platforms, and the recording/accessibility of sessions. All of this information will be vital in our work, especially as we continue to navigate so many unknowns.
Finally, as this crisis wears on and getting back to “normal” seems more distant by the day, it’s understandable our sense of well-being may erode. In my own self-care efforts, I have found a few things helpful, including these tips on self-holds, the New York Times At-Home special section, Zoom happy hours, meal planning to limit grocery store trips and nourish my body, and daily walks. What self-care means for everyone is different, but I’m mentioning it again because I sincerely hope you have space in your day for it. It helps sustain us (something very different from increasing productivity, which is a pressure I encourage you to say “No, thank you,” to), and it helps us to be present for ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities.
I’ll be in touch soon. Please stay safe and take care.
Allison K. Tracy-Taylor
By Kristine McCusker
This has been a trying few months for everyone, and we hope you are all staying safe. As we have been hunkered down and working remotely, the Executive Office and the Council have found new ways to serve our membership while at the same time gathering information and building new foundations that will stabilize us in difficult times.
We have conducted or co-conducted two webinars, for example. Thanks again to our friends at the Baylor Institute for Oral History for our co-sponsored and quite timely webinar on remote oral interviewing in early April. Thanks, as well, to our friends at the American Folklore Society for our co-sponsored webinar on Fieldwork and Digital Audio Technology held on May 1. Remember that webinars are always free for our members and can be accessed behind the paywall. We also hope you will sign up for future “check-ins,” as some did with OHA President Allison Tracy-Taylor in April.
In the meantime, Kris and Louis, the organization’s co-directors, have been gathering information from sources such as the American Council of Learned Societies and other professional, nonprofit societies to make sure we move forward with the least amount of disruption.
We have consulted the ACLS attorney to make sure that the organization is protected legally and financially. This has helped us generate both a risk assessment for the organization as well as a long-term disaster plan that will account not only for pandemics, but for labor strikes, weather disasters and other disruptive activities that could do us harm.
We also have applied for money from humanities organizations, the CARES act and other governmental sources to make sure that any financial hits we take will be weathered by these other sources of aid.
As always, please let us know if there is anything the Executive Office can do to help.
By Allison K. Tracy-Taylor
I’m writing to keep you updated on the various ways the OHA is responding to the COVID-19 epidemic. This is an evolving situation requiring work in a number of areas. By beginning work now, we hope to get ahead of and mitigate negative impacts on the Association and our membership.
First, let me say I hope you all are staying safe. The seriousness of COVID-19 cannot be overstated. Further, state and federal guidelines on social distancing have impacted many of us in profound ways, the full extent of which we won’t understand for weeks or months, even years. The health and well-being of you and your communities is of the highest priority. I ask you to follow all local and national orders on sheltering in place and social distancing, and I encourage you, as you are able, to prioritize self-care and care for your families and communities.
Second, we are continuing with planning for our 2020 Annual Meeting in Baltimore. It is our sincere hope the current crisis will resolve enough to allow us to move forward with the meeting as planned. It is shaping up to be an exciting and dynamic meeting.
The Program Committee has been hard at work reviewing session proposals, and acceptance notifications will go out soon. The Call for Posters is now open, and scholarship applications are also available. We have pushed back the scholarship application deadline to June 10, 2020, and notifications will go out in July. We encourage you to plan for the meeting as you would in any other year, though please review and follow the CDC’s guidelines on travel. It’s also best to not make nonrefundable travel arrangements at this time.
Understanding there are many unknowns in this situation, we have also begun a risk assessment of COVID-19 and the economic implications stemming from it for the Association. For the annual meeting, there are a number of scenarios being considered, including the possibility, if meeting face to face is not safe or feasible, of holding a virtual meeting. These discussions are in early stages, and we are committed to communicating with the membership and meeting attendees about these discussions often and in a timely manner.
We are also developing a longer-term emergency plan for the Association. This plan will cover a number of scenarios, and I imagine by the end of 2020 our section on how to respond to pandemics will be particularly robust.
As oral historians, in these times of social distancing, we’ve had to reevaluate the how and why of face-to-face interviewing. A number of resources around this issue have been developed that I’d like to share with you.
First, the Association was fortunate to partner with Baylor University’s Institute for Oral History to hold a webinar on remote interviewing. If you were unable to attend, we’ve made available the recording of the webinar, the slides, and additional resources pulled from the webinar chat, as well as a summary of the webinar’s recommendations.
The Vermont Folklife Center has also put out helpful tips on remote interviewing, and this week the Oral History Society released substantive advice on remote interviewing. Finally, Sarah Dziedzic (who has worn many hats in the Association, including currently serving as co-chair for the Independent Practitioners Task Force) has written an essay on oral history, immunodeficiency and disability justice. I hope you’ll take a moment to read it.
The Association is also working to develop further guidelines and resources around remote interviewing and we hope to distribute these soon. As resources in other areas impacting our community become available, the Association will work to highlight and connect our membership to them. If there are resources you find particularly useful or topics on which you’d like to see more resources, please reach out to the office. If you’re interested and available to help us curate resources in a particular area, please let us know.
I’ll be in touch soon and regularly. Please stay safe and take care.