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Call for Proposals: Assessing the Role of Race and Power in Oral History Theory and Practice

June 2022
Convened by the Ad Hoc Group for Transformative Oral History Practice* in
collaboration with the Oral History Association and the Oral History Center at UC
Berkeley

It has been just over one year since a White police officer murdered George Floyd, sparking the largest call for racial justice in this country in a generation. Support for Black Lives Matter reached an all-time high in June 2020, with nearly 70 percent of U.S. adults holding a favorable opinion of the movement, and support spilling over to all corners of the globe. White Americans also helped take down Confederate monuments and bought books on antiracism in record numbers while corporations pledged millions of dollars to social justice organizations and causes. One year later, however, commemorations of Floyd’s life and legacy asked:  “What’s changed since?”

We acknowledge that “Assessing the Role of Race and Power in Oral History Theory and Practice” is taking place amid revitalized demands for understanding – and changing – the systemic racism that enabled a White police officer to murder a Black citizen in daylight without seeming fear of repercussions. But it is also taking place at a time of fierce backlash to any understanding of the oppressive forces that enabled Floyd’s murder. At the time of this writing, some state legislatures have passed laws banning the teaching of critical race theory, even as a majority of states seek to suppress the Black vote and overturn our elections.  Recent events such as these are causing many to evaluate the role of structural racism and White supremacy in the arts and humanities, including the practice of oral history. 

Building on an enthusiastically received panel that asked “Is Oral History White?” at the 2020 Oral History Association annual meeting, participants in that session (calling ourselves the Ad Hoc Group for Transformative Oral History Practice), in collaboration with the Oral History Association and the Oral History Center at UC Berkeley, are convening a symposium that will define, identify, analyze, assess, and imagine alternatives to conventional practices, prevailing ideologies, and institutional structures of oral history in the United States and Canada, as they pertain to historic and current forms of systemic racial discrimination. In essence, the symposium is moving beyond the question the 2020 panel asked – “Is Oral History White?” – to interrogate broader structures and dynamics of race and racialized thinking in oral history. 

We are inviting proposals from oral historians and others involved in fieldwork-related interviewing practices, as well as critical race and Whiteness theorists, to submit proposals for symposium papers that pose major questions and offer precise assessments of racial constructs as a factor in all phases of oral history work: project design, research processes, financial and budgetary matters, fieldwork and community relations, interviewing, archival practices, and public presentation and interpretation of narrative materials. 

The “Assessing the Role of Race and Power in Oral History Theory and Practice” symposium will take place via Zoom Webinar over a three-day period in June 2022. We expect to convene approximately thirty-five presenters, spread over six to eight sessions of two hours each. With the assistance of a moderator and/or one or more discussants, session presenters will summarize and discuss pre-circulated papers posted on a conference website, which will have also been made available to registered attendees in advance of the symposium. Symposium sessions will allow time for audience questions and comments, vetted and synthesized via the Zoom Webinar “Q&A” function by the session moderator. This format will allow for especially robust and probing discussion during sessions. 

This symposium should present a significant opportunity for audience members to reflect personally upon the charged subject of race in oral history in a pedagogically constructive way. Discussions of racialized experience and representations in our field will raise not only important insights but also strong emotions. We expect our audience to have a vast range of racial identities and relationships – including but not limited to Whiteness and Blackness – and varying degrees of experience reflecting upon that. We therefore plan to set shared expectations for constructive conversation rooted in mindful awareness, good faith engagement, and emotional maturity at the very beginning of the symposium and to create opportunities for small-group discussion and individually tailored self-reflection over the duration of the symposium. We hope that the symposium’s virtual nature, with participants in the relative privacy and comfort of their own homes, will contribute to this aspect of the symposium experience. Above all, we plan to keep discussion focused on practical applications of whatever theoretical and conceptual insights into race in oral history our symposium may furnish.

Intended outcomes include publication of revised versions of selected conference papers in an edited volume and a white paper assessing OHA’s racialized history, practices, and programs, to be developed by symposium organizers. Organizers, in cooperation with OHA’s Equity Task Force and Diversity Committee, will also create and promulgate guidelines for racial equity in oral history.

Pending receipt of grant monies, we hope to provide honoraria for symposium presenters.

Proposal Information 

Each proposal should include a title, an abstract of no more than 500 words, and a short biographical statement of no more than 300 words. Include your name, institutional affiliation if relevant, mailing address, email address, and phone number. The abstract must outline the research that you either have conducted or intend to conduct in support of your proposed presentation, the sources that you have consulted or will consult, and the collections in which you have conducted or will conduct research. While we anticipate that most proposals will be for a single paper, we welcome proposals for full sessions, also – to include 3-5 papers, moderator and discussant/s. We also welcome inquiries from individuals interested in serving as a session moderator or discussant to include a brief statement of interest and a short summary of work in oral history. Proposals are due November 1, 2021. (See below for more information.)

Some questions and themes we expect symposium participants may address include:

(Please note that we are open to other related questions and explorations.)

Whiteness and White Supremacy

  • How should Whiteness be defined, and how do the deep structures and conventions of our practice reflect Whiteness, structural racism, and White supremacy?
  • How might an interrogation of unexamined Whiteness be brought to bear on work in oral history? This might be done by assessing a past project or the curation of an existing collection or by considering the planning and implementation of a project currently under development. (Note: While we welcome case studies that audit specific projects, we would also like to see papers go beyond that.) 
  • How has work that has drawn upon existing collections reproduced racialized assumptions? 
  • What are some examples of projects that handled or represented racial dynamics, including Whiteness, in a creative, antiracist, or otherwise generative way?

Non-Western perspectives and approaches

  • What has oral history learned from Indigenous, African American and other perspectives and approaches that fall outside the dominant Western paradigm?
  • What patterns do we see in our own work that can be traced to BIPOC origins and models? What do these BIPOC origins and models have to teach us about the pitfalls of Whiteness and White Supremacy? 
  • How might specific insights, both theoretical and methodological, generated by the field of Critical Race Studies, help guide practical approaches to oral history? 
  • How and in what circumstances has oral history operated against the grain of prevailing racial assumptions?
  • What can oral historians learn about power dynamics and reflexivity from research in the field of trauma studies?

Invisible Architecture

  • How have the institutional and organizational structures underlying work in oral history been racialized? How has the way oral history has been funded and otherwise supported contributed to unintentional racial bias? How has the “history from below” approach perpetuated these biases? And how do White interviewers themselves perpetuate bias?
  • Over its fifty-plus year history, how has the work of the Oral History Association been racialized or reflective of broader patterns of White supremacy? In what ways and to what effect has the association functioned as a gatekeeper for oral history and oral historians, including some practitioners, practices, and work, excluding others, through its various products and programs such as the Principles and Best Practices, annual meeting, and publication of the Oral History Review? How has the association addressed racial issues over time, to what effect? 
  • When and where is it appropriate for oral historians to think beyond our individual projects and consider the role of the institutions we work for in order to tackle structural racism?

Oral history and current events

  • How are oral historians and the institutions and organizations with which we are affiliated responding to the current political moment? How might we respond more effectively?
  • Oral history is by its nature a civic enterprise and a medium for public engagement. How can oral history mobilize anti-racist constituencies, create dialogue around difficult issues, and/or influence public opinion or policy?
  • What are the limits of oral history in combating structural racism?

The deadline for proposal submissions is October 1  November 1.

Notification of acceptance: On or about December 15.

Submit proposals to:

In the subject line of your email, please write, “Last Name Symposium Proposal Submission” and send to: MOC.L1635440169IAMG@1635440169YROTS1635440169IHLAR1635440169OEVIT1635440169AMROF1635440169SNART1635440169. Proposals should be sent as an attachment in Word or PDF formats and not in the body of the email. Please include a cover page with your name, contact information, and brief bio.

Questions may be directed to:

MOC.L1635440169IAMG@1635440169YROTS1635440169IHLAR1635440169OEVIT1635440169AMROF1635440169SNART1635440169

Final papers should be submitted no later than April 15, 2022 in order to post them on the conference website for distribution  to conference attendants by May 1, 2022

Final papers should be between 5,000 and 7,000 words and include a bibliography. 

Submit final papers to: 

In the subject line of your email, please write, “Last Name Symposium Paper Submission” and send to:  MOC.L1635440169IAMG@1635440169YROTS1635440169IHLAR1635440169OEVIT1635440169AMROF1635440169SNART1635440169. Proposals should be sent as an attachment in Word or PDF formats and not in the body of the email. Please include a cover page with your name, contact information, and brief bio.

 *The Ad Hoc Group for Transformative Oral History is composed to date of the five panelists who contributed to the OHA’s 2020 conference session, “Is Oral History White?” – Benji de la Piedra, Jessica Douglas, Kelly E. Navies, Linda Shopes and Holly Werner-Thomas.

 

OHA 2021 Annual Meeting Registration is now open!

Registration for the 2021 Virtual Annual Meeting is now open. The conference will take place October 9-14.

2021 Conference Fees:
OHA Member with Institutional Support…$75
OHA Member Independent Scholar … $50
OHA Student Member… $40
Non-member… $120
Non-member Student… $50

The complete program  is available here (All times are listed in Eastern Time). For a refresher of what the different session types are, please see the Call for Proposals.

The descriptions of the pre-conference workshops are available here. This year workshop fees will be on a tiered scale, so feel free to pay as much or as little as you are able.

See our website for more 2021 Virtual Meeting details and for information about signing up as a volunteer.

2021 Virtual Meeting Details

***All times listed on the PDF of the Preliminary Schedule are in the Eastern Time Zone. ***

Pheedloop

For this year’s annual meeting we are using a virtual event platform called Pheedloop. Pheedloop will work similarly to the platform we used last year in that it will be the gateway to accessing all the conference content. In addition to having the schedule of sessions, we’ll have an Exhibit Hall and Poster Session where attendees will be able to engage with exhibitors and presenters through text and video chat. Attendees will also be able to chat with other attendees one on one. The platform has Zoom integration, which should streamline joining and switching between sessions, and allows attendees to create a personal schedule of sessions. It also has accessibility adjustments, which allows attendees to adjust settings like font size,  color contrast and saturation, etc., and can optimize profiles for vision impairment, ADHD, and more. Pheedloop will adjust the times of the program schedule to the attendees’ time zone.

Conference registrants will receive a virtual event invite in their email from Pheedloop shortly before the conference. This invite will have the link and login information to access the virtual event platform. We’ll also have instructions on how to update personal information and navigate the platform.

Poster Session and Exhibit Hall

This year the poster session and exhibit hall will be integrated into Pheedloop. Attendees will be able to browse them anytime during the conference, but we’ll also have times built into the schedule so attendees can chat with the people at each “booth.”

Zoom

For the regular sessions, OHA has acquired a package of professional Zoom licenses so that we can host and manage ten simultaneous sessions.  The expectation is that presenters will present their materials live and that there will be live engagement with the audience following the presentations. Our goal is to have at least one volunteer per session, who will edit the automated third-party transcript. If possible, we ask that the chair of the session host the meeting, but if they are not comfortable with that, then we will have another volunteer present. Panelists and speakers will also share their visual slides live through Zoom screen share. For the most part, the panels will run very similarly to how we would run our panels in a live conference format.

Attendees will join the Zoom sessions directly through Pheedloop, though there is an option to join traditionally as well if there are any problems (with a link and passcode).

Accessibility

We have developed a strategy to make this the most accessible OHA conference to date.  The plenaries and business meeting will have live ASL translation.  All sessions (not including Zoom breakout rooms) will have an automated transcript, and we are working to develop a list of volunteers to edit those transcripts before posting the recording.  We have provided guidance to presenters so that they can develop accessible visual presentations. Presenters will also be able to upload any presentation materials to the virtual event platform.

If there is a way we can make your conference experience more accessible, please email us at gro.y1635440169rotsi1635440169hlaro1635440169@aho1635440169.

Recorded Sessions

We will record all sessions unless panelists explicitly opt out. If even one panelists opts out, then the whole panel will not be recorded. All attendees will be notified upon entering a session that the session is being recorded and that their participation within the session will be recorded.  These recordings will be posted along with the transcripts.  These recordings will be accessible only to those who are registered for the conference.  Conference attendees will be able to view sessions scheduled alongside one another and will be able to watch the sessions regardless of what time zone they live in.  Pre-conference workshops will also be recorded, but those recordings will only be accessible to those registered for that workshop.

To opt out of being recorded, please fill out this presenter survey: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdfSMyuUmLh-iqom5nqwW5YqnpdnXXOUQLfBB1px6kClrzFvA/viewform?usp=sf_link

 

 

Search for New OHA Host Institution and/or Executive Director

The Oral History Association (OHA), the principal organization of practicing oral historians in the United States, is seeking a host institution and/or executive director beginning January 1, 2023. 

Since it’s founding, the OHA was run by an Executive Secretary, but the organization decided to go to an Executive Office model in 2011. The first Executive Office was at Georgia State University from 2012-2017. The five year term of the current Office at Middle Tennessee State University ends in December of 2022.

Therefore, the Executive Office Search Committee has published an Invitation to Submit a Letter of Interest. For the full RFP, please see this link: http://www.oralhistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/2021-Executive-Office-Search-RFP.pdf

The Search Committee is committed to working with prospective applicants as they prepare Letters of Interest. Please feel free to contact Search Committee Chair Lu Ann Jones (vog.s1635440169pn@se1635440169noj_n1635440169naul1635440169) and committee members Kelly E. Navies (ude.i1635440169s@kse1635440169ivan1635440169) and Zaheer Ali (moc.i1635440169laree1635440169haz@l1635440169iam1635440169) to indicate your intent to pursue this opportunity and to address any questions you may have. Initial expressions of interest are due October 15, 2021.

Nominating Committee employs new approach to elections

By Nishani Frazier and Nikki Pombier, Nominating Committee Co-Chairs

Some of the members of the Nominating Committee are relatively new to OHA, although they are not new to oral history. As new members, we embraced different strategies for enhancing the OHA structure, in part because we were not informed by or obligated to older models. We asked questions, we considered other possibilities, and we were motivated to help OHA reach its stated goals in the strategic plan.

We approached the process differently for multiple reasons.

First, prior applicants had expressed confusion and even disappointment regarding the lack of transparency and broader participation. How did one get “picked” for consideration? Why was it person A and B? And what happened to candidate C? Incorporating all candidates bolstered transparency and avoided the implication that council service required “insider” status versus work in the field and good ideas.

Second, some felt the process was quite insular and dependent on the contact list of the Nominating Committee. This created a limited pool on multiple levels and stymied broader participation among both members and oral historians outside OHA. We felt that changing how we conducted the process served to build the organization and membership. It also increased OHA’s profile with other organizations where oral historians find homes external to OHA. The Association for the Study of African American Life serves as one example, where oral historians of the black experience were more likely to present their work and who might be brought into the OHA community.

Third, the Nominating Committee was particularly concerned with continuity and sustainability. The multiple candidates provided OHA members with an increased, inclusive selection of potential candidates for the open positions on council and for vice president-elect. But it could also serve as a pool for council and the president for populating other committees with diverse candidates whose demonstrated interest in engaging with the organization ought not be overlooked. The Nominating Committee in previous years faced some difficulty with locating candidates because those who did not transition to the council felt disinclined to be “on the rollercoaster” again. This resulted in a talent loss.

Fourth, the ballot acts as one of the few places of exposure and introduction. Candidates who transition to committees can enter OHA and avoid the questions which sometimes emerge regarding their background or standing in the profession. This is also important because many oral historians outside of the OHA structure feel disaffected by the constraints and presumptions of professional status–independent oral historians are one example.

We believe that the Nominating Committee has an important role to play in tackling the system-wide challenges the strategic plan hopes to address. In the first year of experimental outreach we were able to generate a strong slate of candidates. What we hope to do is turn this new process into forward momentum that expands and maximizes diversity throughout the OHA by reaching out to a broader constituency–especially those most excluded and disaffected by the traditional OHA structure.

The increased pool is an opportunity for OHA to highlight the work of all oral historians in or out of the organization, mentor new leadership, improve transparency and create continuity and sustainability for OHA leadership.

There are many within and external to OHA who would gladly serve the organization. The Nominating Committee believes that we can welcome those persons by simply opening the door.

OHA Call for Posters is Open! Deadline July 15

The virtual poster session will provide an opportunity for informal, interactive presentations and discussions. This is a forum for exchanging innovative ideas, and for useful feedback and discussion on your work.

Submission requirements: Proposals should include a title and a description of how the poster or project relates to the theme. Abstracts can be up to 250 words. Posters are a visual and interactive medium, so please provide some information about how the display will convey information visually and/or how you would like to engage visitors. Because OHA evaluates only the abstract in its decision, be sure that it clearly conveys the purpose of your presentation. The deadline for submissions is July 15, 2021. and submitters will be notified in August.

Virtual Poster Platform: We are using Pheedloop to host our online conference. Pheedloop has a robust virtual poster session tool, which allows you to share slides, video, or a single poster with conference attendees. We will have designated times when the poster session is “open” and presenters will be expected to be there live to interact with visitors via video and chat. Visitors will also be able to view posters asynchronously during and after the conference and leave messages or questions for presenters. Viewers have an opportunity to become acquainted with new work quickly and easily and have more time to study the information and discuss it with presenters. There is more time for one-to-one discussion with people interested in presenters’ research than in a typical panel session. Posters are often used to showcase a completed project, or to communicate ideas about research in progress.

For more information and to submit a proposal, see the full Call for Posters: https://www.oralhistory.org/call-for-posters/.

Co-Executive Directors Report

By Kristine McCusker
April 2021

            Curated highlights from the 2020 Oral History Association conference are now available on the organization’s website. This was funded by a National Endowment for the Humanities CARES Act grant that allowed us to host our conference virtually. Thanks to Faith Bagley and Anna Kaplan for their stellar work on the grant. Don’t forget that this fall’s conference October will again be virtual, but we look forward to seeing everyone face-to-face in Los Angeles in 2022.

We’ve been working with the new Development Task Force, shepherded by Stephen Sloan, to grow and mature on our fundraising abilities. We are pleased to see significant increases already in the endowment to ensure a firm financial foundation for OHA’s work.  We have also been integrating our new treasurer, Troy Reeves, more firmly into the Executive Office and into the organization’s finances so he can be a good steward of the organization’s resources.

Council meetings have been keeping the Executive Office busy. Like our conference, which has gone virtual, Council has also conducted our midwinter meetings virtually through February, March and April, planning for the OHA’s future. Meeting minutes will be posted soon for the membership to read.

We continue to appreciate the trust that the organization has put in us and it is an honor to promote oral history and the Oral History Association.

President’s Column

By Dan Kerr
April 2021

             The Oral History Association is committed to following through on our core values, and I would like to focus on two of them (see our Strategic Plan for the other three):

Sustainability. We steward our field and organization to ensure that our work is valued and accessible.

            Transparency. We ensure transparent and participatory management of our association, accountable to all individuals and communities we serve.

In late February 2020, the OHA Council held an in-person midwinter meeting over a period of several days In Baltimore, Maryland.  During the meeting, we heard news reports of the first known COVID-19 death at that time in the United States. We had little understanding what was in store for us. More than a year later, we will shortly be wrapping up a series of virtual bi-weekly “midwinter” meetings. While we have accomplished quite a bit, much has been lost in terms of the personal relationships, connection, and late-night conversations that have played a critical role in advancing the OHA to where we are today.

Nonetheless, we have addressed our core business, approving our annual budget and reviewing committee reports, and we have also been forward looking as we continue to engage in rethinking our organizational structure to further our recently passed strategic plan.

We decided to invest $20,000 this year in initiatives that can help us achieve the goals laid out in the plan. Following three years of surpluses, including a surplus of $44,000 from 2020, Council approved the transfer of all but one year of operating expenses from our savings accounts to our endowment accounts. As a result, OHA transferred $66,000 to our endowment, which now has over $670,000 in it. To put things in perspective, OHA ended 2012 with $220,000 in our endowment. We are in a substantially more secure position as a result of the financial stewardship that has come from our recent executive offices and elected leadership.

When thinking about our annual budget, I find it useful to think of our three major areas of income and expenses: Membership/Executive Office, Annual Meeting and Oral History Review.

A hugely important source of income that serves as the backbone for the OHA comes from our individual and partnership memberships ($61k).  These dues largely support our executive office, which includes $56k for the office and approximately $27k for other administrative expenses. Much of the work of the executive office goes to support the annual meeting. Taking that into account, the actual cost of the annual meeting is far greater than what our budgeted cost is ($50k). We expect to earn $56k from conference registration and sponsorships.

The other huge source of revenue as well as significant area of expense is the Oral History Review, which importantly is owned by the Oral History Association.  The OHR brings in approximately $67k in revenue and costs us $42k.  That surplus supports the executive office as it plans the annual meeting, which is critical to generating scholarships for the field and content for the journal’s pages.  There are other sources of revenues and other costs, but these are the big ones.

None of that income nor those expenses are terribly stable.  We know our financial contribution to the next executive office will have to increase in order to make our transition successful (possibly by $20k).  We are currently in a position where we can risk that because we can responsibly draw approximately $25k from our endowment given its size and the guidelines set out in our bylaws and standing resolutions.  That does not, however, leave us with a lot of room to invest in our core values that seek to make our field more equitable, inclusive and meaningful. In order to address our core values, we need to grow.

Basically, we need to expand our annual income by $20,000 per year if we are going to use our endowment income to promote programs rather than operations.  While all of our committees have important contributions to make towards this growth, the two that are most directly critical are the Membership Committee, chaired by Catherine Mayfield, and our newly constituted Development Taskforce, chaired by Stephen Sloan.

A growth in our membership numbers by 15%, not counting a parallel growth that would occur with conference registrations, could raise an additional $10k.  Our relatively underdeveloped approach to development is currently raising approximately $10k per year, which supports scholarships and awards.

We believe that having a more robust strategy that focuses on annual giving campaigns, life memberships, planned giving, grants and corporate donations could easily double what we are currently doing. Lastly, given the growth of our endowment over the last decade, we are in a position to have a successful campaign to reach an endowment of $1 million, which would double the amount we are able to draw from it annually to invest in our priorities.

As we embark on an effort over the next two years to put OHA in a more sustainable position, please consider investing in our field with your own contributions.  We are the ones who have dedicated our lives to the practice of oral history, and we know why our field is so critically important.

OHA’s Response to the Violent Attacks Against Asian Americans

March 22, 2021

In light of the recent violent attacks against the Asian American community, the OHA has done several things to support our friends and neighbors. We have signed onto a statement with fellow professional societies affiliated with the American Council of Learned Societies, decrying the violence. You can find the statement here: https://acls.org/ACLS-News/ACLS-News/March-2021/ACLS-Statement-Condemning-Anti-Asian-Violence. The Council has also gathered together resources that we might rely on as we stand firm against racial injustice pitted toward Asian and Pacific Islander communities. They include:

You can also:

If you have other resources you think we should include, please contact the Executive Office at gro.y1635440169rotsi1635440169hlaro1635440169@aho1635440169. We will continue to post everything we receive on this page.