By Sarah Milligan and Sady Sullivan
OHA Program Co-Chairs
As you surely know by now, 2016 is the 50th anniversary for the Oral History Association. The 2016 annual meeting will capture the spirit of the first National Colloquium on Oral History in 1966 by introducing lively theoretical and methodological discussion space, examining current and ongoing work, as well as looking toward the future of the field.
The theme of “OHA@50: Traditions, Transitions and Technologies from the Field” is well represented in this year’s programmatic line-up. The Oct. 12-16 meeting will have more than 100 sessions, including wide-ranging topics relevant to oral historians’ work in such diverse areas as archives and collection management, social justice, public history and education.
Also this year we welcome the Southwestern Oral History Association (SOHA) members in the first joint meeting of the two organizations. Keep an eye out for SOHA-designated presentations, with a good dose of local and regional topics.
We will continue with the 2015 annual meeting introduction of mini-workshops as a session format (90 minute how-to’s on a range of technical issues) as well as the poster session. Look for the call in June to present a poster. Performance and documentary work will continue to have a marked representation as well as dedicated time for interest groups.
Exclusive to 2016 is a track, sponsored by the 50th Anniversary Task Force, devoted to seminal points in the oral history field as public space for discourse on the state and future of various key movements.
Expect two engaging plenaries examining the state of the practice of oral history today and reflecting on work as diverse as issues of indigenous sovereignty and gender, race and sexuality.
We have a great line-up of pre-conference workshops including popular standards, like “Oral History and the Law” and new topics such as “Podcasting and Oral History.” There will be a Saturday teacher’s workshop led by Voice of Witness, which will include an “Introductory Oral History” workshop that will also be open to the general public.
Expect a special trip to the Aquarium of the Pacific where we will be mingling with the jelly fish and sharks during a special anniversary evening event. Long Beach promises to be a remarkable location with diverse venues to explore and easy walking distance from the conference site to the Pacific Ocean.
While we anticipate perfect weather, we cannot fail to mention the labor situation with the 2016 conference hotel. We know that many of you are concerned about this, and you have already received information from the OHA Council regarding this. Please visit http://www.oralhistory.org/hotel-updates/ to stay up-to-date as the situation evolves. Programmatically, we are working to ensure a strong representation of labor-related topics this year as well.
We would especially like to recognize and thank early and often our phenomenal Program Committee members who have devoted serious time and effort to help shape this conference: Adrienne Petty, Allison Tracy, Carlos Lopez, Christian Lopez, Craig Breaden, Curtis Austin, Daniel Horowitz Garcia, Jaycie Vos, Jen Abrams-Cramer, Julie Golia, Katherine Scott, Martin Meeker, Rachel Mears, Samuel Redman, Sarah Loose, Sarah-Jane Poindexter, Suzanne Snider, Teague Schneiter, Terrell Frazier and Troy Reeves.
The extraordinary election season that we are currently enduring has given me many reasons to contemplate the relationship between history and memory. A large field of candidates is rapidly winnowing to a handful albeit with many surprises along the way. What seemed like a foregone conclusion last year — a race between two family political dynasties — Bush vs. Clinton — instead has become a series of barbed and hotly contested primary elections.
In a rush to understand and explain the proclivities of the American electorate, some political commentators have turned to history. For example, a recent op-ed column in New York Times by Brent Staples drew parallels between white southerners’ sentiments during the Reconstruction Era and the racist bombast now fomented by Trump’s campaign.
Today we know how African-American political participation during Reconstruction became quickly distorted in popular memory and with the help of professional historians. It has taken decades of scholarship to “redeem” the perception of this era – and arguably that has not yet happened in the minds of some people. Of course, the political candidates themselves engage in a continual effort to define the meaning and impact of actions made under President Obama’s administration. And their campaigns continually revise and selectively present their own past statements, positions and decisions.
Journalists, pundits, the political parties and the politicians themselves can only go so far in explaining either candidates’ or voters’ behavior. Presidential historian Alan Brinkley demonstrated in a 2013 issue of The Atlantic that public memory is shaped by changing national sentiment more than historical accuracy.
Speaking of the election of John F. Kennedy, Brinkley recalled how the president’s reputation and legacy grew throughout his short term in office. Kennedy won despite garnering less than 50 percent of the popular vote; but by 1963, polls showed that 59 percent of Americans surveyed claimed to have voted for him. After his death his popularity soared and surveys showed that 65 percent claimed to have supported his candidacy.
This example suggests the complex interplay between memory and history. As oral historians, we have a critical job to play in capturing the ideas and sentiments that are driving the electorate during the current campaign. And as we listen, teach and learn we can do our part to correct self-serving distortions of history relayed by politicians. Whatever the outcomes, oral history will be critical to uncovering people’s perspectives on such moments of national significance.
Turning to the OHA, this year’s celebration of the association’s 50th anniversary supplies a chance to indulge in both history and memory. In the months leading up to October’s conference, you can look forward to hearing about publications and programs that recognize the best of OHA’s past and build for the future.
Kathy Nasstrom and Troy Reeves are producing a special 50th anniversary issue of the Oral History Review and the 50th Anniversary Task Force, led by Mary Larson, is collecting remembrances for an online publication. Sady Sullivan and Sarah Milligan, Program Committee co-chairs along with members of the Program and Local Arrangements Committees, are hard at work organizing the fall conference. Focused on the theme “OHA@50: Traditions, Transitions and Technologies from the Field,” the conference will provide numerous ways to celebrate OHA’s accomplishments, retell origin stories and contemplate the association’s impact and legacy.
In other news, the OHA Council met last month in Atlanta where we discussed numerous challenges and transitions on the horizon. Later this year the OHA will begin a search for a new editorial team for the Oral History Review, replacing Kathy Nasstrom and Troy Reeves whose terms wrap up at the end of 2017. At the same time, we must commence the search for a new institutional home and a new executive director. Our contract with Georgia State University expires at the end of 2017. Although the association has benefited greatly from the current arrangement, the loss of Cliff Kuhn creates an incentive to explore options beyond GSU.
Finally, Council resolved to implement new criteria for selecting future conference locations. This includes selecting hotels that will accept clauses in our contracts designed to give OHA greater flexibility to cancel without penalty in the event of labor disputes.
As you can tell, this is a busy time for the OHA. As always, I welcome any questions or comments from members. And I encourage you to support OHA by getting involved in committees and helping to advance our efforts in whatever way you can.
The tragic loss of our executive director and good friend Cliff Kuhn in 2015 was a blow to the OHA family. As the organization’s first executive director, Cliff worked tirelessly with leadership and members to ensure the success of OHA into the future.
As we move forward with important initiatives, programs and events, I am thrilled to announce that starting May 9, 2016, Kristine Navarro-McElhaney at Arizona State University began serving as our new interim executive director, to ensure that OHA’s day-to-day operations continue successfully and effectively. Kristine has served on the OHA Council since 2014 and has provided invaluable support on the Finance Committee. I know that she will help guide the association with competence, experience, thoughtfulness, and dedication.
The Council has worked closely with Arizona State University, especially Matt Garcia and his team at ASU’s School of History, Philosophy and Religious Studies, to craft a partnership that reflects our goals as the principal membership organization for people committed to the value of oral history.
We deeply appreciate the creativity and generosity that have made Kristine’s appointment possible. Reflecting a true collaborative effort, OHA’s executive office will remain at Georgia State University and many thanks to Michelle Brattain, chair of the History Department at GSU, and Program Associate Gayle Knight for their continued support of the organization.
Please send thoughts, ideas or questions to Kristine. As many of you know, she is not new to OHA and is looking forward to working closely with everyone to further our mission. She can be reached via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, I want to thank Kristine, Gayle, the Council and other OHA members who have offered assistance during the past months. Your support has meant the world to me personally and you have helped steer OHA through a challenging transition.
The Oral History Association has formed a committee to begin the search for an institutional home for its executive office beginning in early 2018. As part of this process, the committee has also been charged with finding a new executive director to serve as its principal administrator.
Georgia State University will house OHA and Kristine Navarro-McElhaney will serve as the interim executive director throughout the search. The committee, comprised of Dan Kerr (chair and past council member), Rina Benmayor (past president), Linda Shopes (past president), and Allison Tracy (current council member), expects to issue a request for proposals in the coming weeks. The RFP will be posted on the OHA’s website, distributed to our members and broadcast through many other channels.
Given the importance of this task to the association, the search committee encourages OHA members to help widely distribute the RFP, to propose potential institutional homes and to suggest candidates for the executive director position. The search committee is committed to working with prospective applicants as they prepare their proposals.
Please feel free to contact Kerr (email@example.com), Shopes (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Benmayor (email@example.com ) to indicate your intent to pursue this opportunity and to address any questions you may have.
By Tony Macaluso, Director of Syndication
WFMT Radio Network & The Studs Terkel Radio Archive
Studs Terkel is best known in the world of oral history for his many curiosity-driven books (Working, Hard Times, The Good War, Race) that helped popularize oral history among the general public starting in the 1970s. Those wildly influential books grew in many ways out of Studs’ perhaps less well-known day job: for 45 years, from 1952 to 1997, he hosted a one-hour radio program on Chicago’s WFMT in which he gleefully redefined how radio could be used to transmit the voices of both uncelebrated working people and fascinating figures from world culture and movements for social justice.
Unlike most radio programs in prior decades, Studs’ work was carefully saved and catalogued. He left behind 5,600 radio programs, mostly on reel-to-reel tape, when he died at the age of 96 in 2008 (still fully-charged, eagerly awaiting the results of the historic presidential election that occurred four days after he died).
This trove of audio represents a boon to practitioners and scholars of oral history as well as anyone intrigued by the subtle dynamics of attentive and spirited conversation. The collection is in the process of being gathered and organized into an open, online, digital repository that will be accompanied by various new technologies to help Studs’ radio work be highly searchable, shareable and open for creative re-use by scholars, teachers, artists, journalists and the general public.
I’m excited to share a brief history of the archive and sketch out a few of the evolving plans for the future.
When Studs ceased doing his daily radio show in 1997, he donated his collection of tapes to the Chicago History Museum. In the early 2000s the Library of Congress Division of Recorded Sound committed to digitizing all the tapes under the visionary premise that his radio work was a national treasure. In the autumn of 2013 the WFMT Radio Network started a conversation with the Chicago History Museum about finding creative ways to make the radio archive more accessible to the world.
While the WFMT Radio Network’s historic mission has been to produce and syndicate radio programs on the arts and culture to stations around the United States and internationally, with a focus on classical music (the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, Shanghai Symphony and many others), jazz, poetry and arts documentaries, the network’s extensive connections with radio producers and others working in the media provided a strong platform for making people aware of the existence of the archive.
The rapidly evolving medium of podcasting also poses an ideal environment to introduce Studs’ work to new generations in a fresh context, with the help of guest curators who can connect these oral histories from decades past with contemporary themes. We are planning a future podcast based on the archive as a kind of cross-generational oral history.
With the help of a planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2014 we were able to hire an experienced archivist, Allison Schein, and archive assistant Grace Radkins to begin mapping out long-term plans, building a digital infrastructure and testing how various partners and the general public might want to use this rich oral history resource.
What do you do with 5,600 Studs Terkel radio shows? Fervently intellectual, sometimes stream-of-conscious, running against the grain of today’s often sound-bite reliant media, featuring voices of the celebrated (Martin Luther King, Bob Dylan, Simone de Beauvoir, Louis Armstrong, Margaret Mead and thousands more) plus the many non-celebrated, working people, wrestling with big social issues and discovering new ways of thinking live, in-the-moment, Studs’ archive is a unique collection. These programs are sometimes meandering, always vivid and alive, full of radio “mishaps,” cigarettes being lit against the mic, a sense of exuberance and lack of safety net.
The archive includes audio documentaries made in the field (South Africa, the Soviet Union, Italy, France, China, the Jim Crow South), masterfully curated music or poetry shows, chronicles of a blizzard or the public’s reaction to a new Picasso sculpture in the heart of Chicago arranged by old Mayor Daley and thousands of examples of “oral history” broadcast in real time that provide nuanced insights into how people thought and felt at various times in history. For anyone studying or seeking to better understand the civil rights movement, the Cold War, labor history, the environmental movement, the role of the arts in society, the evolving nature of cities or dozens of other topics, the archive is a rich oral history resource.
One of the most important steps in laying the foundation for the whole project was to form a Studs Terkel Radio Archive Advisory Committee that includes people from various partner organizations who have an interest experimenting with how to use Studs’ audio. These include The Great Books Foundation (they specialize in, among other things, creating marvelous educational curriculum, until now based on written content, but they’re eager to explore what it means to use audio), the National Radio Preservation Task Force (helping us connect with scholars and technical experts around the country), Illinois Humanities (our local state humanities council which organizes public events and helps us connect with long-term cultural programs), Chicago Collections (a brand new consortium of historic archives at various museums, libraries and universities), the Studs Terkel Center for Oral History at the Chicago History Museum, academics from various universities, the Black Metropolis Research Consortium (Studs’ was very much at the forefront of breaking down color barriers in music, culture and society in general), plus a quartet of individuals who worked directly with Studs and who are managing the Studs Terkel Estate: Lois Baum, Tony Judge, Sydney Lewis and Adrian Marin.
This advisory committee has a critical mandate to meet and develop a long-term vision for the archive plus evaluate and advise on key decisions. Part of developing that long-term plan has been to map out four main components of the archive:
1) The online collection itself, carefully organized, divided into 40-plus categories to make it easy and fun to explore. Eventually we’ll have very accurate transcripts (some are already done) so people can search within the programs, and all sorts of interesting tools, some being pioneered on Studs’ archive such as:
+ Hyperaud.io Pad, a browser-based remixing tool that allows for both video and audio manipulation by dragging and dropping selected elements of a program that in turn users are able to embed on the platform of their choosing. Users will then be able to create remixed Studs Terkel programs reflecting their chosen vantage point. You can preview it here: http://studsterkel.hyperaud.io/
+ Trint, an online transcription editor for both audio and video that creates interactive transcripts that can easily be shared and for added convenience they can also be ported over to Hyperadud.io for easy remixing. The highlighting function is extremely important for educators who need quick references points. Sign up now at https://beta.trint.com/register
+ Starchive, a back-end digital management system designed to seamlessly organize all content using metadata ingest templates, create derivatives, allow for access and ingest incoming material from various locations. See their video here http://digitalrelab.com/
+ Vamonde, a location-based audio tool that pins specific audio to a location to create an audio adventure that is downloaded via the Vamonde app (currently available in iOS only but Android coming soon). We are able to use this tool to bring Studs’ conversations to the neighborhoods he loved talking to people in. To explore Chicago’s adventures go to www.vamonde.com
2) Educational use: helping schools create curriculum based on Studs’ audio, especially around themes and topics – say the civil rights and labor movements, work or community, especially those interviews in which he talks to the everyday people about social issues, wor, or other topics in an oral history style.
3) Encouraging journalists, teachers, scholars, artists, radio producers and other media makers to re-use material in creative new ways.
4) Eventually creating our own new original weekly podcast/radio series, Terkelogues, in which guest curators are invited to pick programs from the archive and create their own audio response / storytelling that connects Studs’ conversations or programs from the past with the contemporary world.
One of the first steps was to start encouraging other organizations to use material from the archive in order to test and demonstrate how Studs’ work could be relevant today. Quite quickly organizations such as This American Life, Radio Diaries, All Things Considered, The Third Coast International Audio Festival, Blank on Blank, Radio France, the Poetry Foundation and many others used material for radio shows, podcasts, films or audio competitions. And coming up: the BBC commissioned two hour-long documentaries based on Studs’ work from an amazing British audio company, Falling Tree Productions, that will be heard globally on the BBC next year.
On the educational front: this year we formed an extensive partnership with Chicago Public Library’s YOUMedia teen program and Chicago Public Schools, especially ChiArts, Tilden High School and Convergence Academy, to get teens exploring Studs’ audio and creating their own original work inspired by Studs.
Work developed by the program, called New Voices on the Studs Terkel Radio Archive, can be seen here http://www.nvonstuds.com.
The curriculum created out of the pilot New Voices on Studs Terkel Radio Archive program by teachers from Curie Metropolitan High and Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy is currently in development with Chicago Public Library’s YOUmedia department, Chicago Public Schools and the Great Books Foundation. Our free unit plans will be made available nationally to teachers.
A few other key partners so far include:
+ Dominican University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science, which has provided interns and support on many levels.
+ The Third Coast International Audio Festival, which made the Studs archive the subject of their annual ShortDocs competition in 2015. Hundreds of radio producers made short radio programs inspired by Studs.
+ Pop Up Archive, which provides the opportunity to have automatic transcripts created and key words pulled out based on what the algorithm “hears,” thus enabling us to dig deeper into the interviews and provide greater context.
This summer we’ll be partnering with the Oral History Summer School (www.oralhistorysummerschool.com) during a residency in Chicago in June to help participants experiment with ways to incorporate Studs’ archival audio with their own present-day oral history projects. We’ve also recently established ties with the International Oral History Association and are preparing to partner with Radio Atlas (www.radioatlas.org) a new project exploring how subtitled audio can transcend language barriers.
While the Studs Terkel Radio Archive is still very much in the early stages of what we hope will be a long and fruitful existence full of unanticipated new uses, the past two years have opened our eyes to the potential for a carefully curated radio collection. The archive recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $87,000, the largest campaign for an archival oral history project in Kickstarter’s history.
We are intrigued and excited to have more conversations with people working on oral history projects about potential inventive uses for the Studs Terkel Radio Archive and welcome ideas and questions. We are optimistic that this archive can be a place where oral history, radio/podcasting networks, inventive new technology and educational curriculum can converge in exciting new ways and expand the possibilities for how voices from the past can provide context on today’s social issues.
In Studs’ immortal words, we encourage those in the oral history world to “Take it easy, but take it!” and consider joining us in exploring the possibilities for this unique audio archive.
OHA members will elect a new first vice president and a new OHA Council member as well as three members of the OHA Nominating Committee in online voting this summer. Members will receive an email link in July with instructions for online voting until early September. Paper ballots will not be mailed to members.
Choices for OHA leadership positions are:
For First Vice President: Natalie Fousekis
Natalie Fousekis is director of the Center for Oral and Public History (COPH) and associate professor of history at California State University, Fullerton. She specializes in modern U.S. History, grassroots politics, women’s history and oral history. Fousekis has been engaged in oral history work for almost 25 years, conducting dozens of interviews and teaching oral history methodology to undergraduate students, graduate students and community members.
She has coordinated and directed a number of oral history projects, including the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station Oral History Project in collaboration with the Orange County Great Park Corporation as well as the Women, Politics and Activism Project funded by a major research grant from the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation. In 2011 she also received a National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant for COPH’s Renovation and Expansion Initiative.
Fousekis has served on and chaired various OHA committees including the Program Committee, the Non-Print Award Committee and the Nominating Committee. Her book Demanding Child Care: Women’s Activism and the Politics of Welfare, 1940-1971, published in 2011, uses oral histories among other sources to examine a grassroots movement waged by mothers and educators to preserve California’s public child care program from World War II to the War on Poverty.
It has been 20 years since I presented my first paper at the Oral History Association in Philadelphia as a young Ph.D. student. Since then OHA has felt like home–a place where academic historians, community historians, archivists, students, filmmakers and others gather to discuss oral history methodology, practice and the myriad ways we share these histories with a diverse public.
Like many in the oral history community, I was personally and professionally devastated by the loss of OHA Executive Director Cliff Kuhn. He brought leadership, energy and stability to the organization. I welcome the opportunity to work with the OHA leadership as it helps the organization recover from this loss and navigate this time of transition. I look forward to working with the executive council and OHA membership to extend the reach of the organization, to continue working to increase its financial stability and to forge partnerships and relationships with those outside OHA who value the work we do.
Finally, I am committed to expanding the ways oral history work reaches our communities whether that means working with K-12 teachers to explore new pedagogies, developing partnerships with those in the theater and visual arts to find creative ways to engage the public or embracing the ways new technology can help oral history reach a wider, global audience.
For OHA Council (vote for one): David Caruso and Jennifer A. Cramer
David Caruso is the director of the Center for Oral History at the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF), an independent research library that focuses on preserving materials related to the history of science, medicine, technology and engineering.
In addition to managing and expanding CHF’s current collections, he has also spent much of his time undertaking new research projects, most recently interviewing scientists with disabilities to understand better how they navigate their built environments (physical, professional, social and psychosocial); mentoring other researchers and interviewers both at CHF and at other institutions; and conducting training seminars and training institutes for those interested in oral history generally and oral history of science specifically.
Outside of his core work at CHF, Caruso has served as the book review editor for the Oral History Review since 2013, on the board of Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region since 2009 and as its president since 2012, as a consultant for other oral history projects like at the San Diego Technology Archive, and as adjunct faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University and Cornell University, teaching courses on oral history, the history of technology, American history and the history of American military medicine and technology.
Our methodology gives voice to those normally written out of the historical record and allows those whose voices are constrained within a specific kind of speech act (like stylized scientific publications, blog posts and other media) an opportunity to discuss broader social, cultural, political and personal issues. Regrettably, even with all the work that has been done in our field over the past 50 years, there are a number of disciplines completely unfamiliar with the techniques and products of oral history—of the rich material we can find in conversation with witnesses to history—and it is on those disciplines I think the OHA should focus its attention over the next several years.
Doing so would give oral historians a chance to engage more fully with theories and methodologies different from our own and would give other disciplines an opportunity to augment, enhance and better the historical work that they create. This disciplinary integration would also allow for more expansive, richer and fuller digital humanities projects and exhibitions and a greater understanding of the potential roles of oral history in a digital age.
I have already begun to pursue these types of connections, speaking with executive directors of different disciplinary societies (primarily those that focus on the history and sociology of science, medicine and technology), offering to conduct training seminars at their annual meetings and consulting with their constituents about conducting interviews and archiving the materials they create. The OHA’s recent election to the American Council of Learned Societies would provide a perfect forum in which to engage other disciplines and begin a dialogue for the growth, development and expansion of our discipline and theirs.
Jennifer A. Cramer has been the director of the Louisiana State University Libraries T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History since 2004 and oversees collection development, access and preservation of a diverse collection of nearly 6,000 interviews. She cultivates partnerships, provides training, programs public events, curates gallery and online exhibitions and teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on oral history methodology. She also serves on the board of the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum in New Orleans.
Cramer holds a B.A. in history and an M.A. in anthropology; her research interests include environmental, military and political history. Currently, she is the project director for a grant to collect oral histories from residents of Mossville, Louisiana, a disappearing community at the heart of the early grassroots environmental justice movement.
Cramer served on OHA’s nominating committee, program committee, co-chaired the program committee for the 2011 meeting and has been the media review editor for The Oral History Review since 2010.
I would like to serve as a member of the OHA Council because I have insights that could benefit the association, not only as it undergoes long-term changes, but also as OHA faces immediate challenges. Growing the Williams Center in Louisiana during crises and in a barren financial climate has honed my judgment, decision-making, consensus-building and creative problem-solving abilities.
I am also practiced in patience, taking the long view and bending without breaking. Having spent 20 years in the field and 16 years in OHA, I can contribute to ongoing considerations on the evolution of best practices, membership, outreach, support and infrastructural operations of the organization. It would be an adventure and an honor to serve the OHA members and join in on these conversations at the Council level.
OHA members will elect three members to vacancies on the Nominating Committee by casting votes for one of each of the following pairs of candidates:
Position 1 Chuck Bolton and Cyns Nelson
Chuck Bolton is a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) and previously directed the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage at the University of Southern Mississippi. His research area is the 20th-century U.S. South, and the collection and use of oral sources are central to his work. Recent projects include a book exploring the battles over school desegregation in Mississippi (The Hardest Deal of All, 2005) and a biography of a former Mississippi governor who became a strong advocate for public education and racial reconciliation (William F. Winter and the New Mississippi, 2013). He teaches a variety of oral history courses, including oral history as part of a study-abroad program and a team-taught a video oral history class with a documentary filmmaker at UNCG. Bolton has been active in the Oral History Association since 1990, when he attended his first meeting in Snowbird, Utah. He has chaired a number of OHA committees, most recently co-chairing the program committee for the 2012 conference in Cleveland.
One of the things that I have always loved about the Oral History Association is the diversity of its membership. Oral historians come from a variety of personal backgrounds. They utilize oral history methodology in numerous academic disciplines and in all kinds of work outside the academy. As a result, any OHA meeting is typically a gathering of people with different questions and perspectives on the theory and craft of oral history, which makes these conferences both intellectually stimulating and a lot of fun. My main objective as a member of the OHA Nominating Committee would be to ensure that in selecting the future leaders of the OHA, we maintain the long-standing commitment to diversity—in all its various forms—that has been one of the longtime strengths of our organization.
Cyns Nelson has 10 years’ experience guiding and contributing to oral-history projects throughout Colorado and for the Library of Congress’ Veterans History initiative. She presents to regional and national associations for librarians, archivists, museum professionals and public historians; she also has been a guest lecturer for San Jose State University. Presently Nelson is managing the Maria Rogers Oral History Program (MROHP) at Boulder’s Carnegie Branch Library for Local History. The program has a digital archive of more than 2,000 interviews—all available online—and adds 25 to 30 new oral histories each year. MROHP emphasizes community participation in the process of creating, archiving and making interviews accessible for historical consideration. Nelson has been a member of OHA since 2007. She co-chaired Local Arrangements for the 2011 conference; served on the Program Committee for 2012; and now is participating on the Metadata Task Force.
My commitment to OHA extends beyond attending the annual meeting. Service to the Nominating Committee would deepen my appreciation for OHA governance and leadership—the roles and responsibilities assigned to individuals. A Nominating assignment is an opportunity to explore the contributions and the perspectives of our membership; it’s an opportunity to target leadership potential in diverse geographic locations, fields of discipline and settings. I would encourage a healthy refresh of people and ideas, balanced against OHA experience and commitment. I would hope to increase OHA voter participation and oversee a smooth procession of voting activities, beginning with a strong slate of candidates.
Position 2 Rina Benmayor and Martin Meeker
Rina Benmayor is professor emerita at California State University Monterey Bay, where she taught undergraduate oral history as well as literature and Latin@ studies courses. She served as president of the International Oral History Association (2004–2006), and the Oral History Association (2010–2011); she also served as co-chair of the OHA search committee for the new headquarters and executive director (2012). In oral history and related fields, she has coauthored and coedited Migration and Identity (1995; 2005), Telling to Live: Latina Feminist Testimonios (2001), and coedited with Pilar Domínguez and María Eugenia Cardenal de la Nuez, Memory, Subjectivities, and Representation: Approaches to Oral History in Latin America, Portugal, and Spain (Palgrave, 2016). She has also published oral history articles on women in the Puerto Rican migration, local community history, oral history pedagogy and digital storytelling. She produced a virtual oral history walking tour of Salinas Chinatown (www.salinasace.org/walking tour) and is currently working on a family history memoir.
The Nominating Committee is one of the most important committees in the OHA. Here is where we come together to propose the future leadership of the association. If elected to serve, I would want to help recruit talented slates of candidates that represent the diverse constituency of the OHA–generational, ethnic, gender and sexual orientation, as well as different spheres of oral history practice. As president, I had the unenviable task of recruiting candidates for most of the OHA standing committees, so I recognize the challenge that the Nominating Committee faces, but also the opportunity to help shape a vibrant future for the association.
Martin Meeker is the Charles B. Faulhaber Director of the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. Between 2004 and 2012, Meeker was as an interviewer/historian with the center and conducted hundreds of hours of interviews in several areas, including the history of politics and public policy, health care delivery systems and medical research, social movements, and wine and foodways. Between 2012 and 2016, Meeker was associate director of the center, expanding its educational initiatives and promoting greater public outreach and engagement with the university’s oral history collections. He became director in 2016. After Meeker earned a Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of Southern California and has taught at San Francisco State University and at UC Berkeley. He has published numerous reviews and encyclopedia articles and has essays published in Pacific Historical Review, Journal of the History of Sexuality and Journal of Women’s History. Meeker’s books include The Oakland Army Base: An Oral History (2010) and Contacts Desired: Gay and Lesbian Communications and Community, 1940s-1970s (2006).
Oral history sits at the meeting point of many practices, among the most important juncture being sound historical research and archival preservation and access. As a longtime interviewer and administrator, historian and archivist, my goal has been to encourage – and take part in – the production and publication of high quality oral histories that have the power to impact lives and scholarship today and in the future. I am grateful to have been nominated to serve on OHA’s Nominating Committee and if asked to do so by my fellow members I will strive to identify and engage new leaders who recognize, value and promote these core attributes of oral history practice.
Position Three Tami Albin and Steven Sielaff
Tami Albin is an associate librarian at the University of Kansas and is the director of “Under the Rainbow: Oral Histories of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer People in Kansas.” She has been active in OHA since 2008 and has served as chair of the Committee on Diversity, and as a member of the Program Committee, Scholarship Committee, Teaching Awards Committee and the Mentoring Program. She has served as a consultant and adviser to numerous projects, including the Lecompton Homefront World War II Oral History Project (Lecompton, Kansas), the Kansas State Legislature Oral History Project (Topeka, Kansas) and the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid America (GLAMA) Oral History Project (Kansas City, Missouri). She has led oral history workshops and discussions across Kansas. At the University of Kansas, she has led oral history workshops, consulted with faculty, staff and students on their oral history projects and is a regular guest lecturer on oral history methods in many classes.
I would like to serve on the Nominating Committee. It is extremely important to me that there is diverse representation of potential candidates for the OHA council and officer positions. I would reach out across OHA constituents to see if they would like to be involved in building and creating the future vision for OHA.
Steven Sielaff is senior editor & collection manager for the Baylor University Institute for Oral History (BUIOH). A graduate of Baylor’s museum studies master’s program, he began at working at BUIOH as a graduate assistant in 2011 on various Web-based and multimedia projects. As primary investigator for the Baylor Oral History Project, he became involved in the technical aspects of processing, preserving and disseminating Baylor’s oral history collection, which he now manages. He also directs the digitization of BUIOH’s analog collection, manages the BUIOH website and social media news feeds and spearheads the migration of transcript and audio files to the institute’s searchable online database, ContentDM. Sielaff’s primary professional foci are the value of institutional histories and the use of oral histories in the digital age. His research includes museological surveys of Texas institutions and integration of the University of Kentucky’s Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS) software at Baylor. Sielaff is actively involved with the Heart of Texas Regional History Fair, the Texas Oral History Association (TOHA), the H-OralHist listserv, and recently joined the investigations of the OHA Metadata Task Force.
I am honored and excited to be considered a candidate for the OHA Nominating Committee. With OHA’s 50th anniversary looming, I feel a strong commitment to identifying leaders who not only respect our past but also have the motivation and ideas to professionally propel us into the future!
OHA will be celebrating its semi-centennial at our Long Beach meeting this fall, and the 50th Anniversary Task Force is working hard to ensure that there will be a wide range of activities and conference sessions presented as part of the festivities.
Programming isn’t the task force’s only responsibility, however, and we are using our anniversary celebration as an occasion to focus on more securely funding our association through endowment gifts from members, friends and sponsors. Council has set some ambitious new initiatives for the organization, and we are fund-raising to help support that work. Our goal for the 50th Anniversary Campaign is to grow our endowment by $50,000 and to reach 50 percent member participation in the campaign, either through donations of time or money.
While there are any number of uses to which these contributions might ultimately go, Council outlined four specific objectives at its recent midwinter meeting.
First, we have the opportunity to enhance diversity by building our scholarship capacity. OHA already offers comparatively more scholarships than most (or perhaps all) other professional organizations, particularly as a percentage of our annual operating budget, but we feel that we can do even better than that. An enhanced scholarship program will allow us to support participation by individuals who might not otherwise have the opportunity to attend our annual meetings, so we are focusing on growing our scholarship program. As a way of honoring Cliff Kuhn, we have also named a scholarship fund in his memory, so you have the added option of paying tribute to Cliff through your gift.
Second, Council is developing a pilot program for a new diversity fellowship program, in which the recipient would be mentored and employed in oral history work during the summer of 2017. While Council plans on this ultimately being grant funded, your donations will allow us to get the project off the ground this next year and demonstrate proof of concept to any potential granting agencies.
During anniversaries it is customary to meditate on the past, and in spite of our overall emphasis on the importance of preservation, we have done less well in supporting our own institutional archives than we have the ones that we might manage in our everyday work. Our organizational materials are archived at the University of North Texas, and over the past year we have hired an intern to develop an inventory and digitize some of the materials, but we need to make a concerted effort to go beyond these initial steps.
As an association focused in part on the curation of various pasts, we need to attend to our own history and develop both a preservation plan for our collection and a means by which our members can access it. Further funding would allow us to support that work.
Finally, we are looking to the future as well as the past. Over the years OHA has taken a lead role in helping oral historians understand how evolving technologies impact what they do and how they do it, but going forward, we need to expand that mission in a number of ways. Council would like to use the endowment to: continue to build on the Oral History in the Digital Age website; develop digital tools for oral history that are both sustainable and accessible for a range of programs; and create an award for the best use of new digital technology.
The OHA endowment has been key to the growth of our organization, as it has allowed us to try new projects and support important efforts that we would not otherwise have been able to fund. If OHA has meant something to you in your career, if you have learned something from its programming, or if you have expanded your network of colleagues and friends as a result of its annual meetings, I encourage you to contribute to this campaign — either through your funds, if you are able, or through volunteer work with the organization.
We have some deep similarities with public radio and public television, because your participation is important to us, regardless of what you can give. You can volunteer to serve on a committee, mentor a newcomer or run for an office. You can donate at our donation website or when you register for the annual meeting. Or you can become a life member of OHA. There are so many ways to become involved. These new and expanded initiatives are exciting, as is the future of our association, and I hope that you will join with us as we move forward into our next 50 years.
What began in 1969 with an interview with a colleague of legendary American composer Charles Ives has morphed into Yale University’s Oral History of American Music archive, with more than 2,600 interviews with leading lights of 20th and 21st century American music.
OHA member Libby Van Cleve is director of the archive and shared the link for Newsletter readers.
If you’re not already a music aficionado, you may become one if you check out the OHAM collection, which reflects best practices in interviewing, with an emphasis on detailed preparation, as well as delightful nuggets from musical luminaries about their careers and their lives.
Big news for OHA in 1975 was raising membership dues to $10, up from $7.50 the previous year, equivalent to a whopping $36.23 in today’s dollars.
A 1974 issue of the OHA Newsletter also recounted a memorable snafu at that year’s annual meeting:
Oral historians who attended the ninth annual OHA Colloquium at Grant Teton National Park had to be an intrepid bunch. According to the newsletter, there was a problem with Frontier airlines, the Friday and Saturday keynote speakers cancelled, and the bus back to the airport from the national park broke down with about 50 attendees on board. “There’s really no other way to put it: even the driver deserted it after a feeble attempt to motivate its sputtering engine. The good fellowship and unselfishness of some passing drivers salvaged a potentially unwieldy situation and turned it into just another anecdote for OHA annals.”
To enjoy similar accounts of past OHA escapades and travails, check out the weekly series Throwback Thursday at www.oralhistory.org, as we recall events in the life of the association leading up to this year’s 50th anniversary celebration.