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International Committee Blog: Scholarship Recipients report back about the OHA Annual Meeting

Each year scholarship applications submitted by selected international participants for the OHA annual meeting are reviewed by the International Committee. This year ten applications were reviewed. With only $3,500.00 in total to offer, the decisions on which applications to fund were difficult ones for the committee.

The following six participants were granted scholarships:

Tetiana Borka from Kiev, Ukraine

Sevil Cakir from Mersin, Turkey

Katherine Fobear from British Columbia, Canada

Selma Leydesdorff from Amsterdam, Netherlands

Jo Roberts from Ontario, Canada

Stacy Zembrzycki from Quebec, Canada

Over the next two months, reports from the participants granted scholarships will be highlighted in this blog. This month reports by Katherine Fobear and Selma Leydesdorff are highlighted:

Katherine Fobear

Title: Accordion Homes: Understanding Memory and Emotional Attachment in Queer Refugee’s Stories of Home in Metro Vancouver

Attending and presenting at the 2014 Oral History Association Conference was an amazing experience. It left me with a great sense of pride and solidarity as an oral historian. It was incredible to listen to the work of other oral historians. I discovered so many relevant connections in terms of narrative, memory, and community collaboration between my oral history work with LGBTQ refugees and the oral history work of the various presenters.

I previously attended several other academic and professional conferences before, but it has only been at this conference that practitioners and academics were equally engaged with each other in dialogue. A great example of this was in the panel “Humbling Moments: Facing Failures in the Field and Debriefing on Oral History Practice.” Dr. Sherna Berger Gluck, Dr. Stacey Zembrzycki, Dr. Margo Shea, and Dr. Anna Sheftel shared their “mistakes” in conducting oral histories with difficult participants and the lessons they learned from it. What came out of this was a frank conversation on the ethics and roles oral historians have during the moment of the interview and afterwards. One question stood out for me was, “Is it unethical to not stop and interject if the speaker is saying something profoundly racist, sexist, or homophobic?” Do we let the person continue their story uninterrupted? Is it our ethical duty to voice dissent in order to not propagate racist, sexist, and homophobic ideology? Where is the line drawn between our own personal and political convictions and that of being an objective oral historian? It was a fascinating conversation that in the end had no full conclusion. Instead it is an ongoing conversation within our oral historian community.

Being granted the International Oral History Scholarship allowed me this opportunity to learn, reflect, and engage with others. It has been two weeks after the conference and I am still mulling over the great presentations I listened to and the conversations I had. I am so very grateful.

Selma Leydesdorff

Title: Listening on the Edge: Oral History in the Aftermath of Crisis

I came to Madison to see what was happening. I was more interested with theory and digitization and less interested in community based scholarship, which is much more common practice in the US than in Europe.

I did see an incredible variety of ways of dealing with digital archives and I realized again we need to rethink what is happening at a theoretical level. The creation of archives of the written word happened two centuries ago or less. It has led to ways of organizing which enable us to look at the written past. With the digital material we work with, this unification did not happen, though I think we need it.

We also need to think what current changes in the writing of history mean, and where they belong in history. Long ago history was also the spoken word. This was replaced by the written word. If we turn back, what do we win??

I also loved to remember my fellow editor Kim Lacey Rogers with those who had known her. We’ll all miss this remarkable woman.

I was happy to attend, and I learned a lot.

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International Committee Blog

Each year scholarship applications submitted by selected international participants for the upcoming OHA annual meeting are reviewed by the International Committee. This year ten applications were reviewed. With only $3,500.00 in total to offer, the decisions on which applications to fund were difficult ones for the committee.

The following six participants were granted scholarships:

Tetiana Borka from Kyiv, Ukrakine
Sevil Cakir from Mersin, Turkey
Katherine Fobear from British Columbia, Canada
Selma Leydesdorff from Amsterdam, Netherlands
Jo Roberts from Ontario, Canada
Stacy Zembrzycki from Quebec, Canada

In June we featured abstracts from Tetiana Borka and Sevila Cakir. In September we featured abstracts from Katherine Fobear and Selma Leydesdorff. In this final blog about the upcoming OHA conference, we highlight abstracts by Jo Roberts and Stacy Zebrzycki.

Jo Roberts:
Title: Stepping Out of the Collective Memory: Jewish Israelis Engage with the Palestinian Nakba

Abstract: Palestine, 1948: as Britain’s colonial mandate ended, Jewish and Arab Palestinians were caught up in an increasingly brutal war. While Jewish refugees, survivors of the Holocaust, struggled towards Palestine, Arab refugees were leaving, many under duress. Out of the chaos and violence,

a new Jewish state was born. After the 1948 War, the founding story of the state that took shape in Jewish Israeli collective memory did not include the disquieting narrative of the Palestinian Arabs and their removal.

Now Zochrot, a primarily Jewish Israeli NGO, aims to change that. Zochrot “works to make the history of the Nakba accessible to the Israeli public so as to engage Jews and Palestinians in an open recounting of our painful common history.”

Zochrot’s work is predicated on the power of story: allowing space for the Palestinian narrative of 1948 to emerge within the Israeli landscape, both physical and political. Its projects include mapping former Palestinian villages, and collecting testimonies from Nakba survivors. Through performative acts such as posting signs on village ruins, Zochrot “renders the Nakba in Hebrew” for a Jewish-Israeli audience.

Beneath Zochrot’s work are the stories of individuals who have not only renegotiated their understanding of their country’s history but also of their own remembered pasts. Zochrot co-founder Eitan Bronstein told me of the visceral shock he felt on discovering that the ruined crusader fortress

he had played in so often as a child had also been the site of a Palestinian market town. Such experiences have propelled him and others to do counter-cultural memory-work that, they believe, could “make a qualitative change in the political discourse of this region.” Using interviews with

Bronstein and several others, this presentation will explore what motivates members of Zochrot to step outside Israeli collective memory.

Stacy Zembrzycki:
Title: Humbling Moments: Facing Failures in the Field and Debriefing on Oral History Practice

Abstract: Beginning a new oral history project is always a daunting but exhilarating task. Upon entering the field, our carefully crafted methodologies quickly fall by the wayside, evolving as the people we meet bring our projects to life and make them their own.

Every encounter we have with our interviewees is unpredictable because we tend to know little to nothing about them until we sit face to face and strike up a conversation. Sometimes we connect immediately, bonding midway through a good story. In other instances, building trust takes time and occurs over a series of meetings. The potential for outright failure also looms large in these spaces. On occasion, it is difficult to find common ground with an interviewee. Informants may reveal too much or too little. Or, they reveal all and then retract their permission to use the interview. They may spend the interview assessing your right to hear their story or they may assume authority on the interviewers part that may effect change, bring closure, or result in assistance.

It is next to impossible to forget these breakdowns in communication. These moments, which some deem to be outright failures and others view as opportunities for learning, can change the direction of our projects and alter the relationships we build thereafter. This roundtable will provide an opportunity to debrief about these sorts of encounters, offering a space to explore how these experiences shape oral

historians, their interviews, and the work that results.

The format of this roundtable will be non-traditional and collaborative in nature, with the aim of

encouraging discussion amongst everyone in the room. Roundtable panelists will help to make

connections between the audience’s contributions, drawing together the general themes that arise out of people’s particular experiences and offering ways to move forward.

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International Committee Scholarships

Each year scholarship applications submitted by selected international participants for the upcoming OHA annual meeting are reviewed by the International Committee.  This year ten applications were reviewed. With only $3,500.00 in total to offer, the decisions on which applications to fund were difficult ones for the committee.

The following six participants were granted scholarships:

Tetiana Borka from Kyiv, Ukrakine
Sevil Cakir from Mersin, Turkey
Katherine Fobear from British Columbia, Canada
Selma Leydesdorff from Amsterdam, Netherlands
Jo Roberts from Ontario, Canada
Stacy Zembrzycki from Quebec, Canada

In June, we featured abstracts from Tetuaba Borka and Sevil Cakir.  This month, abstracts from Katherine Fobear and Selma Leydesdorff are highlighted.

Katherine Forbear:  Accordion Homes: Understanding Memory and Emotional Attachment in Queer Refugee’s Stories of Home in Metro Vancouver
Abstract: For the past decade, the number of individuals claiming refugee asylum based on sexual orientation and gender identity has risen dramatically, making this one of the fastest-growing refugee populations in the world. Despite this record, little is known about the settlement experiences of sexual and gender refugees once they have received their refugee status. This article explores sexual and gender minority refugees’ settlement in Vancouver, Canada, based on one year of in-depth oral history interviews with fifteen sexual and gender minority refugees and a participatory photography project with five sexual and gender minority refugees.

In this project, home becomes a framing device in which participants take photographs and share stories of home and belonging. Through the participants’ photographs and personal stories of settlement, the creation of home is seen not as a linear or singular process, but an ever shifting emotional and mnemonic journey that is intimately tied to sexual and gender minority refugees’ subjectivities and their sense of place. For sexual and gender minority refugees, memory serves as a mechanism for individuals to create a place for themselves in Metro Vancouver and a feeling of belonging that spans across national borders, creating an in-between space. Through the participants’ photographs and stories, we see how memory is always on the move by constantly creating new places of attachment and association. What emerges from this project is the complexity of sexual and gender minority refugees’ lived experiences as they continue to navigate around and challenge oppressive structural barriers and form complex relationships across various communities and spaces in order to build a home for themselves in Canada.

Selma Leydesdorf:  Listening on the Edge: Oral History in the Aftermath of Crisis
Abstract: From the headlines of local newspapers to the coverage of major media outlets, scenes of war, natural disaster, political revolution, and ethnic repression greet readers and viewers at every turn. The complexity and texture of these situations are most evident in the broader personal stories of those whom the events struck most intimately. Oral history has emerged as a forceful approach to exploring the human experience of crisis.

Oral history in crisis environments can help those who have suffered trauma appropriately process the experience into memory; it can help communities contextualize crisis and move beyond it; and it can record the emotional perspective and short-term memory of those involved. The emergent inclination for oral historians to document crisis calls for a shared conversation among scholars as to what we have learned from crisis work so far. This dialogue at the OHA will build off the publication Listening on the Edge: Oral History in the Aftermath of Crisis released by Oxford Press in spring 2014. From the perspective of crisis and disaster oral history, this book addresses both the ways in which we think about the craft of oral history, and the manner in which we use it.

The roundtable will include seven contributors to the book, who have interviewed those impacted by a half-dozen world crises—including the Rwandan genocide, 9/11, the massacre in Srebrenica, Bosnia by Serbian forces, and Hurricane Katrina. Presenters will reflect on the methodological issues inherent in the practice of oral history in such environments.

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August Blog: Education Committee

By Michael Grathwohl 

          When I read or watch the news (on both sides of the political aisle) I find myself spending an inordinate amount of time lamenting that one person’s story told in minute detail can be spun in such a way as to overwrite the experiences of others to serve overtly political ends. These observations had made me cynical about the uses of personal narratives. But twice now I have observed, up close, the power of oral history, and it has begun to reshape my attitude toward the importance of stories.

          My first experience with oral history as a pedagogical tool came in high school during my participation in the band for The Parchman Hour, a play written and directed by Chapel Hill playwright Mike Wiley that chronicles the experiences and struggles of the 1961 Freedom Riders during their integrated journey into the heart of the deep South. The play is named both for Mississippi’s most notorious penitentiary and for the make-believe variety show that the riders cooked up to keep themselves sane while imprisoned there.

          Part of Parchman’s power is that its dialogue featured direct quotations of icons such as John Lewis and Stokely Carmichael right alongside those of folks who Cornel West might call “everyday people.” As a result, Parchman presents a refreshingly grassroots image of the movement, and that image is more dirty, more intricate, and, I would argue, more fruitful. The inclusion of testimonies from often-unheard participants adds important texture to the play’s portrayal of the movement; it has a gritty, truthful quality and doesn’t shy away from ambiguity. We see the Freedom Riders not as a monolithic group but rather as a collection of real people with real baggage and, sometimes, real disagreements with one another. The play is teeming with complexity: there is struggle within struggle, and the result is beautiful.

          This summer I had another, perhaps more intimate encounter with oral history as a volunteer for UNC-Chapel Hill’s Southern Oral History Program. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the program helped carry out a large series of interviews on the industrialization of textile factories in North Carolina’s Piedmont region. The interviewees were predominantly former mill workers who had experienced these technological changes firsthand, and my first project at the SOHP was to prepare a research dossier for a new interview with Helen Lyerly, the daughter of one couple who had been interviewed thirty years earlier.

          I was asked to come along for the interview for which I had compiled the dossier. I spent a good deal of time thinking about how the interview would go, what questions to ask, and how I should present myself. As it turned out, everything fell into place and I wound up thinking that the term ‘interview’ is a misnomer: it was organic, fun, and moving in ways that I hadn’t anticipated. Mrs. Lyerly had also invited her sister and daughter-in-law to come, and the most glaring thought in my mind as I left was that oral history has important implications far beyond the confines of academia. We had all laughed, philosophized, and gotten choked up together for an hour and a half that went by in what felt like fifteen minutes. The interview conducted in the 1980s is the only recording of Mrs. Lyerly’s parents, and she said repeatedly how much she appreciated listening to their voices, hearing them tell stories she had never heard of how they met and fell in love. It was clear that oral history can be important on a human level even more than an academic one.

        Not unlike The Parchman Hour, both parts of my project with the SOHP had the insistent feeling of something that is important in its particularity— the stories of the women and men portrayed in Parchman are engaging at least partially because they tell stories that few can truly relate to; part of their value is their novelty. Yet as I read through interviews with mill workers from Greensboro, Concord, and Burlington and participated in the interview, it also struck me that one of the sources of the power of the interviews was precisely their pertinence to a great many people’s own experiences. In their own ways, both the stories from Parchman and the Piedmont industry series form repositories of narratives that simultaneously reflect and help form the collective memory of a time. The kind of history work that resulted in The Parchman Hour and the Piedmont interview series is refreshingly democratic, and my volunteer work this summer with the SOHP helped me begin to rehabilitate the notion that narratives can be used positively in practice and not just in theory.

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Blog: Education Committee

“Oral History and Personal Connections”

Written by Lisa Thyer, English Teacher at Amos Alonzo Stagg High School in Palos Hills, IL

Oral history is an extremely attractive and powerful teaching tool to many educators. When my colleague, Mary and I sat down to write a grant proposal that aimed to bring in writers, editors and publishers that could work with our students to show them the “real world” applications of the writing, speaking, listening and critical thinking skills we emphasized in our English curriculum, we had oral history in mind. In many ways oral history provides the perfect amalgamation of so many common core standard skills—as readings it provides our curriculum with the much needed bolstering of non-fiction writing, allowing students to engage with and analyze the text on a primary source level; as a writing or interview assignment it forces the student to practice listening, speaking and writing skills and then to become meticulous editors of their own writing. More than anything, to us, oral history emphasized the importance of social justice and helped to show students that the common core skills we taught in our classrooms were only as valuable as the endeavors for which they were applied.

Upon receiving our grant, Mary and I reached out to Voice of Witness and after a wonderfully conducted workshop by their educational outreach facilitators, Mary and I wanted our students to apply the empathetic interview skills they learned in hopes of beginning a larger project. We asked our students to interview and write an oral history essay of someone they believed to be an “Everyday Hero”, a person defined by a Langston Hughes quote as “[…] the living heroes who are your neighbors—but who may not look or talk like heroes when they are sitting quietly in a chair in front of you […]” and conduct and craft an interview into an oral history essay that accurately shared their Everyday Hero’s story. The project went well, but seemed to just be any other school assignment until we received an email from a student after the passing of his grandfather:

“Also, when the class was assigned the interview project at the beginning of the semester, I interviewed my Grandfather. I am glad I did too, because I now have his whole life story because of it. My Grandfather really enjoyed reading that essay. Also, a good friend of the family read it at his funeral for me. Everyone loved it. I am glad I had the opportunity to do that project. So thank you for it.”

Brian’s simple thank you helped Mary and I to realize the genuine impact of oral history in the classroom—the personal connection to memories and to people whose experiences and stories truly change us. Sadly, this realization took on a new meaning for me personally when Mary was hospitalized in the spring. After being diagnosed with a rare blood disorder that caused her to need a liver transplant, Mary contracted an aggressive infection while awaiting her transplant and at the age of only 33, she lost her fight with her disease. Mary’s loss was devastating—our students lost a beloved teacher, our school lost one of its most dedicated and passionate faculty members, and I lost one of my closest friends. In dealing with her loss the students and staff turned to stories for comfort. We shared stories about Mary, about her influence, her wisdom and her love for education and life.

In memory of such an integral part of our Stagg High School family our students and several teachers in the English and History departments have begun to plan the creation of an oral history collection from our Stagg family that centers around building a connection between our history and our future as a diverse school and community. Ideas include interviewing staff, former students and community members that were present during such major events as September 11th, when our school gained national attention for coming together to protect our Middle Eastern students in the face of violence and hate crimes in the community, or the overwhelming student and staff response to helping a Stagg teacher’s family that was displaced during Hurricane Katrina. And of course, we plan to include the stories of those touched by such amazing teachers as Mary. It is our hope that with this oral history project we can personally connect to our shared past as a school and, in remembering the legacies and struggles of those that came before us, we can continue to support one another to build a stronger future for those that are to follow after us. In the end, fostering a personal connection and sense of community is the true value of oral history, not only in the classroom, but anywhere that people need to be reminded of the potential we all have when we come together to share our stories.

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Blog: International Committee Scholarships

post by Leslie McCartney, International Committee Web Liaison

Each year scholarship applications submitted by selected international participants for the upcoming OHA annual meeting are reviewed by the International Committee. This year ten applications were reviewed. With only $3,500.00 in total to offer, the decisions on which applications to fund were difficult ones for the committee.

The following six participants were granted scholarships:

Tetiana Borka from Kyiv, Ukrakine
Sevil Cakir from Mersin, Turkey
Katherine Fobear from British Columbia, Canada
Selma Leydesdorff from Amsterdam, Netherlands
Jo Roberts from Ontario, Canada
Stacy Zembrzycki from Quebec, Canada

Over the next three months, abstracts from the participants granted scholarships will be highlighted in this blog. This month Tetiana Borka and Sevil Cakir’s abstracts are highlighted:

Tetuaba Borka:
Title: “Voiceless memory” and Holodomor (Great Famine): Power of oral history to challenge official historical discourse

Abstract: Holodomor (the Great Famine) in Ukraine in 1932-1933 is one of the greatest catastrophes in Ukrainian history. It took the life of at least 4 million people. Only in 2006 did the Ukrainian government, as well as more than 20 countries, recognized Holodomor as genocide. It was J. Stalin who used famine as a weapon in his political struggle. After committing the crime, the Soviet leadership made sure that a word “famine” would not sound – it began working on memory policy regarding Holodomor: people were repressed, archival documents were partly destroyed.

In 1987 the Ukrainian Soviet leader V.Shcherbytsky recognized the existence of the famine, explaining it by purely weather conditions. Numerous survivors began to tell their stories. The collection of oral history on Holodomor started in the very end of 1980’s. But in 1990’s historians were overwhelmed with too many topics among which Holodomor was only one of the totalitarian regime’s crimes. Another obstacle to re-focus understanding of history was the narrative by itself: too cruel, too horrible, too inhumane to be truth. Political will to hear the stories and to create a public space for a dialogue on the Holodomor issue appeared in the middle of 2000’s. The biggest project was publication of the National memory book on Holodomor (19 volumes, 2008). Now historians possess about 200.000 oral history sources about Holodomor.

The crucial issue that the survivors point to in their stories is confiscation of both grain and non-grain reserves from peasants households, while official documents point at grain and potato only. It was this intentional deprivation of food that led to extreme mortality in Ukraine. Thus oral history mostly refutes the theories about bad weather conditions, bad crops or other invented explanations for the famine cause. It undermined the official narrative about famine and helped to deeper understand nature of Stalin’s totalitarian state.

Sevil Cakir:
Title: Observations on the Everyday Experiences of Women in the Leftist Guerrilla Movements in Iran and Turkey in the 1970s

Abstract: The history of the Left in Iran and Turkey was written predominantly by the male members of the leftist organizations, which occupied a prominent place in politics and society in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Despite women’s participation in large numbers in the leftist movements, be it radical or moderate, their presence was mostly forgotten due to the lack of documentation and negligence of their male comrades. Thus, there is still a significant gap in our understanding of the history of women in the leftists movements in particular and women’s experiences in social movements in general in these countries. In this respect, a comparative study of women’s activism—especially their motivations, perceptions and experiences—in underground leftist movements in Iran and Turkey will be an important contribution. This study aims exactly at making this contribution through an oral history of the women who were involved in urban guerrilla movements in the 1970s in Iran and Turkey.

An oral history of these women, with a particular focus on everyday life, would provide us with their perspective on still highly contentious issues like gender equality and violence in politics and everyday life in these revolutionary movements. With a comparison of Iranian and Turkish cases, this paper questions if we can talk about a common gendered experience for women in underground revolutionary movements in different countries. It also sheds light on the differences in their experiences as a result of social and cultural settings. Oral history interviews are especially important to include women’s perspective into the picture. With a focus on everyday life at the intersection of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, this study provides us with a multi-dimensional analysis of everyday gendered
experiences of women in such extraordinary circumstances.

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Blog: Notes from the classroom

Post written Miriam Laytner, Oral History Intern, Apollo Theater Oral History Project

The Apollo Theater Oral History Project at Community School 154, The Harriet Tubman Learning Center in New York City is almost complete for 2013-14. The interviews have been completed, the stories gathered and the group poem and plays performed.  Though the calendar says it’s spring, the weather outside is more reminiscent of autumn, when I first started as an Oral History Intern at the Apollo Theater.

As I sift through the folders of papers handed to me by the students and teachers at C.S. 154, a dog-eared page sticks out. I pull it out and realize it is part of a transcript from one of the oral history interviews conducted by this year’s 5th grade class. In this particular segment, the students are having trouble understanding that children in the 1940s and 1950s may have had yogurt, but they ate with a spoon. There was no such thing as Go-Gurt—the portable, disposable tube of yogurt favored by today’s nine- and ten-year olds. When I first transcribed the interviews, this conversation—which spans an entire page—first struck me as a waste of time. I was embarrassed that the students did not stick to the list of questions the teachers and I had carefully helped them cultivate over the previous weeks. But as the conversation progressed onto the next page, it blossomed into something more. The conversation turned to other differences between the children’s lives and the interviewees’ own childhoods. Students realized that the interviewees lived before there were refrigerators, color televisions or a 24-hour news cycle. As silly as it sounds, Go-Gurt became a springboard into a productive conversation on the historical changes witnessed by the interviewees during their lifetimes.

Oral history interviews, when conducted by a trained interviewer, can be valuable documents. During this project, I learned how oral histories gathered by young people are also valuable teaching tools. Students must learn a variety of skills in order to conduct an interview. They must learn how to be a good listener, how to ask open-ended questions, how to take notes, and how to conduct research in order to prepare for an interview. They also learned elements of theater production and public speaking. The structure of the oral history interview allows students to capture and internalize history in a way that makes sense to them as children. It is one thing to read a textbook that tells students that life was different in the 1950s, but it is quite another for them to come to the same conclusion on their own through conversations with an elderly member of the community.  A webpage can list technological advances from 1950 to 2014, but the nuanced impacts these changes had on the everyday lives of, for example, children living in Harlem, can really be felt when children compare their experiences to the experiences of their elders.

As much as I learned from my internship at the Apollo, I hope that the real beneficiaries of my work this year are the students at C.S. 154. They had an amazing opportunity to conduct interviews and translate those interviews to the stage—a process of internalizing and representing history that is valuable for strengthening community bonds and relationships to the past. I hope that the memories stay with them for years to come.

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Blog: European Social Science History Conference

Post by Leslie McCartney, International Committee Web Liaison

I attended the European Social Science History Conference (10th Edition) held in the beautiful city of Vienna in Austria from April 23-26, 2014.  The ESSHC conference is organized by the International Institute of Social History, an institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.  The aim of the ESSHC is to bring together scholars who explain historical phenomena using the methods of social sciences.  The conference is composed of small group exchanges rather than formal plenary sessions.  The conference had over 2,000 attendees and sessions revolved around 27 networks (in alphabetical order:  Africa; Antiquity; Asia; Criminal Justice; Culture; Economics; Education and Childhood; Elites; Ethnicity and Migration; Family and Demography; Health and Environment; Labour; Latin America; Material and Consumer Culture; Middle Ages; Oral History; Politics, Citizenship and Nations; Religion; Rural; Sexuality; Social Inequality; Spatial and Digital History; Technology; Theory; Urban; Women and Gender; and World History).

The rigor, breadth and depth of the over 50 papers presented in the Oral History Network was certainly impressive and thought provoking.  Oral History Network organizers Timothy Asplant (Liverpool John Moores University), Graham Smith Holloway, University of London) and Andrea Stutz (University of Graz) excellent selection of papers and organization was clearly evident.  Discussion at the network meeting included revisiting the Oral History Network’s purpose which was originally Oral History and Life Stories.   Over the years the life stories component has waned and it was agreed that it should be included again to speak to a larger audience.

In several sessions discussions ensued about the ethics and issues that arise from making oral history interviews available on the Internet.  The Belfast Project/Boston College case was another topic that was raised and in light of today’s news about the arrest of Gerry Adams as a result of information revealed in the Belfast Project interviews, it proves that this case raises many ethical considerations for oral historians.

The conference is held every two years and it was announced in the general meeting held on Thursday, April 24 that the next ESSHC will be held in Valencia, Spain in 2016.  I would encourage anyone engaged in oral history research to present a paper and attend the next conference.

For more information about the ESSHC, please visit:  The program of the conference can be downloaded in a pdf document at:


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Blog: “My Talent in Life is Being a Friend”

Post written by Katie Crook, originally published at the Southern Oral History Program blog, Field Notes

I was a little apprehensive, to say the least. On a Friday afternoon at rush hour, I found myself driving away from the happy little bubble of Blue Heaven to a city with which I had absolutely no familiarity. I was nervous about finding parking, arriving on time, finding the right building. Mostly, I was nervous about my first interview for the Southern Oral History Program. I had no idea what to expect, hoping fervently that my recorder—and backup iPhone—would capture the interview I had anticipated for weeks. I was nervous about how the interview would proceed, what I would say, what he would say. In short, as I waited for Dr. Jim Carmichael to return to his fourth floor office at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, I wished I were back home in the familiar folds of Chapel Hill, with friends on this wintry Friday evening.

What happened next caught me completely off-guard. As I anxiously walked to my interviewee’s office, I caught my first glimpse of him. A small man, he was dressed in a fashionable leather jacket reminiscent of a cowboy, a resemblance echoed by his handlebar moustache. Dr. James Carmichael, an esteemed professor of library history, literally welcomed me into his cozy office with open arms, opting not for a handshake but a full hug. He graciously thanked me for coming to interview him and invited me to take a seat. Instantly, I felt my nerves disappear as we began discussing familiar topics, like the notoriously hellish parking in Chapel Hill. I found myself easing up, even smiling, as I plugged in my recorder and began asking my questions.

As it were, my nerves for this interview proved to be completely unfounded. Dr. Carmichael had me laughing and reminiscing right along with him as he detailed his life’s story, full of colorful characters like himself. Again and again, I was struck by the sincerity of his words and his complete vulnerability. We talked about his substance abuse, his “bizarre” wedding to ex-wife Bunny, the antebellum house he called home, and his road to sobriety. We talked about his lovers, his emotional turmoil, and his subsequent recovery and victory over alcoholism and mental illness. Clearly, my apprehension about interviewing a stranger was not shared by my interviewee, as he seemed to relish this opportunity to express himself.

Dr. Carmichael refused to shy away from sensitive topics, willing to discuss anything from his original rejection from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to the sexual favors he granted to a guard so he could place a phone call from jail. He talked about his lowest point, in the throes of mental illness and at odds with himself and his own sexuality. He discussed his recovery, his discovery of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and the many eccentric friends who helped him along his path to sobriety. In the end, this unassuming professor gave a profoundly honest and touching account of the incredible life he had led.

Dr. Carmichael’s life—as far as I could tell from the two hours I spent interviewing him that February Friday night—is not defined by failures or defeat. His story is one of marked triumph, over illness, abuse, and insecurity. Though he described himself as a “troubled” person as a young man, any trace of that trouble seems to have been replaced by his exuberance and love of life. His love of his family, friends, and cats (yes, his cats) was absolutely infectious, and I left his office wanting only to someday be able to spend more time talking to him about his life. During his interview, Dr. Carmichael said to me, “I think my talent in life is being a friend,” and after listening to two hours of his life story, I can certainly agree. Dr. Carmichael is one of those rare people that we only meet occasionally in our lives—full of life, humility, and a contagious love of all people. I felt truly honored to have met him.

As I was leaving his Greensboro office, I felt honestly disappointed that our interview was complete. As anxious as I had been just hours earlier, my interview with Dr. Carmichael was not only fascinating, but helped put my own life in perspective. I suggested that we should share coffee and more stories the next time Dr. Carmichael finds himself in Chapel Hill, as he often does for research. I sincerely hope he takes me up on my offer.

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Blog: International Committee wants your input

This month the International Committee’s blog is asking for input from readers. We would like to hear from you and learn about what new oral history projects you are working on, specifically what international projects you are working on, hope to work on or have just completed. We would also be interested in hearing from researchers who are working on multi-country oral history research such as looking at labor movements in the United States and South Africa or Poland for example. Please submit a 100 word paragraph about your international research to We will review the submissions and highlight them on this blog over the coming months.
Also, just a reminder that the deadlines for the various Oral History Association’s Annual Meeting Scholarships are drawing near:

  • The International Scholarship Applications are due by April 18
  • The Presenter Scholarship Applications are due by May 1
  • The Non-presenter Scholarship Applications are due by June 1

Further information about the Annual Meeting Scholarships can be found at

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