My Final Interview

My final interview was with my grandmother (or as we refer to her my “Nanny”). It was beautiful. She knows so much about our family history. The interview truly reminded me of the book The Presence of the Past. For one, in that book woman are identified as keepers of family history and also just because she loved reflecting on family history so much. So many of the themes of the class popped up throughout the interview.

Nanny was the first woman that I interviewed and the feminist oral history projects we have looked at caused me to notice many of the themes that were mentioned in class. Nanny talks down her role and life a lot. She insists that her life was very ordinary and nothing special. This is in line with what we have learned from our studies about women’s ideas about their roles in society. But oh my gosh, was she wrong.

Her life was incredible, I never knew that my Nanny had experienced so much hardship and adventure. Her grandmother used to buy houses, live in them, renovate them, then sell them for profit. My Nanny and great grandmother lived with her and this caused them to move all around Owensboro. It also resulted in them having a good deal of money during the Depression. Her mother and grandmother were also business woman and owned their own salon. They were very good at it too. The only thing that got my great-grandmother to stop was the fact that she had a stroke and broke her leg at 80, causing her to retire. These were exceptional women. They were straight up like romanticized strong women for the era. They knew how to survive and thrived.

My Nanny also had an emotional moment and presented me with my first serious emotional moment during an interview. Until now, I had not had to deal with an emotional reaction to the past in an interview. This changed with this interview, however. I will not get into what my Nanny talked about on my blog, it is in the interview and index, but it was intense. It was a reflection of years of internally struggling with emotional hardship and self-doubt. She got choked up. But being stronger than the sadness, fought the tears. She told me she had never really talked about it before. I felt so bless that she discussed it with me. I believed that she never talked about it because she didn’t want to burden those around her. She just dealt with it for over 30 years before she came to terms with it. It was a beautiful moment. She is a beautiful woman.

It was not all emotional though. We talked about playin’ cards and drinking and gambling. We talked about the good times! And boy, she had some good times! She discussed everything that I wanted to know. One thing that I really came away with from this interview is that as the interviewer you should feel free to ask any reasonable question. If the interviewee does not want to answer it, they can simply let you know. That was not the case here though. Anything I wanted to know, she was more than happy to talk about. It was a wonderful experience.

In conclusion, after the three interviews, I feel that I have grown a great deal as an interviewer. I think it has helped a lot that my interviewees have varied so much in make-up and background. The differing views and life experiences got me exposed to dealing with different perspectives. The readings did a lot to help with that, as well. They also helped me notice when some potential avenues for more information arose in the conversation, how identify them and how to follow them up. Nothing helps you learn like experience, however, and learn I have. After all the reading, discussion, transcription, calling, interviews, and indexing, I truly feel as though I have been submerged into the world of oral history. I now see that the field holds a lot of fun, exciting and useful potential. (Stop tape)


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My second interview

Okay, so I just had my second interview and it was so much different than my first. There was really almost nothing that the interviews had in common and I see this as a GREAT circumstance.

My second interview was with my Grandfather (We actually call him “Papaw”). It was conducted over the phone. I recorded it over a speaker hooked-up to my phone and used the Audacity freeware downloaded on my laptop.

Even though it was one of my relatives, the interview process was very nerve racking. The entire set up of the recording process was very stressful to decide upon. I didn’t know what way would be the best format to record the interview. I looked and looked but much of the freeware had limited use restrictions. You had to do the old, “premium upgrade” to get limitless recording. I finally decided on my MacGyver set up and then proceeded to contact my interviewee.

I was just as nervous with my papaw as I would have been with a stranger, perhaps more so. I have discussed the anxiety that the preparation for the interview process stirs in me before. One might think that this anxiety would go away when preparing to interview a relative. This was not the case. I actually felt more self-conscious. I really could not figure out exactly why. I think that most people would have actually preferred it. I did not, however.

I tried so hard not to have my interviews sourced from family members. I continued to pursue more people to interview from Louisville well into the weekend. I really wanted to get at least one more person that was not a family member to interview. I really did not want to have two of my interviews to be sourced from within my family. Sadly, Marshal’s brother, the man I had in the bag for half the semester was interviewed right before Marshal could get to him. This was really a blow. I had done the foot work. I contacted several people, worked hard and made the hard earned connections. I fought through my reclusive and self-conscious mindset and reached out to people I had never met before. I was even treated in a very cold and disheartening manner by one person I had contacted more than once about an interview. After the initial response, several of my messages went unanswered. Finally, after getting a hold of the possible interviewee once again, I was informed that my project didn’t seem important enough and that there really wasn’t anything interesting about it. I was pretty devastated. But despite all this, I continued until the bitter end to search. In the end, the road led to family, however.

A good deal of my reticence to interview family developed from my tendency to overly stress professionalism. I liked the feeling that I got talking to Marshal as a real oral historian, doing a real oral history. There was a degree of mutual respect between us. He acknowledged that I was an oral historian worthy to take down his story. I acknowledged that his story was worth recording. We both were ready to take part in a project that would contribute to the field  of history. Unlike the individual that turned away my “uninteresting” project, Marshal was very interested and it gave the interview a very professional and important sense.

Another aspect that I realized right before the interview was that I was afraid of what someone I loved might say. This was my Papaw, I love him. I didn’t want to put him in a tough position or ask him racy questions. He lived through a time that is much different than how we live now. I was afraid. The world he grew up in was not “politically correct” by today’s standards. I questioned myself about what to avoid. Interviewing a relative is a whole different world. It seems as though it is more of a personal benefit than a public one.

The interview went well but I was still very reticent to ask any questions that might have led to controversial subjects. At the beginning of the interview, I tried to keep the questions as light as possible. Despite this, my Papaw immediately showed me how much control the interviewee has over the interview. Before the interview, I questioned him a bit on what he would like to talk about. He said he would talk about anything. He mentioned things that did not have a very publically controversial connotation such as the depression, W.W.II and his job at G.E. He then mentioned Jim Crow, segregation, and the colored part of town and I knew that I was not in complete control. I gave him no restrictions, however, and we continued.

The interview continued and it was very interesting to think that my Papaw’s story is a generation before Marshal’s story. This came into my mind when my Papaw discussed race. He said that there were few racial conflicts because each race kept to themselves and understood that they had boundaries. No one questioned why, they just obeyed. Marshal’s account is the same. He mentioned that his parents generation was unquestioning. He said that they accepted things the way they were. Marshal’s parents believe that they were black and could not do things as a result, end of story. It was just interesting to me to hear two different people from to different generations talk about generations and concur.

The indexing process is also much different than I imagined it would be. I really feared transcription. I really didn’t want to have to type, word for word, an over hour long interview. I did, however, and although it was pretty painful, at times, it was pretty mindless. It just took time. When I was transcribing, I was so ready for indexing. It will be soooo easy, I kept telling myself. This is not necessarily the case. Although indexing is much less time intensive, it actually takes a great deal of thought. You have to decide what and when the relevant and transitioning themes arise. It is basically like looking at a fifteen page research paper that the author has deleted all the topic sentences from and going back and writing what you would make the topic sentences. It is pretty tough.

So that is it. Interview number two down only one more to go. Although I did not want to resort to family interviews, the experience was enriching. A family sourced interview presents the oral historian with several circumstances that they would not come in contact with, otherwise. Hypersensitivity to subject matter and a vested emotional interest in the subject present many obstacles for the interviewer. I believe that this is something that an oral historian should experiment with, however. It presents an entirely different aspect to the historian’s role and to the role of the field.

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Lets do Another

Well, I already have enough post, besides the two more I need for my other oral histories, but I figured I would do this one as the readings sparked this and I am currently transcribing. Transcribing is a very intense process and we have discussed it a lot and in great detail. I never imagined it would be like this, however. The first thing I want to say to anyone who is transcribing is MAKE YOUR PROCESS COMFORTABLE! Do this at all cost and take as much time to do this as you need or else it will be completely unbearable.

My process was terrible and it literally drove me to the brink of insanity. I was using a basic media player. I had to play clips in large tracks and I could not stop it with an action button. It took me like four hours to transcribe like 3 minutes of audio. I felt completely hopeless. My wife saved the day. When she came home, she could see that I was completely distraught. She calmed me down, downloaded Audacity, showed me how to use the hotkeys and I was transcribing like a pro! So, take as much time as possible to get your process right.

Making word decisions is also something that I did not think would be a hard thing but it turns out that it is a bit more difficult than expected. We have discussed in class and read about group dialects. These can be very important for cultures but can also be used against a person. Some words and phrases can be used to mock a persons intellect or level of education, even if the assumption is not true. Use of the word “axe” as opposed to “ask”; how should these things be transcribed? Well, luckily my narrator did not really say too much that brought this problem up. But there are instances where I had to make decisions. I suppose it is all up to the person transcribing. I thought of this when the readings proposed the idea of “raw” vs “cooked” material (Frisch, 129-130). It seems that transcription would land somewhere in the middle of the two, sort of the “cooking” phase.

This week’s reading discussed digitization in great deal. What is this going to do to not just the field of oral history but the field of history in general? It is all moving so quickly. If one third of the universities in America have a class like ours and digitize the same amount of material, think of how much the pool of knowledge grows.

Another interesting factor of digitization and oral history is keyword searching. What will this do to context? I think that some might say that it is going to make it too easy for someone to find the answer they are looking for as opposed to the truth revealing itself to them. I do not believe that this will necessarily be the case. For one, historians have been looking for the answer they want since the dawn of history as a discipline. Also, there are proto-keyword searches such as indexes, so its not even like it is that grand of a step. If something is significant text often highlights things to make it easier for the viewer to find, such as indexing, titling and subtitling.

These are just some of the things that have been going through my mind as I do the readings and transcribe. Once again, I can not stress the comfort of the transcription process enough. I was really losing it and things were really looking bleak before my wife saved the day. Do not even get started until you have found a process that you are completely comfortable with. You are going to be investing a lot of yourself and a lot of your time into the transcription process. Semi-enjoyablity and comfort are not optional, they are a requirements are you to succeed!

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Pertaining to the Season

Well, Dr. Kelland gave us free rein on our reading for this week and it was pretty fun to pick. There are a lot of articles to select from, of course. When I stumbled across this one, however, I thought that it was perfect, the climate in our country being the way that it is. The article I selected is “Oral History and the Gerald R. Ford White House: The Specter of Watergate”. It was a very interesting read and the reason I chose it is probably pretty obvious. The article explores why it is that the Gerald Ford library has the most meger of all the oral histories collections of any of the other presidential libraries. The author’s intention was to investigate the conspiracy theories surrounding the situation.

Image result for gerald ford

Many people were claiming that because of Nixon’s impeachment and withdrawal from public office that Ford did not like being recorded. They claimed that he was suspicious of recordings because they had played such a pivotal role in Nixon’s downfall. This is a very interesting theory and certainly one that a historian could gather evidence of and make an argument about. The article contains the observation that many that subscribe to the theory site: There were two separate attempts to undertake an oral history project of the Ford administration and both failed. The first attempt was driven by the idea that after the Nixon controversy a true history could only be recorded if it was done immediately and directly from the mouths of those who where involved in it in any way. Thus, the oral history was proposed but it was never acted upon. The article actually does a great job of illustrating why the conspiracy theory became credible in oral history circles. It also makes a great argument for why an oral history project would have been one of the absolute best historical undertakings given the specific nature of the endeavor.

This article was of course appealing because of the atmosphere in the wake of the controversial presidential election. It is very interesting to reflect on the impact that oral history played in this years election. Audio surfaced from more than 10 years ago and an attempt was implemented for it to act as a swaying factor. It seems as though oral history is becoming a vastly more important tool with every passing day.

It is also very interesting to read about how important and at the forefront oral history is in the presidential libraries. Oral history is sometimes criticized by many traditionalist historians. The same does not seem to be true of the archivist and historians at the presidential libraries. Many have amassed huge collections that only continue to grow. These institutions are ultra-active about retrieving oral histories from any place possible. The president, staffers, security, even cooks and childhood friends. That is something that this article really revealed to me, the true power scope of possibilities of oral history.

Yes, the realization of oral history’s scope of possibility is probably my favorite take away from this article. I never thought of this before. It would be very hard, if not impossible to construct a very accurate picture of a historical figures childhood, especially if they were not significant or better off until later on in life. With oral history, however, you can reconstruct almost any area of history as long as there is someone knowledgeable enough about the subject to recount it. Childhood friends could be interviewed to reconstruct the youth of a historical actor or the private health of the person could be revealed by interviewing a doctor or someone close to them. Yes, this was truly an exciting realization to have.

Well, all and all this article was good. It revealed that the Ford library actually has an extensive oral history archive it was just not available to the public yet. After the death of Ford, however, it became public. So the conspiracy theory was incorrect. The article did not really give a good “so what?”. Besides the effort to debunk the theory, there really did not seem to be a good reason for the article. As I said though, I am happy I read it as I came away with many positive takeaways about the possibilities and the bright future and present of oral history. Verdict: fun read.


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My First Interview

That’s right folks, it happened. I am so relieved! I finally did my first interview and it was fun! It was great. I got to sit and listen to someone who has been through so much. So many of the things I heard him talk about were things that I have been studying with Dr. Kelland for years. This information did not come from a book, not even hearsay. This information came from the source! It was also so much more intense because I got to hear personal emotion as well as facts. I got to hear details that no historian has ever heard before. One thing that felt particularly crazy is when he would say something and then say “Hey, I’m just telling you history. I tell my grandkids and they can hardly believe me either.” The things he told me was knowledge that he had passed on to his family, and he allowed me the honor to hear it. I am assuming that this blog should be about my general reaction to the interview, my process and just some reflection, so I will get that started now.

Leading up to the interview I was very nervous. I was nervous that we would not be able to find each other or that maybe he would not be able to show up. We had already had to reschedule and I have had trouble setting up another interview. I cannot get ahold of anyone else to interview. So, even an individual who would set up an appointment with me was promising. Either way, we did find each other on opposite sides of Ekstrom and made our way to the media suit. It was pretty weird at first, almost like a Doctors appointment. He was very quiet and I was very stoic and concentrated on getting everything set up, making occasional small talk. That all changed when I pressed the record button. I introduced him and there he went.

That man spoke about his unbelievable life for about an hour and ten minutes. I briefed him beforehand. I told him that I wanted him to tell his story. I didn’t want to interject myself too much but that if he got stuck I would ask him something. He said that sounded fine and be began. He spoke about marching with and meeting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He spoke about picking up the speaker that was speaking when the “Riot,” as he called it, broke out. Perhaps one of the deepest things he spoke about was the racism of the time. He presented this aspect of the time in a way that I had never heard it before.

Image result for Louisville Civil Rights March

I am going to be honest, I don’t think in my entire life I have ever had a long conversation with an older African American. If I had, I do not rightly know that I would be about something as hard hitting as personal racism. That is what happened yesterday though, and it was an experience. It was hard to hear him talking about being a kid and not being able to go to a movie for no other reason than his skin color. This is just something that I have been thinking about and thought I would include. I will not go too deep into the matter. It was just strange looking at this 69 year old man talk about a past world. A world that hardly even makes sense anymore. It was so strange; looking at him and hearing him was like an interaction with a living entity of the past, which…I suppose in all truth he is. Strange.

Also interesting was his description of Dr. King. How many people can say that they had an interaction with King? I can proudly say I had an interaction with someone who had an interaction lol. It was crazy to hear. Some of the things he said about King gave you goose bumps! “That fire!,” he said. Dr. King had that fire, he told me. He said that when he spoke to you he was so nice and humble but the things that man could do on a mic, he told me, was unbelievable.

One thing that seemed noticeably strange was his reticence to end the interview. He basically told all there was to tell even saying, “Well, that’s my story,” then proceeded to look for other things to talk about. Mostly his personal philosophy and opinions. This was fine but it just seemed strange. It was as though the recording had become his platform. It was just strange. Not that it was bad, it was just something I noticed. The mood changed. He spoke so fluidly then in his last 10 minutes he searched for things to say. His speech was filled with ums and his eyes seemed to search for words. That to me was the strangest part of the interview. This may seem a bit dramatic, but it was almost like a struggle with mortality. He knew that this was going to be achieved and he wanted some of his personal mission to be in it. What his experiences had taught him, not just the actions of his past, younger self.

Well, that is it. It was a really good experience. An oral history interview is so very unlike almost anything you can think of. The interviewer gets to connect with history on such a personal level. It is great. I look forward to doing more. I honestly see how people could get deeply passionate about these. It is like getting in a time machine. I am so happy that my narrator was such an interesting and experienced person. I feel so lucky to have got to hear his story! Well, here’s to two more!

Oh, and I just got done proof reading this and I just wanted to add one more thing. I am a historian and really like history (of course). I can not stress enough how surreal of an experience this was. I can not exactly comprehend why. It is a very mortal feeling. Everything I had learned prior was just a story. This man was living evidence, a relic of the time. We read an article in Introduction to Public History about historic items and their effect on the viewer. I would compare this experience to that. The events he spoke of happened years and years before I was on this earth. The first time I had ever heard of the events, I was probably in an elementary school classroom. Well, there we were talking about those times. He had seen them with his own eyes. He was physically apart of them. He carried those events with him. Going back to the historic item idea, it was like seeing something in a museum. You know that the historic events happened but there is something about seeing the relics. Okay, I just wanted to talk more about that because it was a very powerful feeling for me personally.

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Meeting with other oral history class

Well this is an interesting post. Not really for any reason other than the timing. I had decided not to blog for this class period and instead let it pass as one of the weeks when I did not have to blog. This all changed at the end of class, however, due to several circumstances. Firstly, I recently found out that not all the blogs had to be about the readings, I had not paid attention to that. This is good because not all of the readings really inspire me to blog. Secondly, Dr. Kelland said that we could blog post-class this week, so I am choosing to do so. Thirdly, this class meeting was very interesting and it is fresh in my mind. So lets get into this.

We met today with the LGBTQ oral history class and a lot of interesting topics were brought up. One of the most interesting topics that was brought up was one that we have discussed before, intersectionality. I will not go too in-depth about what the concept really is because I think I have discussed it in other blogs or at least in class. In general it is the fact that a person has several different cultures and they intersect and diverge in different places. This class we discussed how we could use our intersectionality to help us with our interviews, even when it seems like we are complete opposites. I find this to be acceptable in several cases but I really do not see it as applicable in our case. What our study is about causes us to deal with something that is not an intersectionality. Our study is about the black experience in Parkland. No one in the class is black or from Parkland. This is the exact subject we are examining. One of the people brought up the point about being “pet parents” if that is a pertinent piece of information then by all means pursue it, but for our study, we may have to deal with uncomfortable subjects.

Something else that I have noticed is a lot of fear. I do not really understand what everyone is afraid of. These people want their stories out there. As far as I can tell, none of my classmates want to upset or offend anyone. Nor do they seem like they are racist. I do not understand why everyone is so afraid of our narrator saying “You wouldn’t get it.” I don’t really think that anyone in the class is smug enough, hopefully, to think that they know what it is like to live as anyone other than themselves, much less someone from a vastly different background. I feel that by thinking these people will have these extreme reaction says something about the way the interviewer feels about themselves or the way they feel about the people they are interviewing.

I feel that I am not afraid of the interview because I know what we are researching and have a realistic expectation of the narrator. We are both people and we both understand that there are racial situations that neither one of us could even imagine. I feel that going into an interview thinking you know the person you are interviewing, if you do not know them, is a bad mentality. As a matter of fact, it is profiling and in this case it is racial profiling. It is like saying that by in large African American do not trust and are hostile toward white people and that you should enter every interaction with African Americans with this mindset unless you know otherwise. This is an issue with the interviewer’s preconceived ideology, not the narrator’s true attitude.

To conclude, I would like to say that I really enjoy meeting with the other group. They think about things in ways that we historians do not. They seem to think “outside of the box”. As a historian, I think in a very orthodox manner. Many of the points they bring up are interesting and I never would have thought of things in that way. This is perhaps a reason why collaboration is big in gender studies. Something else that is kind of unrelated but pertains, is that they are much more quiet than we are! Lol, I am not exactly sure why that is but you can hardly shut us historians up and many of them seemed very content to just listen. I am not sure why this is and it is very interesting. Perhaps it is because their discipline is more about listening to others and ours is more about convincing people of our viewpoint. Either way it is a pretty interesting thing to observe.

So, fun class, interesting meeting, happy Halloween!

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Subject to Circumstance

The readings this week were quite diverse and helped me view oral history’s different aspects from several angles. The information this week was very and insightful. Perhaps the greatest revelation I got from these readings was that we, as oral historians, are so very in control of countless aspects of our interview and yet we are so very subject to circumstance in countless other ways.

How we conduct an interview is up to us. Our interviewing style is our own construction. We may take notes, we may give audible queues that to reassure that we are interested and listening, we decide how we use our silences: there are a countless amount of ways in which we control our interviews. We should develop and, at times, alter our style to make the interview process as comfortable and effective as possible. What this will take is time and experience. Exposure and practice is the most effective way of growing as an interviewer. It is these experiences and practice that will allow us to act on our feet and respond to certain leads that may take us were we need to go. It seems to be a theme in weekly discussions that we are worried that we are going to miss an opportunity to uncover something deeper with the interviewee’s narrative; this is something that can only be guarded against with time and practice. Even with time and practice, however, mistakes can still occur.

Although we have control over so many of these factors we can still faultier. Just as Dr. Kelland mentioned earlier in the semester, you may not even notice that you made mistakes or should have done something differently until you go back and listen to it. Perhaps interjecting too much of yourself or not taking the conversation further will gleam in as an interviewer flaw. You may only fully realize this after the interview process is complete. This is one among many of the reasons that the transcription process is such a vital element of oral history. Just as the readings suggested transcription will help us grow as interviewers.

There are also several factors that we have absolutely no control over that will affect the process and outcome in numerous ways. The history of the interviewee is not something that we can do anything about. A person may be more or less likely to trust us based on their past experiences. I am white, male, and come from a middle class home. There are several assumptions anyone can have just by looking at me. This is a circumstance I cannot control. I can control how I present myself but I cannot control how I am received. This is not necessarily a bad thing and can actually work out or the best. Likewise although you can decide on the place that the interview is to be done you cannot alter the history of that place. Something that came up in this week’s readings that has come up in past readings is the history of the place that we are interviewing in, Louisville. Louisville is quite an ideal city for a survey of American race relations. The state is quite decidedly southern, particularly in culture. One can hardly talk about American race relations without discussing southern culture. Louisville, however, has been much more open, inclusive and progressive when dealing with diverse cultures. Louisville is a city that as the readings pointed out, is a cross-cultural city and intersectional study can be executed here with more ease (Fosl and Kelland, 140). This is not as true with other parts of the nation, many of which are less accepting or less diverse. So the history of the place is also a very important and uncontrollable factor when dealing with an interview.

Oral history is a form of study that will never remain in a current state for an extended period of time. This is a situation that the Swain article discusses and it is one that is tantamount to the dilemma of oral history. Oral history came about as a result of technological advances. Historians began to utilize different forms of media, recorded speeches, televised events, and many other forms of media communication. This lead to recorded interviews in the form of oral history (Swain, 349). Technology is constantly changing, however, and thus old oral histories must be reformatted (Swain, 350). Here arises the problem of curation. How do we deal with this. The oral historian cannot expect the curator to reformat every oral history every time a technological advance is made. It seems that some oral histories are just to be lost to time. Swain suggests that one of the best ways in which to prevent the loss of material is increased collaboration. Utilization of oral history must be encouraged in all fields of study and circulation of the materials must be increased (Swain, 353). This would not really present a problem, in my opinion, as oral history is rife with very practical information. Oral history is not just stories of peoples lives it also contains statistics and data. With more disciplines involved in oral history there will be, as a result, more keepers of oral history. This would contribute to the conservation of the information throughout time.

In conclusion, this week’s readings had a diverse and dense amount of information. It was quite a lot to wrap my mind around. What it did make me realize is that oral history is a very chaotic form of study. There are a lot of factors that are out of the historians control. Even after the history is done the fate of the material then passes on to another person. It is the chaotic nature of the field that makes it very important for the historian to remain practiced and well informed as to the current scholarship, methodology, and technology being utilized. This is the only way in which the field will progress as well as survive in the ever changing technological atmosphere.


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Memory, the Breath of the Past

I normally say something generic at the beginning of these things like, “I enjoyed this week’s readings…” or “This week’s readings were really interesting…” We get it, I read readings and now I am going to talk about them. So, lets get right into this.

A very common theme among public historians and historians in general is that when you deal with a living person the business of history gets much more sticky. I have often times thought about maybe doing a project on a living person. I even thought that hey! it might even be easier! It would be like if you were doing a research paper and you could just ask the book the question and it would tell you the answer. After really thinking about it, however, and after the readings, I don’t know that I would every be super excited to jump into a seriously large project about a living subject. As I have just recently switched my focus to public history and really like traditional history, I do not really play well with others. The things that I author are mine. Even if I ask my wife, who is a brilliant published biologist, to proofread a paper, I ask her to simply look for grammatical errors. In the past, we have gotten into fights about wording and other things, so I feel it is best to simply avoid it. So, I cant imagine someone having control over work that I truly believe to be good solid work. Public historians are a breed all their own, however. Collaboration is rife in the field and working with others is much more encouraged. This being said I will move on to the next concept that we are addressing this week and it seems like pretty much one of the core ideologies of oral history, a living memory.

The idea of the living memory is referring to the fact that people remember things differently throughout the progression of their lives. In other words people view past events in the light of the present. This can have an extreme affect on the memory being recalled. A man who has cheated could recall the memory as very pleasurable and exciting months after the event happened but years down the road he could view it with complete shame and guilt. Where he was once the James Bond playboy, he is now a discussing, unfaithful human. This is one of the reasons it can be so difficult to use an oral history. We may not, in actuality, be getting the view of the person when the event was happening, what were are getting though is the way in which the historical actor recalls or views it now.

Our work with oral history is really deeply helpful in my growth as a historian. I find myself throughout the day questioning certain historic principals. One of the questions that will not leave my mind is “What is history?”. One of the more specific aspects of this is, “How old does something have to be to be considered history?”. This is a very important question because, from the way I have come to understand it, history as a discipline exists to present the story of the past after a period in which the event can be rationally interpreted. This is where oral history has come in and presented many questions. I have wandered whither or not the generation that lived the experience should be alive when the history is recounted. This might contribute to a more rational interpretation, void of the biases of those that lived the event. This is heavily referenced in the readings. It is specifically well done when Frisch discusses Vietnam and those who “were there” (Frisch , 23). The view point of the time may have been simply that of a young soldier doing all he can to stay alive and today it may be that of an apologist with crippling guilt. One story is that of a realist and the other a moralist. So, should the generation have past before their history is recorded?

Here inlays another problem: if the generation is gone there will be no one of experience to critique the “official history”. No one who lived through the event or era will be here to say, “that is exactly right” or, conversely, “that is not what happened”. This can prove difficult, as I have discussed. So pesky is the voice of living memory that it took Fosl 13 years to complete her book on Anne Braden. It seemed to me that her remaining alive restricted Fosl from completing her book the way she wanted in many, many ways, such as the question of Communism (Fosl, 68). Her story really caused me to reflect on the historian as an artist, the subject matter as the paint and their work as the canvas. In many ways an individual of living memory can act as a paint remover, or a restriction. But in a situation that is not as specific as the biography of a living person, living memories keeping historians in check and can be a good thing.

Another important aspect that was discussed was the concept of silences. The space between words. The hesitations after the questions. The unanswered questions. What are we to do with and make of these silences? Do we as historians interpret what might be behind these silences that the narrator cannot mentally break? Do we pursue the memory? Do we work around it to try to make sense of it and perhaps break ground? I think it all has to do with the situation. It would be up to the historian and the narrator in that very moment. Many things could turn out in different fashions, depending on the circumstances.

This week actually had a lot that I have been reflecting on. This class and currently this week’s readings have caused me much pause. It has and continues to force me to confront what I consider to be history and how history is to be done. Something, on a semi-unrelated note, that this class has presented me with is this, It is a Storycorps one that I heard years ago and it affected me deeply and still does. I did not know what Storycorps was and could not find it for a long time. Dr. Kelland mentioned that sometimes Storycorps puts their stories to cartoons and I was overjoyed by the thought that I might be reunited with this. The tale is haunting and tragic and is at the very core of memory. Memory can be hard to live with and perhaps that is why it changes, to make life bearable. Live with it we must because there is only one alternative to life.


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Their story, our responsibility

This week’s readings were very interesting. All of them could fall under the topic of what happens to the oral history post-facto. The selections from Zeitlin and Filene were a bit more relatable to one another, while the piece by Abrams is markedly different. The Zeitlin and Filene pieces  both dealt with the curation of the story, its presentation and preservation after it becomes a documented piece. The piece by Abrams, however, is about methods of interpretation: How do we read one of these documents once it is presented to us or after we conduct the interview? All of these pieces were very helpful in giving me questions and ideas to ponder.

The pieces by Zeitlin and Filene caused me mostly to reflect on the value of a recorded narrative. As public historians, we know that one of the cornerstone ideologies of public history is that every persons’ narrative is important in different ways, but they all remain important nonetheless. These two articles caused me to question to what extent this was true. The articles both dealt with individuals contributing their stories to a larger pool of stories to create somewhat of a narrative of a shared existence among people who share the same planet. The part that gave me pause, however, is that both articles admit that some of the stories were better than others and both condoned that those stories were of a higher priority and value. Does this go against  a basic principle of public history?

By highlighting certain stories is public history not simply falling back into the past of academic history? I understand that this has to be done. Pubic history is a tool that is used for public good. At the same time it is also, like everything else, a business and must accumulate money, if for nothing else, simply to function. To do this, the websites such as the Story Core and City of Memory projects need to attract people and money with the most interesting content. Thus, they must moderate and curate it. It just seems a bit hypocritical in a way.

So I guess this brings us to what seemed to be the main point of the two articles, curation. Everyone has a story and as public historians we acknowledge that everyone’s story has value. We promote the idea that anyone who wants to tell their story and have it kept should. This is where the trained public historian comes in. We are being trained in the proper methods to undertake these endeavors. We are being taught how to execute, transcribe, interpret, and archive these narratives. This is something I come back to and notice week after week in these readings and our discussions: the historian is ultimately in control of the narrative. This is a point that surprises me again and again every time that I come across it. I would imagine that this is something that would not be acknowledged, or perhaps hidden, as not to scare people away or inspire distrust. Now, however, I think I have figured out why this point is being brought up week after week.

The control of the narrative is being brought up because it is something that the historian should never forget or betray. The readings mentioned that narratives are often steered by the historian to get an answer that they want. Or perhaps sometimes historians simply steer the conversation to a topic that pertains to their study. There is really nothing wrong with the second circumstance one but the first one is a bit dishonest and is a sensitive area in the discipline of oral history. A historian should not milk or coax a desired answer out of an interviewee. As the historian, we have a power and a responsibility to the past and its players. We should not misrepresent someone’s narrative for our own means. I now believe that this is why the readings keep repeating this, to keep the historian mindful.

Now, I am going to turn to the Abrams article. This one was a bit more difficult for me. I am pretty excited to see what the discussions in class are like Monday concerning this article. This article ventured into the world of literary study. It brought the discipline to the table of history. I found the article very interesting but I am not a student of literature or of psychology and this article dealt with both. It also dealt with woman and genders studies and cultural studies, which as modern historians we are exposed to but far from experts in. So, this article was very interesting for me to read but a bit harder to follow. That being said, there are several points in the article that I think are useful and innovative but several that I also take issue with.

I feel that perhaps using literary techniques to read and detail the progression of a narrative can be useful in some cases. I am not fully sure of why this would matter so much. I do understand that it can maybe tell us a little more about the effect an event had on the narrator. Such techniques could perhaps give us more insight to conditions such as grief and trauma. The article mentions P.T.S.D., I do not know how influential studies of this nature were in coining P.T.S.D. but I can certainly see how it could contribute (Abrams, 121-123).

Finally, one of the aspects of the article that I take the most issue with is the utilization of psychology in history. This is an approach that I think is very dangerous. This, unless done in a very delicate way, can often times lead to presumption and misinterpretation in favor of the historian and can harm the narrative. I am very familiar with the works of Klaus Theweleit who has used the psychological scope to examine history. I feel he does a good job at making incredibly interesting work but I do not feel that many of the conclusions that he comes to should hold historical credence. Theweleit is also a best case scenario, in my opinion, as he is a doctor of psychology as well as incredibly well versed in German history. So a historian should be very cautious about utilizing this approach. Psychology is much too deep and delicate as it is. For most historians, using this lens would be like a historian diagnosing patents using WebM.D. Simply because touching your ear while talking can be a sign that you are lying does not mean that this is always true. It would take a very skilled person, well versed in both history and psycology, to even attempt to approach such an endevor in even a small degree.

So that is it. The readings this week were enjoyable. I did not agree with everything in them but they were rife with things to contemplate. It was also a very good progression into what we do once our narratives are recorded.

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What is Oral History?

I will start this post with a reflection of the tour we took of the Civil Rights locations throughout Louisville. The tour was very informative and a fun break from in class learning. Also the guides were amazing. They did such a good job and made it so interesting that there is no reason for me to even try to explain it.

This leads me to another aspect of public history that is of great importance, place. Place is a tantamount aspect of the discipline. As we know public history’s purpose is to basically give voice to the voiceless, as our readings and our studies have highlighted. These places give a physical body to those voices. These locations are sites where humans made history and they are still standing. These places have a certain something that exists nowhere else. The concept of place and its, for lack of better words, place in the field is something that interest me very much. This past summer, I did an internship with the city as a historic preservation intern. The sites we worked with and the things we did had a very positive effect on my attitude for place as a historic mover and feature. These places become almost historically sacred ground for the part they played in the narrative being told. All this being said, once again, the trip was very fun and informative and there were so many locations that we did not even get to see.

I found this weeks reading very interesting. The readings dealt with a lot of things that we deal with every week. Public history core words such as agency, ownership, perception as well as expanding upon methods. Perhaps the part of this week’s readings that stuck out to me the most, however, was the argument for the legitimacy of the discipline in the field of history.

The argument for the validity of oral history as a player in the world of academic history is a very important subject for this class to tackle. This is also a subject that I have never before seen approached, quite possibly because there a several very tough arguments to combat. This week readings did a lot to even sway my own opinion on the subject. I didn’t fully discredit oral history but as a student who has been pushed through the traditional, orthodox field of academic historical study, there is apparently something skeptical about oral history present in my ideology. This weeks readings, however, namely the Portelli piece really made me address my inherent skepticism as well as quelled some of my negative ideologies pertaining to oral history.

One really must take to heart the idea of giving a voice to the voiceless. I would always think about this praise as a battle cry for public historians. I never truly dwelled on it before though. I would simply think of it and take it at face value. The motto is actually a lot deeper than one might give it credit for, however. This motto means that public history fills in the gaps that are left by the official narrative. Although these small pieces of history may never affect the narrative or may never affect anything, for that matter, there is no reason to think that there is not drastically valuable information out there that can be stumbled upon by utilizing several unorthodox strategies. I think the idea of areas that are left empty in history is a useful idea when thinking about public and oral history. Oral histories can help fill these spaces and contribute to a fuller more balanced history.

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Perhaps one of the most fascinating and groundbreaking revelations for me in this weeks readings is the idea that oral histories are not just voices on tape. Oral histories are often thought of as voice recordings but they do not have to be. Oral accounts that are transcribed are still oral accounts and oral histories. This is a point that was voiced by the readings and I believe that it is one of the most valid points I have ever heard made in the defense of oral history. As Portelli points out, historians find no fault in utilizing court transcribed accounts, which are simply oral histories…That point is pretty much a mic drop…

This weeks readings were just full of really good practical things for us to consider before venturing into our first oral histories as well as our first transcriptions as well. We really got a picture of the entire process this week. All the aspects from writing the questions, to receiving the answers, to transcribing the interaction and all the small pieces in between. It is becoming more clear now that the process of oral history is more than a simple interview that gets conducted over coffee and stored away in the archives. It is a process and a personal style. We are getting to the point that we will need to decide the process that we want to adopt. If we continue to pursue oral history, it is doubtless that our styles will evolve with time. Interesting and very helpful readings this week.


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