OHA Highlights: Interesting Oral History Projects

Most of you probably do not want to relive every detail that I could describe about the Oral History Association conference. Fair enough. Instead, I’m listing highlights of oral history projects that I learned about during the sessions.  Enjoy!

Makin’ Do. The University of Mississippi – Department of History.

This project is about the life of women in rural Union County in Mississippi who came of age during the World War II years.  Women were asked about their lives, what they did on a daily basis, and their families.  A general theme that appeared was how they all “made do” with what they had, often by selling eggs from their chickens to make ends meet.  The website is not fully operational yet, as the project is not completely finished, but the stories shared are wonderful. Click here to see the website with the flash introduction. 

Utah Parks Company Collection. Southern Utah University.

This oral history project is pure fun – employees from the early decades of the Utah National Parks have shared their memories of summers when they worked for the National Park Service.  Tales of pranks, gear jammers (bus drivers), washing dishing, putting on shows, singing goodbye to the visitors, and silly questions from visitors such as “What time do they turn on the lights in the Grand Canyon” make this project one that highlights the National Park Service.  Currently the collection of photographs is housed on the SUU’s library, but will be on its own website with the oral histories in the future. (This project also made me want to visit the west even more!)

Catholic Chicago. Chicago History Museum.

Catholic Chicago is an oral history project that is the first in a series of exhibits at the Chicago History Museum, which will document how religious communities shaped Chicago.  However, since exhibits are temporary, the project directors decided to add the oral histories to the website in order to always have a way to reach the project. I loved this project for its innovative means to do the oral history project. High school students were selected (applications required) to do this project. They were required to sign a one-year contract and they worked 40 hours per week in the summer and Saturdays during the school year to learn about Catholicism, find interviewees, conduct the interviews, and interpret them.    Aside from revealing powerful information about Chicago’s history, the methods of using high school students as a way to bring the community to the project is amazing.

Trappings: Stories of Women, Power and Clothing. A Book by Two Girls Working: Tiffany Ludwig and Renee Piechocki.

Not a session, but a book and a book signing event at the OHA, I only had a chance to pick up a postcard about the book.  The artists and authors spent six years interviewing 500 women by asking the same question, “What do you wear that makes you feel powerful.”  I like the idea that oral history can be lighthearted and empowering at the same time, allowing people to express themselves, individually and collectively, to connect with other people.  Check out the website for information about the book and the oral history project.