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.

OHA Reflection #2

The best part of the conference, for me, was Saturday morning from 10:15-12:00, which was the Digital and Community Showcase.  Similar in format to a poster session, only with more digital aspects or posters showcasing digital projects, the purpose of this was to engage in conversation with others who were interested in your project or whose project interested you.  All of the participants in this showcase were demonstrating how they have adapted to the newest technology and in which directions they are taking oral history projects.  My colleague and I presented on Overhills during this showcase. 
Overhills at the Community and Digital Showcase, OHA 2008

Overhills at the Community and Digital Showcase, Oral History Association 2008

During the showcase, people asked us about Overhills as a place, about the oral history project, and about how we are presenting the oral history project. Explaining how we are presenting it is something that makes us proud.  The project is not complete yet (estimated completion, early 2009), but the brief explanation is that we are producing (with the help of a contractor) a flash program which will offer a virtual tour of Overhills.  Viewers will have the opportunity to learn about Overhills through interview clips and photographs, organized by topics, through a timeline that offers brief decade by decade history, or through the interactive map which will help to spatially orient the viewer on these 10,500 acres. The interactive map begins with a base map, from which a viewer can choose certain areas of the estate. This area map then links to individual buildings with photographs, building histories, and information about the people who lived there.  Our hope is that anyone will find this presentation of public history interesting, as it faciliates a self-guided tour during which the viewer is never locked in to topic or media section.
If you’re interested in learning more about our interactive flash media project, please let me know. I’d be happy to answer any questions. Once the project is complete, it will be available to anyone by contacting the Fort Bragg Cultural Resources office.
I always enjoy talking to people about Overhills and explaining the oral history project, particularly because we are attempting to take it beyond typical oral history research, by combining all of our available elements.  People at the showcase responded well.  Let me know what you think!
More interesting sessions from the OHA to follow, and photographs, as well a few side trips.  And then Preservation in Pink will resume to normal programming. Thanks for reading!

OHA Reflection #1

Oral history is not the most common field, whether associated with historic preservation, folklore, anthropology or another field. Typically when someone asks me what I do, it takes a well constructed response to allow that person to understand oral history.  Some people have never heard of it, some people have a vague idea of the process and purpose, and some are not interested (thankfully, I rarely encounter such a person.)

However, at the Oral History Association, everyone knows exactly what I mean if they ask me about my profession. Being at the OHA is a completely new environment for me. Suddenly I’m surrounded by hundreds of people who are passionate about oral history and excited and working hard in their communities or even nationally to bring oral history to as many people as possible.  The workshops and sessions are inspiring, humbling, and reassuring all at the same time.  Having the opportunity to hear about other projects and how people are employing oral history in order to accomplish their goals is wonderful. Some people have been doing oral history for decades while others have just started.  The range of project s and thoughts provides a diverse field that makes for good discussion and education.  

What makes me smile the most is the sense of community that oral historians have found existing among their interviewees, whether the interviewers have helped to create it or have helped to find that feeling again.  Everyone who has worked on an oral history project has faced similar challenges: reluctant interviewees, those who do not believe that they have anything of value to say, obtaining access to the community, whether geographic, social, or other, funding obstacles, the race against time, obtaining release forms, etc. The list is long. Another universal and more important experience is how rewarding their efforts are, for the oral historians and for the communities and individuals that they have interviewed.  It’s a pleasure to hear fellow oral historians discussing these projects and their favorite experiences.  You can tell that interviewers will never forget their subjects, the discussions, or the voices. The projects are extremely diverse, which proves to me how widespread the field is and how human it is to want to share stories and discover the past and pass it along to others.  Other fields cannot capture what oral history is able to capture, no matter what the subject.  Oral history is how we view ourselves and share our views with fellow humans.  

This conference is providing me with constant reflection and evaluation of oral history and historic preservation, so much so that I cannot keep up with myself. I think that the best conferences and lessons will allow you to walk away with a continued belief in your own project, new knowledge about what you should be doing (or what to correct), and an understanding of what everyone else is doing in the field. So far, the OHA does not disappoint me; everyone is friendly and incredibly knowledgeable, interesting, and interested in the work of everyone else.  It is a positive experience. 

[In another post, I will feature highlights of the conference sessions – but it’s not over yet. In upcoming posts: oral history & the law, digital preservation of oral history, other oral history projects, and plenary sessions.]

Monongahela Incline

Mount Washington sits right behind the hotel that is hosting the OHA 2008. To get to the top of Mount Washington, tourists and residents alike take the Monongahela Incline or the Duquesne Incline.  The history goes, as you can read in one of those links or on the signs in the incline station, workers in the coal industry lived on Mount Washington, “Coal Hill,” and had to travel up and down the mountain in order to get to and from work. However, the mountain lacked suitable roads, so they had to climb steep stairs. In 1870, the Monongahela Incline opened and now they could travel up and down in these rail cars.  The inclines fell into disrepair in the mid to late 1900s, but have since been refurbished and are now a part of every day life for some Pittsburgh residents. Yesterday, my colleague and I traveled up the incline ($2.50 round trip each) to take in the view of the Pittsburgh skyline at dusk. Here is the view:
Pittsburgh from Mount Washington

Pittsburgh from Mount Washington

Pittsburgh from Mount Washington, another view

Pittsburgh from Mount Washington, another view

Oral History Association

Readers, lucky for you, I will be attending the Oral History Association Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh, PA this week, beginning on Wednesday. Each day I’ll feature an interesting lecture I attended, a travel bit about Pittsburgh, or just something fun! If anyone else will be there, let me know!


p.s. this is post # 100. I feel like someone should get a prize. I’ll come up with a contest soon, by the way. Sneak peak: start thinking of a good slogan or catch phrase for Preservation in Pink … or something fun like that. Save your ideas for now!