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A Crowded (and Exciting) Love House

It’s Wednesday morning. I’m the first one in the SOHP work room at the Love House. As I turn on the lights and start up my computer, I hear indistinct voices and the whirl of the coffee maker in the kitchen on the other side of the wall. It’s quiet in the work room, but it won’t be for long. Soon the other field scholars will be here and they’ll occupy the remaining desks, and the undergraduate interns will pull in chairs and crowd around the table in the center of the room. Some of us will sit intently in front of our computers, headphones on, listening to interviews or editing transcripts. Conversations will erupt, from excited discussions about research finds and interview gems to informal chatter about kids, dogs, and how that dang [dissertation/thesis/term paper] is coming along. Impromptu meetings will occur as other members of the SOHP team stop by the work room to check in with the field scholars, retrieve equipment from the cabinets, or say hello to the interns. Between 9am and 5pm, four graduate student field scholars, five undergraduate interns, and any number of SOHP staffers will move in and out of the work room in the back of the Love House.

Wednesdays are my favorite day of the week at the Love House. The work room is often a bustling hub of oral history work, and the interns bring a unique energy and vitality to the SOHP. Their observations, questions, and contributions invigorate the work we do and the conversations we have in that space. The SOHP has always been guided by the principle that oral history – in theory, practice, application, and pedagogy – is fundamentally an egalitarian and interactive system of learning.  On Wednesdays, when undergraduates, grad students, and SOHP directors and coordinators mingle and talk, work together and learn from each other, this principle is tangibly at work in the room.

SOHP Field Scholars, Interns and UNC undergraduates gather at the Love House for an oral history workshop.

We conceived of and developed the idea for an undergraduate internship program last year and Fall 2012 was our ‘inaugural’ semester. The internship program, we hoped, would not only allow for more connections with the campus community through undergraduates’ direct involvement in the SOHP, it would also foster intellectual growth, team building, and mentoring between scholars of oral history at multiple levels – from those seasoned and wise veterans of our world-renowned program to those engaging with oral history for the very first time. Historically, many of the SOHP’s projects have been driven by the initiatives and hard work of graduate students, nurtured by and under the direction of the staff and associated faculty, and we suspected that bringing undergraduates on the team would have a similar effect. In the Fall, we brought on five undergraduates – Ivanna Gonzalez, Eddie Pruette, Oliver Rose, Meg VanDeusen, and Natalie Warner – and offered three credits for their work at the SOHP, which included conducting two oral history two interviews each; working with staff and field scholars on various organizational initiatives and projects; and attending weekly seminars that incorporated reading, discussion, and oral history training. We couldn’t have asked for better candidates to pilot our internship program: self-motivated, inquisitive, creative, and hard-working, each intern has contributed to the SOHP team in unique ways. Our sadness at seeing our Fall interns go was tempered by our excitement for our five new interns the Spring: Blanche Brown, Charlotte Fryar, Anna Faison, Alexa Lytle, and Mairse Mazzocchi. From initiating undergraduate projects like Faces of Carolina and organizing oral history workshops, to strengthening the SOHP’s ties to campus and external groups and spreading the word about the many gems in our online archive, our interns have made invaluable contributions and carried forward the SOHP mission.

E. Patrick Johnson (center) chats in the SOHP workroom after giving his talk “Gathering Honey: Oral Histories with Black Lesbians in the South.” From left to right: Alexa Lytle, Intern; Elizabeth McCain, Undergraduate Initiatives Coordinator; Jessie Wilkerson, History Ph.D. Candidate and former SOHP Field Scholar; Natalie Warner, UNC undergraduate and former SOHP Intern.

It is a powerful and valuable experience, to be part of a teaching and learning experience like this. Our weekly seminars and the crowded work days in the Love House made tangible and vivid the processes of intellectual growth and dynamic learning that have always been a crucial part of the SOHP.

Stop by the Love House one day and see for yourself.