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The Database is Always Open

This post was written by Fall 2014 SOHP undergraduate intern Megan Cross.

IMG_1318This semester, I interned with the SOHP with a focus on mining the archives. I’ve become intimately familiar with the database, but I know that there’s still so much that I haven’t seen. It’s truly limitless, and personally I’ve listened to interviews from a broad expanse of time – from suffragist activities in 1910 to reproductive justice and Moral Monday protests in 2013. I find myself referencing the stories of interviewees in daily conversation, and typically people seem to appreciate them as much as I do. I have a few personal favorites – one of which is the story of a woman who was dating a draft dodger during the Vietnam War. He asked her to chop off his finger with a machete, and because she was in love with him, she did it. I’ll also never forget the story of a girl growing up as an immigrant in 1950s Brooklyn. She was Jewish and spoke Yiddish with her family, but in her neighborhood people spoke Italian, Russian, Spanish, and a multitude of other languages. She grew up fluent in four or five languages because of the diversity she was surrounded with. When she would visit her friend’s for play-dates, she would speak the language of their family. As an undergrad struggling with just one language, it’s stories like these that amaze me.

However, I’ve really enjoyed discovering the oral histories that address issues that are still relevant today. We completed a project focused on bringing historical voices to the AdvaNCe Women’s Summit, and a podcast about feminism. We created an educational podcast about Women’s Suffrage, which was addressed in a matter of two pages in my high school AP US History textbook. We spent a day on it in class, maybe two – but it’s so important to recognize the struggle those women overcame. I also took AP European History in high school, and we focused on the expansion of suffrage in England for a few days. The riots, protests, and violence associated with expanding the male vote was covered thoroughly, but why is it that I can’t remember what was said about women?

I believe that history is important. I think that everyone should understand the past and our place in it, and oral history is a new and more intimate way to do so. You listen to someone tell you their life story, and you identify with them, gaining a new understanding about history in the process. I think that there’s so much to learn, and if you’re interested in learning more…the database is always open.

Looking Back at SOHP in Fall 2014

This blog post was written by SOHP Director Malinda Maynor Lowery

loweryHappy Holidays! Things are so busy around the Center for the Study of the American South that it’s easy to lose track of all we are accomplishing at SOHP. So just to help me keep my head on straight, I asked each of our staff members and graduate students to share the top three things from their work this semester that gave them the most pride. Even though it doesn’t encompass nearly all of what we’ve done since August, it’s such a rich list that I wanted to share it. Everyone participated in what you see here—this is truly a collaborative effort. Enjoy this sampling (in no particular order):

  1. Developing research and collecting partnerships with Wilson Library (on the Moral Monday movement), the Center for the Study of the American South (on the Historic Black Towns Alliance project), and the department of American Studies (on our Back Ways project, for which we submitted a $260,000 grant proposal to the NEH in December). Field Scholar Darius Scott was instrumental in developing the NEH grant. Nurturing our relationship with Wilson is one of Coordinator of Collections’ Jaycie Vos’s most important and ongoing duties; she and Field Scholar Katie Womble also worked to finish accessioning a landmark collection, the interviews related to E. Patrick Johnson’s book Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South. Furthermore, Darius, Katie, and Evan Faulkenbury completed 12 interviews this fall on topics including rural development to conservative political activism to the first female faculty members at UNC.
  2. 09202014_JaquelynDowdHall_retirement174Celebrating the accomplishments and contributions of our Founding Director, Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, in September. In the words of SOHP’s Administrative Support Associate, Rachel Olsen, “seeing how much it meant to all of her students, colleagues, family, and HER was priceless!” Jaycie noted, “it was inspiring and humbling to see the depth and richness of her career at SOHP and beyond, and it clarified and solidified how much excitement and strength the SOHP has moving into the future.” It was honor for all of us to participate.
  3. Three of Jacquelyn’s former students have helped us launch a $60,000 endowment, the Jacquelyn Dowd Hall Summer Research Fellowship Fund. This endowment will provide $3,000 every summer to a graduate student doing research in oral history. Thanks to over two dozen former students, friends, and colleagues, we are almost halfway to our fundraising goal! Please click here to learn more and invest in SOHP’s future.
  4. Expanding the reach of oral history onto our campus and state. We are all proud of Associate Director Rachel Seidman’s involvement in the 2nd annual North Carolina Women’s Summit, where she has used oral history research to place policies about education, health care, labor and others issues into a critical context. Rachel also leads a new effort to collaborate with K-12 teachers on using oral history in the classroom. Rachel and Field Scholar Taylor Livingston have mentored our undergraduate interns this fall through a project on women’s leadership, which culminated in a podcast they developed called “Rebellion.” Check it out here and watch for more podcasts and audio pieces coming from SOHP in the future. On teaching the undergraduates, Taylor said she was proud that “students actually paid close attention to what I told them about women’s history—the title of their final performance was taken from something I mentioned to them in class the very first day.” Field Scholar Evan Faulkenbury remarked on one faculty member’s response to an oral history workshop he gave for her large lecture class: “she told me the workshop really motivated students to take their oral history project more seriously.” These are the moments we live for as teachers.
  5. internsStaying on the cutting edge of national conversations in our field and associated areas of study. We participated in this fall’s Oral History Association conference, and Jaycie recalled her pride in how the conference evidenced SOHP’s effective collaborations over the years. Jaycie herself has since initiated a metadata committee at OHA and published an article in the online journal South Writ Large. Our work on foodways also continues to receive national attention, as we introduced the nation to the Lumbee collard sandwich and tri-racial segregation with the support of the Southern Foodways Alliance. Watch Southern Cultures’ spring food issue for more! Rachel Olsen and Jaycie Vos have also been steadily experimenting with and revising our website, and we will launch a new version in the spring.

“Seeing small changes have a big effect feels great,” said Rachel Olsen. This sums up one of the things I am most proud of—how we as a community here at the Love House, and beyond, show up every day to do the tiny, mostly unrecognized tasks of our work; between posting to social media, editing transcripts, scheduling meetings, and having small conversations that go big places (like the monthly colloquia that Evan organizes). I could go on and on—I am so grateful for the way SOHP and CSAS shows such dedication to UNC-Chapel Hill’s mission in teaching, research, and service.

“Back Ways” project

The “Back Ways” project is a new research undertaking that seeks to foster better understandings of race and segregation in rural parts of the United States South, by following the paths that southerners created to visit one another, to shop and trade, to reach homes and churches, and to avoid one another. To learn more and stay up-to-date on the project, check out the blog: http://backways.web.unc.edu/

Photo: Ray Family Cemetery on what is now the property of Peter Kramer in Rural Hillsborough, NC

A History Student Discovering Oral History

This blog post was written by Fall 2014 SOHP Undergraduate Intern Rachel Worsham

Photo on 8-27-14 at 12.52 PMAs a history student at UNC, naturally, I spend most of my semester holed up in the library drowning in research paper after research paper. Doesn’t sound that bad, right? Well, not so much. Hours and hours of staring at books and jotting down hundreds of quotes had me asking, “Is this really the only way to experience history?” I could not pinpoint this in my earlier semesters, but I have come to realize that I was not turned off by the research itself, but with my sources, which were solely written. With this type of source, I felt I was not able to accurately understand the character of my research subject, and, for the most part, I was encountering the same type of author (those that were literate, wealthy, and prestigious enough to be published). It was not until I began my internship with the SOHP did I realize that the cure to my frustrations was staring me right in the face.

Studying and participating in the collection of oral history gave my interest in historical research a new lease on life. I discovered that experiencing history aurally rather than through text allowed me to better understand the speaker and his or her place in history. Oral history has the unique ability to capture not only the accent and inflection in a subject’s voice, but also the emotion exposed when speaking. This gives the historian the opportunity to put a voice and a distinct personality with each name and picture. Oral history certainly gave me the tools that I needed to finally fully understand my research subjects, allowing me to depict them more honestly and interpret them more effectively.

Perhaps my most favorite aspect of oral history is its focus on not only society’s elite movers and shakers, but also ordinary people. Over the years, I’ve found that it is very difficult to find the stories of your average student, janitor, or teacher in the University’s library. Without these testimonies it’s rather challenging to piece together an accurate historical record of a significant event. More importantly, without the stories of everyday people, whose story are we telling? Certainly it’s not a story everyone can relate to, as we are all not high-ranking activists, politicians, or intellectuals. In my experience, learning about feminism from local students, professors, and townspeople has allowed me to form an in-depth understanding of the movement and its effect on women like myself.

If my time with the SOHP has taught me anything, it’s that everyone’s life story is valuable and, as so well stated in our motto, “you don’t have to be famous for your life to be history.”

Fall 2014 SOHP Intern Final Performance

Our Fall 2014 undergraduate interns will be presenting their work at the Love House & Hutchins Forum on Wednesday, December 10th, 2014 at 3:00PM. Their work this semester has focused on women’s history at UNC. Stay tuned for more details! Pictured: Spring 2014 interns Aaron Hayworth, Turner Henderson, Coco Wilder, and Katie Crook performing their final project, April 2014

New SOHP Intern Podcast: “Rebellion”

The Fall 2014 SOHP interns have released the first installment of their podcast, entitled “Rebellion,” which covers two types of rebellion and activism at UNC. Listen now at our soundcloud page.

Photograph source: “Photograph, BSM members collecting money to pay fines levied against those arrested for turning over tables in Lenoir,” UNC Libraries, accessed November 7, 2014, http://exhibits.lib.unc.edu/items/show/940.

November Events with Paul Stekler, Dan Carter, and Lana Garland

CSAS and SOHP are hosting two events in November surrounding the topic of Southern Race & Politics on Film. For more information, see the event pages for the 11/18 panel discussion and the 11/19 film screening. These events are free and open to the public, and are co-sponsored by the Southern Documentary Fund and the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke.

SOHP Internship: Now Accepting Applications

We’re now accepting applications for the Spring 2015 SOHP Undergraduate Internship! Due Friday, November 7th. For more information and a copy of the application, visit our internship page.

History, Poetry, and Public History Practice

This essay was originally presented by Marla Miller as part of a panel discussion at the Symposium and Celebration in Honor of Jacquelyn Dowd Hall on September 20th, 2014.

09202014_JaquelynDowdHall_retirement007Those of you whose work engages the world of public history may know that a conversation has unfolded in recent years over the nature of that enterprise. Is public history a field? A discipline?  A subfield?  A methodology?   For a long time, my answer to that question has been that public history is essentially a demeanor, a way of orienting oneself and one’s scholarship to the world at large.  And as I contemplated ways that my work as a public historian today intersects with the training I received from Jacquelyn, I realized how fundamentally my own scholarly demeanor was shaped by my studies here.

I could talk about what it meant to witness a history practice that seamlessly combined activism and analysis.  I could talk about the public debate on the “relevance” of the humanities, and what I learned here about putting history into action to make sense of—and change—the world.  But in the end, like many of the contributors to this conversation today, I found myself coming back again and again to the craft of writing.  So I want to talk about writing itself as constitutive of the best public history practice, and a fundamental part of what I have learned from Jacquelyn.

In many ways these remarks circle back to points made at the start of the day by Jennifer Donnelly, and Anna Krome-Lukens’ comments about Jacquelyn’s prose as models of storytelling and narrative arc.  That so many of us today have wanted to underscore the importance for us of Jacquelyn’s inspiring prose is really moving to me; she sets the bar high—and just think of the multiplier effect here, all of this quality literature launched into the world as a result.  But good writing isn’t just effective communication; our best writing helps us think the big thoughts.  In her 1998 article “You must remember this,” which others have quoted from today, Jacquelyn quoted the poet and novelist Robert Penn Warren, who said that “historical sense and poetic sense should not, in the end, be contradictory, for if poetry is the little myth we make, history is the big myth we live, and in our living constantly remake.”  As she encouraged her readers to see the poetry in and of history, Jacquelyn urged us to embrace “writing that emphasizes not our expertise but our common condition, writing that troubles the boundaries between poetics and politics, memory and history, witnessing and writing, acting and research.”

For me, this isn’t advice only for history-writing. Instead, it resonates with the specific values that infuse public history practice.  In the Feminist Studies article from which this panel’s title is drawn, her essay “Second Thoughts,” and other places too, Jacquelyn writes about writing itself: how we craft beginnings and endings; how we piece stories together, leaping across evidentiary islands to build what looks like a coherent picture, if only in retrospect; how we learn, re-learn and unlearn.  That’s exactly the sort of “reflective practice” that public historians have been talking about lately in the pages of our own blogs and journals—the need to foreground the processes by which we work, throwing open doors and drawing back curtains so that that our audiences can’t help but see inside the practice of our craft.   This is new to conversations among public historians, but it occurs to me that Jacquelyn has been modeling this sort of scholarly transparency for a long time (another way she’s been “pioneering,” a word we’ve heard again and again today), and I’ve come to see it as part of the way she has trained generations of public historians.

I can hardly articulate what a revelation her essay on “second thoughts” was to me. We’ve talked a good deal today about the many ways Jacquelyn’s deeply humane approach to the men and women of the past has inspired us, but I’m grateful for how she helped me think about our own humanity as scholars.  Scholars, it turns out, are people, too—people who think and evolve, circle back to old questions with fresh perspective, continue to grapple with ideas after the seeming finality of publication, even change their minds.  This is to second Jen Ritterhouse’s observation earlier today about the ways Jacquelyn has modeled the “scholar in process;” that transparency is a quality that has meant a lot to me, at Chapel Hill and in the years since, and has become a fundamental part of my own scholarly practice.

“Writing that emphasizes not our expertise but our common condition” also says something about genre.  It means traditional scholarship, yes, but other forms as well.  Getting historians to publish in a range of venues is critically important to maintaining the activist stance we need to confront the ongoing challenge to the value of the humanities.  We must think much more broadly about the genres in which we write, and embrace ALL of them, not just the strangely narrow range that defines much of academic practice.  At dinner last night, Jacquelyn was simply beaming as she told me about Katy Simpson Smith’s historical novel Story of Land and Sea.  Not all advisors, I think, would be as elated to see a student translate their expertise into fiction, but I’m not at all surprised that Jacquelyn is.  I didn’t think twice about pursuing a trade biography of Betsy Ross when that felt like the right thing to do, and others of Jacquelyn’s students—and Jacquelyn herself—have made important contributions and interventions in the form of op-eds, grey literature, and fiction.  The pride that was evident on Jacquelyn’s face as she described Katy’s work is a testimony to how she has made her students feel like all these forms of expression are not only legitimate, but essential for historians to pursue.   I’ve been thinking about a course on the history of the historical novel as public history practice for a while and now feel re-energized about that—so already this event is catalyzing new relationships and new enterprises.

I also remember (Anna talked about this this morning, and Bryant Simon a bit too) that Jacquelyn taught me to notice words, recommending that I keep a notebook of words I encounter that resonate for me.  I still do that today: flip to the back of any book I’m reading and in the endpapers you’ll find lists of verbs, nouns and adjectives that struck me as useful. In recent years I’ve begun reading a lot of poetry, which is especially productive for word-hunters.  It seems telling to me that both Kathy Nasstrom and I would see poetry as relevant to our conversation today, because I believe there’s a fairly direct relationship between my training here and my interest in poetry now.   There is another little course I’ve been contemplating for some time now—and maybe someday a little book, too—called “Poetry for Historians.”  When it happens, I now realize that its roots, too, will be found here in Chapel Hill.

Toward that end, over a recent vacation I was reading Jay Parini’s Why Poetry Matters. On poetry, historians & metaphor, and the importance of the reading of poetry to the craft of history, he points out the deep need to understand the strengths and limits of metaphor & analogy. (We “might, for example examine the phrase ‘war on terror’ as an implicit metaphor in need of serious deconstruction.”)  One of my favorite passages in Jacquelyn’s writing, and one that offers its own powerful metaphor, comes from the essay “Open Secrets,” which reflects on the nature of the biographical enterprise, an interest Jacquelyn and I share.  Her grappling with her responsibility to the Lumpkins of the past and of the present certainly helped prepare me to engage both the historical figure of Betsy Ross and her many modern-day descendants. As I struggled to balance my desire to set Ross’s record straight with my deep respect for those who steward her memory, and wrestled with my own relationship to a woman who was necessarily to some extent a product of my own historical imagination, I found myself thinking about similar strains in Jacquelyn’s work.  As she writes, “What is so tantalizing and poignant about biography…are the feelings of love and responsibility it generates, the intimacy it simultaneously frustrates and invites, the tension it produces between respect for privacy and lust for knowledge, and the way it can position even the most respectful author as an intruder, a thief in the houses of the living and the dead.”

“A thief in the houses of the living and the dead.” That’s as close as prose gets to poetry.  And those emotions and tensions—it’s hard to think of a more eloquent expression of the demeanor that underpins core public history concepts like “shared authority” than that.  And so I’d like to suggest that thinking about Jacquelyn as a writer helps explain all the public historians in the room today, and among Jacquelyn’s students.  Anna’s remarks about becoming less cynical and more empathetic, Bryant’s remarks about the deep humanity of her work—I too recognize that this has all been part of my training as a public historian.  When I was a student here in the 1990s, I might have said that my training in public history was coming from places off campus:  a summer at the Southern Historical Collection, or the internship at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts.  But I’d have been wrong.   At the foundation of my practice as a public historian—the most important part—are the values, priorities and scholarly demeanor that Jacquelyn modeled for me, and for other public historians who took their first steps into the field here.

 

Understanding My Place at UNC through Feminist Oral History

This blog post was written by Fall 2014 SOHP Intern Rachel Worsham

When I began my internship at the Southern Oral History Program, I was excited to hear that we would be researching and gathering oral histories related to feminist activism at UNC. Sure, I expected this project to be interesting and relevant, as I am a woman and consider myself a feminist.  However, I did not expect what I was learning to challenge how I perceive myself as a student at this university.

Before my time as an intern, I simply did not consider my gender as something that made me unique. Why would I? For the most part, I have been treated exactly the same as my male counterparts in classes, organizations and residential communities. If anything, I considered myself the epitome of ordinary, as almost 60% of students at UNC are women. Yet, upon exploring the oral histories of women at UNC, I have come to discover that being a woman makes me anything but ordinary. I am the product of the efforts of many brave women who have fought tirelessly to be treated as equals in place historically dominated my men.

Listening to the interviews of Mary Turner Lane, Sharon Rose Powell and Maggie O’Connor has shown me that women have not always had it easy at UNC. Female students, for many years, were not even admitted to UNC. Once they were granted this right, women were oppressed the university’s in loco parentis policy, which allowed administrators to act as the student’s parents. This meant women faced rules and regulations on many subjects, including restrictions on dress, chosen course of study and living arrangements. Gender limitations were not only applied to students, as female faculty members often had trouble securing jobs, promotions and equal pay at UNC.  It is very difficult, based upon my experience at this university, to imagine such policies being embraced and encouraged by students and faculty as recently as forty years ago. Yet, this new understanding of women’s history at UNC has led me to think differently about my place at this university.

I have come to understand myself as a fortunate product of the feminist struggle at UNC. Rather than consider my status as a female student something that allows me to blend in, I now understand it as a testament to the change the women have produced at UNC in the last century. Although women certainly have a long way to go, the interviews in our database are a comforting sign that further change is entirely possible, as history shows that Carolina women rock!