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