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Voices from the SOHP Family: Evan Faulkenbury

At the SOHP, I spent my first academic year leading the undergraduate internship class and project. In total, I led 8 students throughout the year on a project exploring the history of gay student activism at UNC during the 1970s and 1980s. During that year, I remember attending a discussion featuring Dr. Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, and she challenged us not to let oral histories just sit in an archive, but to do something with them to get them out into the public. So, at the end of my first year, I began doing just that and eventually co-authored an article for the Oral History Review with one of those undergraduate students, Aaron Hayworth, about our project.

Over the next two years, I helped out with several different projects at the SOHP–basically, anything Dr. Rachel Seidman wanted, I tried to lend a hand! I worked on a project about conservative women activists, conducting a number of interviews and creating a digital exhibit. I coordinated oral history workshops on campus and in the wider Triangle community, leading short sessions on the basics of how-to-do oral history. I helped process and prepare oral histories for the archive. And I helped create the Press Record podcast during my final year. Looking back, my three academic years (2013-2016) at the SOHP flew by, and I’m glad I was able to help out in so many different ways.

Over the last three years, I’ve been working as an assistant professor of history at SUNY Cortland. I recently published my first book based on my dissertation at UNC, entitled Poll Power: The Voter Education Project and the Movement for the Ballot in the American South. I’ve also published a few articles, most recently about Cortland, New York’s Union soldier monument. I suppose I’m wired to think locally, thanks to the SOHP. I’ve also been working with my university’s archive to create and maintain an oral history archive. Right now, I have a few irons in the fire about future history projects, including one about teaching public history. I never thought I’d be working in a small community in upstate New York, but I love my community and campus.

I credit the SOHP for helping me land my current job at SUNY Cortland. I know how difficult attaining tenure-track jobs can be, and without all the experience I gained at the SOHP, I’d probably still be looking. My position is in public history, and even though “public” isn’t in the SOHP’s name, I trained in public history as a graduate student for three years inside the Love House. The SOHP trained me simultaneously in public and oral history, and I’m proud to say that I’m now training undergrads in upstate New York with similar lessons I first picked up at the SOHP.

Community Histories and Long-Term Changes by David Dry

SOHP Field Scholar David Dry is a second-year PhD student in the department of history.

“I’m afraid of doctors. I am. I am. I know you have to have them. You have to have them, and that’s the way it is. But seem to me like they make me nervous. Lois’ll tell you, I don’t go to the doctor. I ain’t went to the doctor in years. I mean, I just don’t want to go. I’ll have to go one day when something happens, but as long as I can make it, I ain’t going to go.”

Floyd Chrisawn is afraid of doctors. He won’t go, and as a result, he doesn’t get the healthcare he needs until his medical issues become dangerous. In isolation, this fact might be ascribed to some antiquated cliché of the independent backwoods mountaineer of Western North Carolina; however, Floyd is also a member of a community, and listening closely to a community of voices reveals a different reality.

This semester as a Field Scholar at the Southern Oral History Program I have been listening to fourteen interviews conducted in Mithcell and Yancey counties and undertaken as part of the Stories to Save Lives initiative. These interviews with medical providers and patients asked open-ended questions on topics related to life history, community, perceptions of health, and interactions with the healthcare system.

While health researchers sometimes conduct interviews asking targeted questions to elicit firm answers, the depth of inquiry and responsiveness to narrator concerns of oral history methodology reveals a wider range of observations that can challenge outsider assumptions about community needs and concerns.

The open-ended questions used by oral historians give narrators the power to address the topics they find most significant. Unsurprisingly, people in Mithcell and Yancey counties talked about different healthcare issues.

From retired nurse Marylin Cade [link to Caroline’s post] we learn about dangers to women and babies with the closure of the local hospital’s Labor and Delivery. From midwife Lisa Goldstein we hear of the shift from healthcare to “health I don’t care” after the recent purchase of the local hospital by a for-profit company, and Emergency Room nurse Amber Miller vividly captures the burdensome expense for people struggling to get by of having to leave the county for medical care.

Taken together, these voices reveal a toxic brew of disappearing local services, declining personalized care from new for-profit providers, and growing barriers to accessing healthcare; however, these recent shifts don’t occur in isolation. In its emphasis on the past, as well as the present, oral history interviews can also reveal community histories and long-term changes.

Former factory worker Lois Laws emphasizes it is not just that the closing of the Labor and Delivery means you have to travel farther–it is the feeling of loss that you cannot deliver your baby in the place you were born. Retired parts manager Calvin Hall relates it is not just that the local hospital was bought by a for-profit company–it the sense of betrayal as that hospital was built by local hosiery mill workers donating two days of pay. It is not just that care is worse or harder to obtain—it is a mistrust that healthcare is still accountable to the local community.

Floyd Chrisawn wasn’t always afraid of doctors. In talking about his experiences in the area as a young man, he fondly recalls a number of local doctors he visited. What changed?

While Floyd alone might not explicitly mention each issue, listening closely a community of voices reveals that a lot has changed, and in helping to elevate community concerns, oral history can serve as a first step in solving complex community health issues.

Creating our UNC Women’s History Tour

Sophia Hutchens is a fourth-year undergraduate and the program assistant of the Southern Oral History Program. She created and continues to lead a specialized, one-hour walking tour on women’s history at UNC.

The women’s history tour was a tremendously exciting project to work on. The tour expanded my knowledge about Chapel Hill and UNC, strengthened my passion for public history, and allowed me to engage the public with the past. I was able to share and explore issues that I care deeply about, such as student activism and queer social movements.

My goal for the tour was to show the many different stories of people of marginalized genders who are connected to UNC, to recognize and name the people whose stories are not usually told. I wanted to include information about staff, faculty, students, and other community members in order to provide a more holistic and representative vision of UNC’s history. I also focused on the stories of people of color and queer folks, who are often underrepresented. I hoped to underscore the sacrifices people made to study and work here, but also highlight the remaining struggles and challenges.

While there were so many stories and issues that I wanted to cover, I knew that I had to be realistic about the limitations of the tour. I found this quote from Karen Parker comforting, “I realized there were a lot of things that needed doing… Through the written word, everybody was going to be elevated to a new status. I found out very quickly that it doesn’t work that way. You feel very fortunate if you help one, two, three, four, five people.”

When preparing the tour, I first reviewed notes from Taylor Livingston’s version of the tour. Taylor was a field scholar and intern coordinator for the SOHP who led “Digging in Our Heels, Angels on Campus: The History of Women On Campus,” a walking tour that was co-sponsored by the UNC Visitor’s Center. While I pulled the majority of my content for the tour from other sources, Taylor’s notes allowed me to evaluate how many stories could be told and how many locations could be visited in an hour-long walking tour.

Next, I utilized UNC’s archives to create a general timeline of the university’s history and obtain general historical context. I utilized several publicly available resources, including the Wilson Library Special Collections, the SOHP’s interview database, UNC libraries’ digital exhibits, UNC’s virtual museum, and “Names in Brick and Stone: Histories from the University’s Built Landscape,” a project produced by Dr. Anne Mitchell Whisnant’s students in HIST/AMST 671: Introduction to Public History. The tour would not exist without these expertly crafted resources, and I am so grateful for the historians who worked to create them and the support they were given in order to do so. With a particular emphasis on women, I collected information about leaders, student and staff activism, the establishment of UNC programs and buildings, changes in the admissions process, and more.

SOHP walking tours typically utilize audio recordings from our interview database. The tour guides share about a person or event and then play a related clip from our archives. I decided to instead read selections from interviews, to avoid technological difficulties and make it easier for guests to hear, and after the tour share a playlist of the clips with the guests. I wanted the tour to present stories from UNC’s history that had strong, related interviews that I could perform. This meant that there were people who I could not include in the tour. For example, I wanted to tell the story of Gwendolyn Harrison, the first Black woman to attend UNC. UNC rescinded her acceptance to her graduate program after she arrived on campus and they realized that she was Black. Harrison decided to fight their decision and file a suit. UNC soon readmitted her and she was able to attend summer courses, but she did not complete her Ph.D. Unfortunately, we do not have an interview with Gwendolyn Harrison so she is not an official part of the tour (though I have spoken about her with some guests while walking to the next destination).

I also chose stories that had stronger connections to sites on campus, and then narrowed those down further by their proximity to each other. While we have captivating interviews with Christina Stickland Theodorou and Amy Lockland Hertel, two of the four Native American students at UNC who founded the Alpha Pi Omega sorority in 1994, their related locations were too far from other sites in the tour. Ultimately, the availability of a related interview and location determined whether an event or person could be incorporated into the tour.

Even after this selection process, I had a surplus of possible stories to include. This is when I pulled out the sticky notes so that I could envision the tour as a whole. I filled pages of my notebook with lists of people and descriptions of their relationships with UNC. For example, when examining Anne Queen, the former director of the Campus Y, I considered her roles as a leader, collaborator, and change maker on this campus. Anne Queen’s work helped create spaces for students that are dedicated to making this campus a better, more inclusive space. I wanted to balance stories of people who changed, challenged, and struggled with UNC.

In the end, I chose a group of people and events that covered a wide span of time in UNC’s history, had connections to powerful interviews in our database, and portrayed the different, often overlooked struggles experienced by people of marginalized genders. I especially enjoy sharing the story of Pauli Murray, a queer, gender nonconforming person from Durham who was denied admittance to UNC’s graduate school in 1938 on the basis of their race. Pauli Murray was a descendent of Cornelia Smith, an enslaved woman who was baptized at the Chapel of the Cross, as well as a slave owner who was a member of UNC’s Board of Trustees. Pauli Murray became an attorney, poet, activist, educator, and priest. You can learn more about Pauli’s incredible story through the Pauli Murray Project.

After writing my script, I practiced the tour with several people, including friends, family, and colleagues. Sara Wood, the SOHP’s project manager, helped me refine the overall story of the tour and provide a consistent message. Lindsey Waldenberg and Spencer Anderson, staff from the Visitor’s Center, gave me critical advice on the technique of leading tours.

Guests of the tour have had a wide range of knowledge about women’s history at UNC. Some of my peers have never of people like Elizabeth Brooks, while other guests were friends with people highlighted in the tour! This encouraged guests to have conversations with one another while we traveled to different locations. They have often shared resources, knowledge, and contact information. This sense of community has stuck with and inspired me.

Keep an eye on the SOHP’s newsletter and social media to find out about future tour dates! Email Sophia Hutchens at smosgh@live.unc.edu if you have any questions.

Life, Family, and Community in Appalachia by Caroline Efird

SOHP field scholar Caroline Efird is a PhD student in the department of health behavior at Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Have you ever been to a goat and lavender farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains? If not, it is every bit as idyllic as you can imagine. On a breezy day in July, I had the pleasure of sitting down to iced tea with a vivid storyteller named Marilyn Cade, a (semi) retired nurse and farmer. While you will not be able to see all of the lovely scenery, you too can listen to Mrs. Cade’s interview by visiting the Stories to Save Lives: Health, Illness, and Medical Care in the South project found within the Southern Oral History Program’s archive.

In her interview, Marilyn Cade shared detailed anecdotes about her life, family, and community in the South Toe River region. As healthcare providers, Cade and her husband moved to the region about 45 years ago, to offer much needed medical care to a rural, Appalachian community. As an oral historian and public health researcher, I was especially interested in learning how the healthcare needs of her community have changed throughout her lifetime. In particular, Cade was deeply concerned about the recent closure of the labor and delivery unit at her community’s nearest hospital.

Marylin Cade: “…to think that the dangers for people having a healthy and safe delivery [in this community] have gone backward, I can’t put into words how shocked I am that medical care was better forty-five years ago. I really can’t get over it. And I don’t know what the new solution is going to be. We are feeling very sad and stricken by [the closing of our labor and delivery department]. Our children are through having babies, but our friends’ children aren’t finished. All the people that we know and work with, our whole larger community in the mountains has a deep threat to health. And it’s not just mother and child care, it’s across the board. If all you can get is excellent emergency care, then you have already put yourself in danger. People are in meetings, people are protesting, people are writing, people are doing everything that they can think of to do to help alert both the community to the fact that it’s changed and then the people who are doing this or the people who could change it. So whatever can be done right now in the face of this is being done.”

The words and actions of Marylin Cade and other members of her community are both haunting and inspiring. Local healthcare advocates are actively engaged in trying to raise awareness about this critical need, as they do their best to advocate for the return of the labor and delivery department. However, the current reality is that pregnant residents must drive over an hour on windy roads through rural Appalachia to reach a hospital that offers obstetric services.

I wonder, how can oral historians support the work that is already occurring in this community? We have documented their calls for change in a public archive, but what would it look like for us to reinforce their efforts in other ways? How can their stories help save the lives of women and infants in their mountain community? These are the types of questions that we Field Scholars are pondering as we head into the spring semester. Our goal is to share their oral histories more broadly, through both academic and public platforms, so that the voices of these narrators can help ensure that this “deep threat to health” does not go unnoticed by the people who have the power to change the situation.

UNC Women’s History Tour

The Southern Oral History Program’s walking tour highlights the history and experiences of women connected to Carolina, as captured in our oral history archives. The tour will be available again in Spring 2020. Follow us on social media or subscribe to our newsletter to learn about future tour dates!

Contact the SOHP’s program assistant Sophia Hutchens at smosgh@live.unc.edu if you have any questions about the tour.

 

 

Accepting Care in a Space of “Unknown and Disruption” by Ina Dixon

Tim Schwantes was interviewed by Ina Dixon in October 2018 for SOHP’s Stories to Save Lives project. He gave his consent for his interview to be archived with the Southern Oral History Project at UNC-Chapel Hill and for Ina to write about his powerful interview. 

I interviewed Tim Schwantes in the fall of 2018, a few years after his wife’s cancer diagnosis. The diagnosis was serious and rare—a neuroendocrine tumor—and Tim and his wife Anna had to face it at a young age with their young son, Sam. But I had always known Tim as an energetic and enthusiastic caregiver; I assumed he could tackle this new obstacle in stride.

Some background about Tim: He lives an especially active lifestyle and takes health seriously in both his professional and personal life. He makes a priority of getting exercise daily and eating healthy foods. His private life is governed by similar commitments to health he practices in his public work. Tim works with Healthy Places By Design—a Chapel Hill based nonprofit that supports communities in improving their health through changes in local policies and the built environment. I met Tim around 2015 while he was working in this role as a consultant in Danville, Virginia, helping to pull together a regional Health Collaborative. In Danville, I got to see firsthand that Tim was good at his job—his energetic and affable nature allowed him to connect and inspire a wide array of people to action for better public health.

I wanted to know how this independent extrovert was dealing with a serious health crisis affecting his young family. Tim agreed to sit down with me for an interview for the Southern Oral History Program’s Stories to Save Lives project, which explores the past and present experience of health and medical care in North Carolina. Tim was open and candid about the burden of Anna’s cancer on their family, his health, and his identity. Some of what he said surprised me.

Health is not an impersonal topic, as Tim’s personal experience of illness shows. Each one of us will experience similar illness, death, and loss at some point in our lives. Yet, too often we rush to conclusions about how to live healthier, longer, better. Since at least the 1940s, North Carolinian medical boards have been calling for “more doctors, more hospitals, more insurance.” (The Good Health of All North Carolina (1945) NCHH-54. North Carolina History of Health Digital Collection: http://archives.hsl.unc.edu/nchh/nchh-54/nchh-54-000.pdf ) The answer has been, to many in the medical field, give people greater access to, and better quality, care and they will be able to fulfill their health and vitality.

Tim’s own work falls in line with similar thinking: give people access to support systems that encourage health—walkable neighborhoods, healthy foods, access to healthcare, and robust community leadership—and these communities will, in turn, be healthier. Yet at an individual level in the United States, perhaps the path to health is not as clear as having access to “more” or “better.” What I learned from Tim is that health is about access, but not just one’s access to services, support and people. Health is also about giving access to these networks of support and people at moments of deep vulnerability.

Throughout Anna’s illness, Tim’s family had the benefit of loving community support. With backgrounds and professional experience in public health, both Anna and Tim could navigate the maze of healthcare and advocate for quality care for Anna. They had health insurance. Yet access to love, care, and financial support were not enough to guarantee health, or ameliorate the physical and psychological toll of this particular illness. Tim had the support of a loving community, but welcoming it meant giving up a part of his identity—and perhaps an illusion—as a self-sufficient provider for his family. In his interview, Tim reflected that though he appreciated all that his friends and family was doing to support him during Anna’s illness, their support was often at a cost to him.

The more people came to help him, the more Tim felt he needed to maintain his image as a self-sufficient and in control caregiver.

Tim wanted to maintain order and calm even as he was helpless against his wife’s vicious cancer. Allowing his in-laws, friends, colleagues, and even his son to access this experience of helplessness would erode his sense of strength and independence. It wouldn’t matter that Tim had access to the networks he needed at this time—there was a part of him that didn’t want them. If he let people access him, by providing meals or helping out with childcare, it would make the reality of his helplessness all the more real.

We have to acknowledge this interior aspect of the experiences of health and medical care. It is not enough to have access to robust systems that encourage health and vitality. The systems we access must be sympathetic to the reality of patients’ vulnerability—a vulnerability that is at odds with what many of us desire to be: independent, in control, and able to provide and care for others. Accepting care often means relinquishing control and being taken care of, rather than caring for. Our medical care, support networks, and providers must acknowledge that illness is a crucible that strips us to our most vulnerable selves. Our health systems and caregivers must be good stewards of that bare human state.

Tim’s crucible changed when Anna died in June of 2019, some months after his interview. Even with this loss, the interview continues to give voice to the weight of vulnerability during times of illness and need. Tim’s openness about his experience offers a lesson to health providers as well as to those of us who will have to, at times of medical crises like these, give support or allow others access to our experience. Tim’s story was one of the interviews that stuck with me in my time with the Southern Oral History Program working on Stories to Save Lives. I will always appreciate his contribution to the archive—a contribution that, I hope, will help deepen a humanist understanding of health and medical care in the South.

Fall 2020 Internship Application

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Facing Death Openly by Nick Allen

Nick Allen was an SOHP field scholar during the 2018-2019 academic year. He recently received his M.A. in English and Comparative Literature at UNC, with a focus on Literature, Medicine, and Culture. Nick recorded many oral histories with narrators focusing on themes on death and dying. Here he shares his final piece from his series on Oral History, Death, and Dying. (We are very pleased  to say that we’ve managed to keep Nick onboard at SOHP to continue working on Stories to Save Lives. Stay tuned for more adventures from Nick Allen, SOHP employee.)

In my last post, Carl Henley discussed confronting death hand-in-hand with his wife. Their shared experience of accepting what was happening to them was powerful and serendipitous, but it was also very close to “the end.” In this post, I’d like to share clips from three narrators who face the reality of their deaths somewhat sooner. I hope you’ll share my enthusiasm for their bravery and their candor.

Although we might say that in two of these stories the dying person is compelled to confront death due to terminal illness, we can find countless examples of terminally ill patients who never truly face their deaths. I don’t find that their hand being “forced” detracts from the way that they comport themselves during this last chapter. Their poise in the face of death is laudable. The way that they have decided where the line of “too much care” is speaks to a way of being in the world that we need so much more of.


Dick Merwarth

Heather Troutman

Lata Chatterjee


By articulating our feelings about death and dying with nuance, even if we must engage with existential crises, we also give meaning to life. If we allow the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness” to create binaries in our paradigms of life and death, then we risk devaluing the important moments in life. If we value life as a biological fact above all else, we assert that every moment of life has the same level of meaning and significance because it shares the trait we apparently value most: a beating heart. When we openly express that some degrees of that life/living are unacceptable to us, like brain-death, a life of ventilator support, or perhaps even the inability to watch football on TV, we give more meaning to every moment of life that is acceptable to us. We acknowledge that these moments are temporary and we feel compelled to cherish them.

After reflecting on a career at the bedside of dying patients, narrator Marie Vargo-Flynn said, “The whole thing is, don’t take the day you have for granted! Tell people you love them every day.” To flip this idea into thanatological terms, our inability to engage with death as a concrete thing and necessary, even desirable eventuality for our lives, equates to an inability to fully engage with life’s value. Dying, after all, is for the living.

If you’d like to experience more oral histories of death and dying, please check out my Virtual Reality experience “There at the Bridge” by following this link.

To Finland and Back Again: SOHP Director Rachel Seidman Returns from Fulbright

Hello!  It’s good to be back!

As many of you know, I spent last semester in Finland on a Fulbright Fellowship.  I was based at the oldest university in the country, the University of Turku, a lovely place in the west of the country that hugs the banks of the Aura River, a tributary to the Baltic sea.

While I was there I taught a course called Voices of the U.S. Women’s Movement, which used many SOHP interviews to help students understand the depth and complexity of U.S. feminism in the 1960s and 70s.  My students—a wonderful mix of Finnish and foreign exchange students—found the stories deeply compelling, and loved talking about the similarities and differences between the movements in the two countries.  Although I had been warned that it is hard to get Finnish students to talk in class, in fact many of them were eager to discuss the issues.

I also had a research agenda; I set out to understand how Finnish scholars approach the field of medical humanities and the role that oral history plays in their research there.  As we enter the second year of our Stories to Save Lives project, I was seeking new models, new ways of thinking about the questions we ask and the answers we hear, and I wanted to learn as much as I could from an international and interdisciplinary set of scholars and contacts.  I shared our research with many different audiences, and was pleased by the responses I got.  While there are historians in Finland who use oral history as a method, they do not have robust centers for oral history like the SOHP and others around the country here—so they were impressed by the scale of the work we can do here.  They were also surprised—some, perhaps, even shocked—by the degree to which we share our interviews publicly. The European Union has privacy guidelines for research which Finnish authorities interpret as strictly as possible, making it difficult for oral history interviews to be made public.

I learned a great deal from the many researchers I spoke with, and made many wonderful new contacts and colleagues in Finland, and I am looking forward to the unfolding of new collaborations over time.  I am delighted that Kaisa Vehkalahti, a researcher from the University of Oulu, where I visited in April, is already planning a trip to the SOHP this spring.  She recently received major new funding from the Academy of Finland for a project called “Rural Generations on the Move: Cultural History of Rural Youth, 1950–2020.” She aims to identify important cultural and social shifts in the construction of rural youth and rural identity formation from World War II up until the present. She was struck by what she called our “innovative approach to oral history sources – particularly the policy-relevant uses of rural oral history collections” and thinks they can “offer a very fruitful model for creating new ways of both collecting and using oral history in Finland.” In addition, two Finnish Fulbright fellows will be on UNC’s campus this year: Anna Koivusalo, a post-doctoral researcher studying “The Culture of Feeling and Historical Change: Emotional Practices and Experiences in the U.S. South during the Civil War Era;” and Nikko Heikkilä, who is working on his dissertation on “The Cultural Politics of the Civil Rights-Era Ku Klux Klan.” I’m looking forward to building on our relationships and increasing the ongoing exchange between our universities.

In addition to the intellectual richness of my experience, of course, I also had a lot of fun!  My husband, Benjamin Filene, also had a Fulbright fellowship and was based at the City Museum of Helsinki.  We explored the country and also travelled some in Europe.  We both kept blogs about what we were learning and experiencing; you can find mine here, and Benjamin’s here.

I’m excited to be back, and am looking forward to a fruitful and productive year at SOHP and with all my colleagues and friends in the Center for the Study of the American South and at UNC.  Sara Wood, Hannah Gill, Malinda Maynor Lowery, and Terry Rhodes made it possible for me to take advantage of the amazing opportunity I had, and for all that they did to support me and the SOHP while I was gone, I am profoundly grateful.

Sonic South 2019 on May 9 at Chapel Hill Public Library

Join us for a live listening room with the five finalists of SOHP’s 2019 Sonic South short doc audio competition In Sickness and In Health on Thursday, May 9 at 7PM at the Chapel Hill Public Library. Featuring short audio works from local producers using SOHP archives to explore healthcare, medicine, and illness in the South. For more information visit our Sonic South page.