We hear our own Judy Houck and Troy Reeves, of the UW Oral History Project, speaking on the topic of oral history.
Troy started the discussion off by discussing the role of his project: the Curate, Communicate, and Collaborate oral history related to the University. Some of their projects are as recent as the political protests that began this February in Wisconsin and others go back much further, such as the history of the GLBT community in Madison.
Then Judy shared her experience as a "reluctant oral historian" on her recent project on Feminist women's health centers in California. The clinic she is focusing on still exist and therefore have no archives beyond boxes in someone's attic, so oral history is essential for it's content, access to written documents, and for finding futher subjects to interview.
In her own work and through her study of oral history different problems and challenges have come up, such as finding contacts, their reluctance (or alternatively, exhuberance), the difference between documents and memory, the power dynamics of interviewing, what is left unspoken, the ethics of speaking for someone else, conflicting agendas, interviewing people you may not like, and how to deal with "off the record" information as a historian.
Some useful sources and discussions concerning oral history that were brought up include:
- After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection by James West Davidson
- "Evidence, Empathy, and Ethics: Lessons from Oral Histories of the Klan" by Kathleen M. Blee
- "The Comfort Women" Controversy: History and Testimony" by Yoshiko Nozaki