The Alternative Historian


Thoughts, Ideas, and Other Musings by an Alternative Historian

Day Two: Oral History Association 2016

Forgive me for missing a day. I’ll make it up by including pictures.

Oral history veterans: (L to R) Charlie Morissey, Ron Grele, Alice Hoffman, and Ron Marcello.

Oral history veterans: (L to R) Charlie Morissey, Ron Grele, Alice Hoffman, and Ron Marcello.

Thursday at the OHA began with a multigenerational roundtable. Charlie Morissey, a great figure in oral history, talked a lot about the founding of the Oral History Association back in 1966 as well as the evolutions the organization has gone through. That first meeting had 70 people, all of whom were doing oral history but didn’t know each other. The biggest strength of the organization: it was founded as an interdisciplinary association pulling experiences from wide-ranging fields. Morissey also said one of the biggest problems was an orientation towards elitism, although the Association has moved away from that since then.

The roundtable opened up to include Ron Grele, Alice Hoffman, and Ron Marcello. All of these luminaries shared stories of what it was like in those early days. All of them also expressed how hopeful they were at how the Association has grown and where the field is headed.

Next on the list of workshops was Foxfire at 50. Foxfire is an experiential educational project in the Appalachian mountains of Georgia. The project has thousands of interviews from the decades, leading to a question of how or if this should be made available to the public. The workshop posed questions about ethics, community control, and trust.

The plenary, Oral History, Now (And Tomorrow), focused on the status of oral history as a field. Questions about professionalization, the relation to social change, practices, and feminism were asked by presenters. As always, there were few specific answers. That’s the norm for conferences though. Questions are raised and attendees struggle with them in their own context. A good conference is one where that struggle leads to better questions. Stay tuned.