Oral history, as a research practice, could not exist without storytelling. Yet academic oral history has often defined itself in contrast to storytelling. Oral histories are always full of stories, often stories that have been handed down, passed around, honed through performance. At the same time, oral historians often aim to record the experiences in a life that cannot be contained in stories. And as we seek to amplify oral histories, the storytelling arts become crucial tools in the oral historian’s toolbox.
In this series, we will explore the relationships between oral history and storytelling. In the current moment, when storytelling is ubiquitous in the public sphere, what does oral history have to offer? What can a focus on storytelling help us to see about the performative, creative, social, and cultural aspects of oral history practice?
Schedule at a Glance
February 6, 2020, 6:10 - 7:30 PM
In this workshop, we will explore how putting oral history in dialogue with other artistic practices can expand what we think of as “story,” and move us toward a more radically inclusive practice, one that questions the privileging of the oral over other ways of showing lived experience.
This expansion is critical in order to inclusively document and activate the history of intellectual disability (ID), including accounts of institutionalization, the practice over the past century and into today of placing people with ID into segregated residential facilities. Much of what we know about institutional life is framed by case files and diagnoses, and not the memories, perspectives, and experiences of people who lived, and still live, in institutions.
February 13, 2020, 6:10 - 7:30 PM
Do stories have a DNA? How are stories that have never been told different from stories that have been passed down and performed over generations? Are stories grown wild or sculpted? Rachel Falcone has been privileged to be a part of hundreds of interviews over a 15-year career--recording stories for radio, film, and art--and we’ll discuss these and other questions. This workshop will focus on what makes certain stories and story structures rise to the top from interviews, and how storytelling impacts the way in which oral histories are conducted, shared, and collected.
March 5, 2020, 6:10 - 7:30 PM
Carlin Zia and her now 93-year-old Chinese-born grandfather started recording his life story over the phone in June 2016. In sharing and reflecting on his experience of, among other things, education, geopolitical conflict, (im)migration, and history, they quickly developed the provisional title "An Uncertain Journey." As she continued this work and excavated her understanding of (and position in) it, Carlin realized that she was on a journey of her own. The resulting thesis, Uncertain Journeys, is a self-reflexive epic poem in an invented form that explores and renders some Laundry List Big Ideas like race, class, geography, and assimilation, some specifically oral historical goodies like intersubjectivity and silence, and some sleepers like legacy and most of all love. In this presentation, Carlin will share her experiments in transcription and/as poetry, discuss form, and reflect on process.
March 26, 2020, 6:10 - 7:30 PM
What does it mean to live with a 70-year war when its manifestations, hypervisible and deeply sensed, are perceived as everyday formations delinked from militarization? Crystal Mun-hye Baik addresses this question by discussing the Intergenerational Korean American Oral History Project, a diasporic memory archive shaped by an ethics of deep care, attentive listening, and polyvocal narration. Facilitating the collaborative sharing of contested stories of war, militarized migration, and fraught relationships, the Intergenerational Korean American Oral History Project gives way to an enlivened practice of remembering that reckons with the devastating consequences of the un-ended Korean War. An excerpt from her recently published book, Reencounters: On the Korean War and Diasporic Memory Critique (Temple University Press, 2019), this talk considers the possibility of crafting an oral/aural archive of the present, rather than defining the Korean War through terms affiliated with the post or the after.
April 2, 2020, 6:10 - 7:30 PM
Not The Only One (N'TOO) is the multigenerational memoir of one black American family told from the “mind” of an artificial intelligence (AI) of evolving intellect. It is a voice-interactive AI entity designed, trained, and aligned with the needs and ideals of black and brown people who are drastically underrepresented in the tech sector. Not only does NTOO look like and emanate data derived from the position of blackness, it is also designed and programmed by us.
Imagine it is forty years in the future. Two of the three people upon whom an AI named N'TOO is based have died. However, their stories, thoughts, hopes, and dreams live on in the AI. The great-grandchildren of the oldest contributor can get to know their elder through conversation. The elder will be able to respond to those great-grandchildren with wisdom learned in her life. This information can be presented in the context of ideas and future technologies that will be available in forty years. The AI is a place for ever-evolving stories that sustain, advise, and inform. It has the potential to be an eternal living documentation born out of oral histories, with the particularity of culture and space to hold and honor stories that represent the breadth of human expression.
April 9, 2020, 6:10 - 7:30 PM
What communities are overlooked in oral history practice, and in history-making more broadly? Deaf and hard-of-hearing people are often left out of oral history – even the phrase “oral history” is exclusive. Narrative history interviews conducted in American Sign Language with a commitment to visual and auditory access require methodological and ethical care. Using their Deaf NYC project as a case study, Brian Greenwald and Jean Bergey will share what they have learned about how to make bilingual and dual-model interviews accessible for everybody, including insights about doing video and visual history and working with translation that resonate with core questions in the field of oral history today.
This event will explore practices of embedded community history via the experiences of Deaf New Yorkers. Deaf stories illustrate not only the values and experiences of a cultural-linguistic community, but also the economics of New York City, neighborhood change, and shifting centers of employment. Interviews with Deaf people can reveal basic human stories of navigating a city where diversity is on every street corner, some of it invisible. Greenwalk and Bergey will share stories about bias and barriers, organizational vs. familial generations, and why the 14th Street subway stop became a hub for Deaf youth.