The official theme of this year's annual Oral History Association Conference, held in Oklahoma City, was "Hidden Stories, Contested Truths: The Craft of Oral History." However, the unofficial theme was on moving oral history into the digital age. Earlier this year the Oral History Review published a special issue entitled "Oral History in the Digital Age" and the ideas, challenges, and questions which were raised in its pages were at the forefront of the conference. Many presentations focused on using digital technology to conduct, promote, process, and make projects accessible online; some of these sessions included "OHMS: Enhancing Access to Oral History for Free," "New Approaches to Bringing Community Histories into Public Space in an Urban Region," "Campus Oral History Programs,"and "New Answers to Old Questions in the Digital Age," and the Saturday plenary session on "Oral History and the Documentation of American Foodways" demonstrated how integral digital technology is in the application of their work.
The first session that I attended, "OHMS: Enhancing Access to Oral History for Free," focused on the OHMS [Oral History Metadata Synthesizer] system, an open source platform for coding and indexing oral history interviews. Doug Boyd from the Louis B. Nunn Center for Oral History walked the audience through the conceptual and practical foundation of OHMS. Baylor University Institute for Oral History (BUIOH) and the Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) were both selected to pilot the OHMS system before it is made public; Steven Sielaff from BUIOH and Sady Sullivan from BHS discussed how their oral history programs run, the way in which they used OHMS to process interviews, and the strengths and weaknesses they experienced in using the system. Dean Rehberger from Michigan State University, who works on OHMS with Boyd, talked about the future of system.
The audience asked relevant questions that illuminated issues other oral history programs face and the practicality of using OHMS. Overall, this session provided people with issues to be carefully considered when deciding whether to use OHMS when it is public.
"New Approaches to Bringing Community Histories into Public Space in an Urban Region" featured a collaborative project between Erie County Public Library, Randforce Associates, and locally-based community groups in Buffalo, New York. The project, which was originally funded by an NEH digital start-up grant but grew into a large multi-year effort (which is on-going) funded by an IMLS grant, is showcasing their archival collection by connecting issues from the Depression Era to contemporary life in Buffalo. This project combines digital technology, such as Omeka and Interclipper, with low-tech tools, such as the posters and photographs, and uses available resources like the physical space of the library and the knowledge and network of their community partners to bolster their work. A component of this project is a series of public programs that intend to engender dialogue among professional experts and community members while featuring archival material. Their project involves forward-thinkers who are thoroughly addressing the needs of both the library and the community. Their decision to combine the use of new technology and existing resources is a creative solution that enhances the project. This was a great example of a complex project that could serve as a model for other collaborative projects.
Panelists from Louisiana State University, Oklahoma State University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Baylor University, and UCLA presented at the "Campus Oral History Programs" session. They each gave examples of their specific projects, the way in which their programs run, and an overview of issues they face. They are dealing with similar issues: fundraising, outreach, public engagement, digital access, and campus politics. Some of these programs have solved their problems by re-assessing their needs, creating work plans that are often re-visited or revised, using students in the production and editing process, and utilizing cheap digital resources. Most of all, they are struggling with how best to bring their collections and future work into the digital age. The audience asked many questions that revealed most oral history programs are dealing with the very same issues.
Though these are just a few highlights from the 2013 OHA Conference, there were many other dynamic presentations and examples of robust and tangible oral history projects. My biggest takeaway was that the field seems to be yearning for a solution to their issues surrounding digitization and is looking for some guidance. People want to engage in dialogue about challenges associated with the digital technology, especially those affiliated with campus or established oral history programs. This is the perfect time for us all to work together as a community and share our solutions (and failures) in order progress the field and push our work into the digital age. I look forward to next year's conference in Wisconsin, where there will hopefully more discussions on such topics.
Shanna Farrell, ROHO Historian
Gabrielle Morris, who chronicled California state politics and community history during a thirty-year career at the Regional Oral History Office died on April 24 after battling ovarian cancer for more than a decade. She was eighty-three.
Gaby was ROHO's specialist in state government history. Coming to the office in 1970 to interview for the Earl Warren gubernatorial oral history project, she later planned and directed major projects on the gubernatorial administrations of Edmund Brown, Sr., Goodwin Knight, and Ronald Reagan. Her legacy in this area includes well over two hundred in-depth oral histories documenting critical aspects of government administration and policy, from fiscal management, to land use and water resources, to health, education, and welfare issues. Gaby's other subject area at ROHO was social and community history. She was responsible for a remarkable series of forty oral histories examining the development and impact of Bay Area philanthropic foundations, from 1936 to 1980, as well as a number of memoirs of volunteer community leaders.
Although she interviewed state and national leaders, including U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, Governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, perhaps her favorite project was one recording the life experiences of ten outstanding African-American graduates of the University of California from 1914 to 1960. This group included educator Ida Louise Jackson, Oakland mayor Lionel Wilson, California Supreme Court justice Allen Broussard, and Olympic gold medalist Archie Williams. Her book, Head of the Class: An Oral History of African-American Achievement in Higher Education (1995 Twayne Publishers), used excerpts of those interviews to portray the life of black college students in a predominantly white public university, before the sweeping social changes of the civil rights era.
Gaby, a 1950 graduate of Connecticut College in economics, got her first professional experience as an historian for the US Air Force, when she documented the 59th Air Depot Wing at Burtonwood Air Force Base in England shortly after the Berlin Airlift. After returning to Connecticut, she and a college friend piled their belongings into a station wagon and headed for California in 1954. After a meandering six-week journey fueled by peanut butter and apples, they arrived in San Francisco on a rainy November night, stopping first at the home of a friend where Gaby met Frank Morris, who she would marry two years later. They lived in Berkeley for fifty-six years.
Like many women of her era, Gaby put her career on hold while she raised three children and immersed herself in the PTA, League of Women of Voters and local politics in Berkeley. ROHO soon became the beneficiary of all of her community experience, political savvy, and wisdom.
Gaby is survived by her husband, children, Catherine, Patrick and William, beloved granddaughters, Becca and Sara, and her cat, Duster, who will be colder now without her favorite lap.
Donations in Gaby's memory can be made to Connecticut College, Friends of the Berkeley Public Library or the Alameda County Community Food Bank. Plans for a memorial service are pending.
--by the Morris family and Ann Lage
I began interviewing Jimmy McCracklin in the late 1990s for our blues/jazz series of oral histories, and in 2004 I collaborated with Ronnie Stewart, bluesman and director of Bay Area Blues Society and filmmaker on a short film documentary about McCracklin's life. The film, entitled "Jimmy Sings the Blues," premiered at the International Oakland Film Festival in 2004 and had many showings at festivals and theaters such as Mill Valley's Throckmorton.
B.B. King and Bonnie Raitt, great McCracklin fans, appeared in the film, and Jimmy was highly pleased to hear B.B. call him "the greatest living blues writer and author of his signature song "The Thrill is Gone." Many of McCracklin's songs were pirated before he and his Blues Blasters began recording with Checker Records in the late 1950s. About the same time, "The Walk," covered by the Beatles and many others, made it to Billboard's top ten and got him a gig on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand."
"There is no West Coast blues, and no East Coast blues, the blues is just a feeling," McCracklin said, "and I've had the blues feeling all my life."
by Caroline Crawford
ROHO Music Lead Interviewer
Music and Dance Oral History Series
Arts in California oral histories featuring audio and video excerpts
ROHO interviewer and project director Ann Lage retired in 2011. Ann joined the ROHO staff in 1978 and has been responsible for so many interviews in the ROHO collection, as an interviewer and as a project director, that it would be impossible to overstate the importance of her contribution to oral history in general and to the Regional Oral History Office and The Bancroft Library in particular.
Among other things, she organized a pioneering project on the disability rights and independent living movement, which had Berkeley as one of its epicenters but quickly spread around the globe. This series of interviews provided the prototype for ROHO?s use of the web as an oral history resource for students, scholars, and activists. She also organized a project documenting the history of the Sierra Club.
In the spring, for Bancroft's first-ever "Friends and Family" open house, we invited staff members to share their thoughts about particular interviews in ROHO?s collection of thousands of oral histories. Here is one of Ann?s reflections:
Paul's polio at age seven left him with a significant physical disability. He relied on a wheel chair for mobility, a ventilator to breathe, and personal assistants for many tasks of daily living. His oral history explores his paths to understanding disability, first as a personal experience; then as the product of societal barriers comparable to the discrimination and stigmatization faced by members of other minority groups.
Paul was on the advisory committee of our Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement documentation project, which has recorded more than 150 in-depth oral histories with leaders of the movement nationwide and collected historical papers from movement organizations and participants.
As an oral historian, I have learned from each one of my interviewees, and Paul Longmore was no exception. I especially like Paul's words in the last interview of this oral history, where he reflects on the positive contributions of disability to society (pp. 159-160):
There's a really valuable insight there in the notion that in many respects most disabilities are just different, a different way of being in the world, a different way of experiencing your body, a different way of accessing reality, a different way of operating, that?s not inherently inferior. . . .
[Disability helps us] think about alternative ways of being a part of society . . . ways of looking at the world, looking at society, critiquing society, rebuilding society, building community, experiencing community, all that as things that we can positively offer to the rest of society.
by Linda Norton