Alumni News

This week we’ve had quite a lot of alumni announcements to share with our readers:

Alumna Sara Cohen Fournier contributed to a recently published collection of articles, entitled Beyond Testimony and Trauma: Oral History in the Aftermath of Mass Violence (ed. Steven High). The book surrounds ways to engage dealing with trauma and moving beyond in long form oral histories. It is based on the research "Life Stories of Montrealers displaced by war, genocides and human rights violations," which took place for 5 years in Montreal and collected stories from Rwanda, Haiti, Holocaust, and North African Jewery.

Alumna Liza Zapol has been working in collaboration with artists on a project on Embodied Mapping in the Lower East Side, sponsored by iLAND and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. This weekend (Friday, April 17 and Saturday, April 18, 2015) they will be hosting a symposium about this work and you can participate in some collaborative workshops for free. Check it out!

On May 14th and 15th, the Manhattan Repertory Theatre in New York is hosting full productions of alumnus Sam Robson’s play Timothy and Mary. Robson wrote the play based on oral history interviews he conducted for his OHMA thesis, for which he interviewed people with dementia and their family members and caregivers. 

Alumna Sarah Loose, co-founder of Groundswell: Oral History for Social Change, was awarded the Radcliffe Oral History Grant this year. Her project, Breastfeeding & Migration, explores the connections between motherhood and migration—specifically the impacts of immigration and immigration policy/enforcement on infant feeding practices. Using a combination of oral history, photography, community organizing, participatory research and popular education, the project aims to:

  • document and share the experiences of immigrant mothers (especially low-income and undocumented immigrant mothers),
  • identify barriers to immigrant parents’ right to choose how to feed their infants and potential solutions, and
  • support the efforts of immigrant mothers in advocating for their health, the health of their babies, and their basic human rights, dignity, and self-determination.

Ultimately, Breastfeeding & Migration seeks to contribute to organizing efforts at the intersections of gender and racial justice, workplace and immigrant rights, and maternal, infant and public health.

Alumna Elisabeth Sydor is hosting a staged reading of her thesis, Stories from the Carriage Trade, on Saturday, April 25, 2015 at 8 pm. Hear inside tales of the carriage business in the 1980’s, when Hell's Kitchen's horse-drawn carriages still trotted the streets of New York City any time of the day or night. The evening will be narrated by former carriage drivers Dave Forshtay, Maggie Goodman, Bryan Northam, Åsa Jahnke Stephens, and Elisabeth Sydor - from the book of their oral histories and Elisabeth's written recollections, developed from her masters thesis for OHMA. Free admission and no minimum, but purchase of drinks/dinner go toward the room rental - much appreciated!

Alumna Crystal Baik will be the keynote speaker at Williams College's Asian American Popular Culture conference this week (sponsored by Asian Americans Students in Action, or AASiA)-- one of the first Asian/American studies conferences organized by small liberal arts colleges in the Northeast.

Alums Erica Fugger and Anna Kaplan were elected to the board of Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region (OHMAR) at their annual conference last week!

At the OHMAR conference, April 9 and 10, 2015. Left to right: Erica Fugger, Cameron Vanderscoff, Cameron Donald.

At the OHMAR conference, April 9 and 10, 2015. Left to right: Erica Fugger, Cameron Vanderscoff, Cameron Donald.

It’s a pleasure to see our alums’ innovative work flourish in such a diverse array of fields—from dance, to theater, to pure oral history!

News Brief IV: Visual Oral History

Kate Brenner is a current OHMA student. Hailing from the frozen tundra of Wisconsin, she spends a lot of time laughing at New Yorkers who complain about the cold, and generally bemoaning a lack of availability of cheesecurds. When she's not busy perpetuating stereotypes about Midwesterners, she explores the dynamics of group interviews and story circles to better capture the history of a community.

The saying may be “a picture speaks a thousand words,” but when combined with oral history, a photograph can say so much more. I began thinking about the marriage of photographs and oral history when looking at the incredibly popular Humans of New York. I was really hoping I could construe it as a type of oral history, but I watched some videos about how he got the quotes that accompany the photos, and most come from very brief conversations. I decided to try to search out some ways that were more explicitly using oral history with photography.

Fortunately, my classmate Liz has already done some of the work for me. Last semester, after a lecture on two different oral history projects focusing on AIDS, she wrote this post about the use of photography to humanize and break down stereotypes about people who are HIV positive, as well as people with breast cancer.

Though I normally seek out articles about oral history, the following just popped up in my Facebook newsfeed one day. In New York, the juxtaposition between those who have (a lot) and those who don’t can be very stark, as one real estate agent realized. She became frustrated with the disparity between the luxury apartments she was showing and the people living on the streets around them, so she started buying them coffee and listening to their story.

Winona, 44.

Winona, 44.

The New York Times’ Lens Blog has showcases gorgeous photos and the stories behind them. Margo Cooper’s interest in the blues, and the realization that many musicians were getting older and had stories to be documented, led her to use both photography and oral history. Her website only displays the photos, but this article has brief excerpts from the musicians.

Shine and Sam Carr. By Margo Cooper

Shine and Sam Carr. By Margo Cooper

Unfortunately, most photography oral history projects I come across online are physical exhibitions, but so interesting that I still want to highlight them. This one is outside of New Orleans, but it addresses concerns about changes in the environment of the Gulf Coast with a combination of paintings and photos of the river and oral histories by those interact with it, with the hope that the images and stories will allow visitors really see how much the environment has changed, and be able to connect to the impact that land loss has on the culture. 

Asher Milgate photographed Wiradjuri elders who had grown up in an Aboriginal mission in Wellington, and interviewed them about their lives. While this is also a physical exhibit, there are a few photos online with short quotes. The exhibit in Dubbo uses audio and video as well as the photographs.

By Asher Milgate

By Asher Milgate

Most movie theaters are generic boxy buildings with multiple screens, but I grew up also watching movies at the Oriental Theater in Milwaukee, a theater from 1927. Benita VanWinkle started photographing old movie theaters to document them before they all disappeared, but realized that the people who would go there also had stories about the importance they had in their lives that were just as important to preserve as the architecture.

This is what I’ve been able to find so far, but would love to know about more photography-based oral history projects. Several weeks ago, a guest blogger with OHMA told us about her fledgling oral history project as archivist for the organization Professional Women Photographers. If you know of any, leave them in the comments!