June 2015
Some of the UNC faculty, students, and alumni who work in American Indian and Indigenous Studies, represented at NAISA

Field Notes
Stories from the Southern Oral History Program

Director's Note

My journey towards oral history started with overhearing, not listening to, dialogues about the past, among my parents, aunts and uncles, and other elders in my Lumbee community around Pembroke, North Carolina. Of course, I was young when I started this practice, and I quickly learned the technique of invisibility as I was riding in the back seat or sitting at a kitchen table. I "graduated" to actively listening many years later as a documentary filmmaker and then when I started a Lumbee family photography and oral history project at UNC-Pembroke. I finally got an "advanced degree" in oral history--the process from research, to asking questions, to making that research available--as I worked with the SOHP during and since graduate school. But that well-developed skill in overhearing has stayed with me, and it actively informs how I structure and think about our work at SOHP.

 

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a roundtable called "Reclaiming the First Voice: Indigenous Discussions in the Field of Oral History" at the 2015 Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. I presented with Nepia Mahuika (Maori/Ngati Porou) of the University of Waikato in New Zealand and Lorina Barker (Murrawari) of the University of New England in Armidale, Australia. Both of these Indigenous historians have been deeply involved in their local and national discourses about Indigenous oral history. Nepia is finishing a book on Maori and Indigenous oral history and Lorina produces documentary films in her Aboriginal community. This discussion is not as advanced in the US for a variety of reasons, but the theme of our roundtable was how and why indigenous people do oral history differently. Among the many divergences noted in the Australia and New Zealand contexts was how non-indigenous oral historians routinely dismiss Indigenous people's conceptions of time, space, and history, fixing them in rituals of "tradition" rather than living and breathing sources about the past that instruct the present. In my work with these issues in the US, I've noticed that Indigenous people have a similar mistrust of universities, where those institutions often have fixed ideas about ownership and use of materials that Indigenous people don't share; such institutions are usually distant from Native communities, and few (if any) tribal members are involved in research. Issues such as these are why I value our partnership with Wilson Library, where we can bring community concerns to the table and resolve them. I also value SOHP's ongoing ethic of giving back, where reciprocal sharing of knowledge is at the core of our students' training. In particular, we have initiated a collaboration with UNC-Pembroke's Southeastern American Indian Studies Program that reaches the archive and the classroom to collect and preserve oral history and supplemental materials from Native communities in the South.

 

So much of how Indigenous people do oral history differently involves the researcher becoming part of, or being born into, the community with which they are conducting oral histories. It's amazing what can be learned when one community member interviews another and they slip into conversation, instead of question-and-answer. Lumbee folklorist Jeff Currie found this snippet of just such a conversation, part of an oral history interview with Mr. Curt Locklear conducted by Mr. Lew Barton in the early 1970s. The interview is housed in the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida, which has a much larger  collection of oral histories with Native Southerners than UNC does. Being prepared to overhear a conversation, rather than ask a question, can reveal otherwise unavailable reflections of identity, history, and legacy. Thanks to the oral history archive, however, we get to overhear those conversations decades later. 

 

  

--Malinda Maynor Lowery

Southern Association for Women Historians
Founding SOHP director Jacquelyn Dowd Hall with SOHP alumnae Joey Fink and Jessie Wilkerson

This past weekend marked the Southern Association for Women Historians' Tenth Southern Conference on Women's History, entitled "Re-membering/Gendering: Women, Historical Tourism, and Public History." Hundreds of scholars and activists, including dozens of SOHP alum and friends, gathered in Charleston, South Carolina to present and learn about southern women, women's history, and the study of the South. This 2015 conference focused on public history, tourism, and ways that we represent the past with attention to the present. In light of recent racial violence in America, the opening plenary "Memory and the Civil Rights Movement" by Renee Romano and introduction by Jacquelyn Dowd Hall inspired a timely discussion on social justice, race, gender, and law and the role commemoration can play in understanding a complicated history of racism and violence. SOHP Coordinator of Collections Jaycie Vos gave an introductory oral history workshop, and former field scholars Sarah McNamara, Joey Fink, and Jessie Wilkerson discussed their oral history research on Latina activism and southern feminism in Appalachia.

 

Moxie Scholars: Summer Work Update
Clara, Emily, and Kadejah at the Scrap Exchange
The 2015 Moxie Scholars have been hard at work in their summer internship placements and weekly seminar discussions. They've tackled the topics of money, class, race, and social change; gone on field trips around the Triangle; and dug into the nitty gritty of their non-profit organizations. One field trip took them to the Scrap Exchange in Durham, where the Pauli Murray Project's exhibit about its namesake will be opening later this summer. Another brought them to the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South, where they met and spoke with founder and director Jeanette Stokes. In addition to all this, the Moxies are beginning work on their final project, which they'll be sharing this fall; keep an eye out for details on when and where. Stay up-to-date on Moxie happenings by visiting the website here.

News From Our Friends
Former Field Scholar Katie Womble
Summertime has brought plenty of good news to SOHP! Former field scholar Katie Womble, who graduated this spring from the UNC School of Information and Library Science with an MSIS, has accepted a position as the (first-ever!) Oral History Curator at the Upcountry History Museum in Greenville, South Carolina. Katie will establish and manage the museum's oral history program, which is associated with Furman University.

Meanwhile, founding SOHP director Jacquelyn Dowd Hall and SOHP alumna Jessie Wilkerson  each  received awards from the Labor and Working-Class History Association (LAWCHA). Jessie received the Herbert Gutman Prize for best PhD dissertation in the field of labor and working-class history for her dissertation, "Where Movements Meet:  From the War on Poverty to Grassroots Feminism in the Appalachian South." And  Jacquelyn receive d the award for Distinguished Service to Labor and Working-Class History for her exemplary contributions to the field and its members over so many years. Her prizewinning scholarship has brought the South and its women to the forefront of labor and working class history.

 Join us in congratulating Katie, Jessie, and Jacquelyn on these awesome achievements!
Save the Date: NC Women's Summit
The 2015 NC Women's Summit will take place on Thursday, September 24th, 2015 at Wake Forest University (Winston-Salem, NC). This year's summit will feature keynote speakers Melissa Harris-Perry, Executive Director of WFU's Pro Humanitate Institute, and Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress. SOHP is proud to co-sponsor the NC Women's Summit again, alongside Women AdvaNCe. Stay tuned for more details or visit the event page here.