By Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez
Seventeen researchers – professors, graduate students and one librarian – participated in the inaugural oral history training institute at the University of Texas at Austin campus.
The researchers came from Maine, New Jersey, Idaho, California, Ohio, Vermont, Tennessee, Alabama, and of course, Texas – and their research interests were as varied as their provenance. Two were from Maine, one a chemistry professor, the other a Spanish professor, hoping to learn enough to begin an oral history project in Chile on health practices. Another was from Idaho, who had applied (and later won) a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities on Latino artists in her state. Two were AJHA professors, George Daniels (University of Alabama) and Melita Garza (Texas Christian University), who wanted to learn more about oral history interviewing techniques and how they differed from journalism practices. Both of are active in the Trailblazers of Diversity in Journalism and Mass Communication Oral History Project (http://bit.ly/2vXQMgJ), a program of the AEJMC.
I organized the institute – recognizing a need to train academics to do oral history. I’ve been doing oral history since 1999 when I founded what is now the Voces Oral History Project. I’ve been teaching oral history and incorporating it into books since then. (I also head of the Trailblazers Oral History committee.) I recruited Todd Moye, a history professor at the University of North Texas, and the former director of the Tuskeegee Airmen Oral History Project. Todd and I served as lead instructors.
Our applicants were required to write a statement of purpose, telling us what they wanted to learn. To the degree we could, we incorporated that into our curriculum.
Archivist Lisa Cruces, of the University of Houston, took the institute because she has worked with the end product: the actual recordings from oral history interviews. And she wanted to learn more about the process at the front end.
George Daniels immediately applied what he learned at the institute to his own research: “Since the weeklong summer experience, I have prepared two abstracts of my research and submitted to conferences, one of which was accepted for presentation.”
Daniels will use his new understanding in “developing a community-based partnership that will utilize the oral historical method to preserve the history of a local middle school that is closing in 2018.
“Take a semester-long graduate seminar and roll it into five days-- That's what the summer Institute is,” Daniels said.
And Melita Garza later said the institute added “new dimensions of skills, understanding, and excitement” to her oral history work.
“The institute offers a top-flight curriculum and the chance to work with amazing scholars from around the country,” Garza said in an email. “You will be inspired.”
The dates for this summer’s institute will be announced in October; with the applications process opening in early December. Cost will be $750, including a light breakfast and lunch. Access to inexpensive dorm housing is available. Further information will be available at: vocessummerinstitute.org. Questions may be directed to: firstname.lastname@example.org.