Friday, December 3, 2010

Oral History Project

Students in the curatorial studies course (ART 302, offered every fall) developed an oral history project that focused on a person close to them. Below you will find an image of the person being interviewed and the student and the audio file, edited by the student. We hope that you enjoy this project as a curatorial, virtual, and compassionate endeavor.

This project was inspired by a few resources and individuals. First, the famed journalist and chronicler of people, Studs Terkel, author of the interviews collected and entitled Working.Cleveland author, Harvey Pekar, did a graphic novel interpretation that both revived and spread interest in Terkel's work and approach. In developing this project, I also was informed by the approach of a faculty memberat Case Western Reserve, my alma mater. Dr. Gladys Haddad, professor of history and American Studies and chronicler of the Western Reserve, hosts a blog and journal entitled Regionally Speaking. An oral historian extraordinaire, Haddad kindly shared her course materials from a recent seminar that she taught with Dr. John Bassett (Case, English Department). For this project, their students were charged with the task of interviewing a graduate of the Flora Stone Mather College for Women, the sister college of the Adelbert College for Men at Western Reserve University (Case's predecessor). And, of course, the StoryCorps project, an independent non-profit that encourages listening to one another as "an act of love."

Foremost in this project was the transition for the students from curating objects (such as sculpture on campus or objects from the GC archives, permanent collection of art, and theatre department props) to virtual curation. This topic is taken up by McTavish's essay in Janet Marstine's New Museum Theory, a book that we've discussed on this blog previously. There were plusses and minuses of dealing with the digital realm: plusses include the ability to keep a record of the conversation; the ability to edit repeatedly, and the ability for others to hear and comment on our work. Minuses include the need to work with a new program (Audacity); the complications that arise when working with technology; and the very public nature of this project -- now.

As Marshall Berman, then prof of political theory at CUNY, remarked in his early review of Terkel's Working, as an incredibly rich, close tapestry of stories. Before addressing the book, however, Berman addresses the genre in which it came, the Popular Front of the 1940s-60s, an era that put humanity as part of "a great river of humanity, flowing through the heart of the country, America's primal source of life and energy....fed by a thousand streams...from every occupation... every race and color and ethnic group, every class..." This project is much less ambitious than those aims above, and yet, the outcomes are significant: the project offered the students the opportunity to spend time with a person, discuss one or many topics face-to-face, and to listen to another individual. There were very few limitations placed on the student, in terms of who to select for their interview. They chose a parent (as a way to learn about the student's father, who is deceased), a former co-worker, a high school Calc and a high school English teacher, and a grandparent.

As you might suspect, I could go on and on about this project. So, if you're interested in hearing more from me, do let me know. But, at any rate, the interviews are below. Take a listen and let us know what you think. We hope that you enjoy them!

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