Friday, January 20, 2012

Anecdata: Oral History Methods in the Sciences

[The following is the abstract I just submitted for the Oral History Association conference in Cleveland in October. If you haven't gotten your abstract in, today is the last day...]

Anecdata: Oral History Methods in the Sciences

Although oral history is increasingly accepted as valid form of evidence, it is still a foreign concept in the the sciences. Yet all the arguments Portelli makes for "what makes oral history different" must not apply only to the humanities. This is especially true now, as digital tools allow for more direct and robust indexing of recordings. In the study of Ecological Restoration (ER), researchers are trying to understand complex problems with limited data. Even where advanced theory and modeling has been established, there are gaps in knowledge and a lack of input amongst all relevant stakeholders. Through a partnership with members of the Ecosystem Restoration through Interdisciplinary Exchange (ERIE) Program at the University at Buffalo, we are exploring the use oral histories to evaluate ER projects in terms of the human values driving them. We are applying methods of annotation and theme mapping used in our oral history practice to the open-ended recorded interviews of ER practitioners. In this paper, we will discuss how use of a database approach to content management not only serves as a means of efficient access to oral history collections, but also turn anecdotes literally into data.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Examining Assumptions about OHA Meetings

The deadline for submissions for the Oral History Association Annual Meeting is rapidly approaching (Jan 20). If you’re not in OHA already, consider joining and/or coming to the meeting in Cleveland in 2012. OHA is a great group of people from all sorts of backgrounds, and we always look forward to these meetings, where we meet new folks and reunite with our oral history friends.
I plan to present a paper again and to support Melanie as she carries forward the torch of “So, What Do You Do?” (SWDYD). We introduced SWDYD at the OHA meeting in Louisville in 2010, as an alternative to the 90 minute sessions with 3-4 paper presentations followed by Q&A. SWDYD is focused on getting an overview of several people’s projects at once in a more casual setting, as opposed to “giving papers” (or reading them word for word!). Inspired by concepts like “Speed Dating”, “Pecha Kucha Nights”, and THATcamp’s “Dork Shorts”, we wanted to create something for OHA that would introduce a short-form, yet structured event that emphasizes getting participants into meaningful dialogue. The past two years we had a diverse group of presenters giving their 6-minute talks about what they do in oral history in the first session, followed by a set of round-table discussions in the second session. We are currently working on tweaks and upgrades for SWDYD for Cleveland 2012! Stay tuned for that…
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