Editor's Introduction

By Ajd | The Oral History Review, Summer-Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

Editor's Introduction


Ajd, The Oral History Review


As the Oral History Review rounds out its first volume of the twenty-first century, the articles in this issue look back to the twentieth century and review how oral history can help illuminate some of its calamities: the Great Depression, the Holocaust, and Hurricane Audrey, which struck the Gulf Coast in 1957. The articles take disparate approaches in examining professions: farmers, teachers, and reporters. Questions of identity form the foundation of two of the articles, which examine Jews in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and young people confronting racial stereotypes in summer camps designed to foster interracial understanding. Finally, the OHR presents another in its on-going series of interviews with pioneers in the oral history discipline: an interview with Elizabeth Mason of the Columbia University oral history program.

Melissa Walker's article on farming in East Tennessee illustrates how an interviewer's personal experiences can enrich an oral history project. Having grown up on a farm in East Tennessee herself, and having conducted an oral history project among men and women engaged in farming in that region, she brings a personal perspective to her study of early twentieth-century Southern agriculture. She offers here the sage observations of one of her interviewees, a farmer who developed his own solutions to the problems that confronted farmers in the South before mid-century. The farmer, John West, tells his personal story of a resilient farmer who matured in the era of the Great Depression, but Walker provides a framework that benefits from her own background and research.

Two of the articles in this issue examine professions not usually associated with oral history--teachers and reporters--and explore the similarities in those professions to the craft practiced by oral historians. Lynne Hamer suggests that teachers employ what she calls "oralized history," turning written texts into spoken versions, and that gifted teachers amplify this practice by weaving their own experiences into classroom presentations to bring historical events to life. By dissecting one teacher's lessons in recent American history and the reactions of his students, she probes the effectiveness of this process. John Tisdale employs "observational stories" in the press coverage of Hurricane Audrey, a storm that devastated the Louisiana gulf shore in 1957, to explore the relationship between news reporting and oral history. He argues that reporters operate as if they were in fact the subjects of oral history interviews, answering for their readers the questions that interviewers might ask.

If frequency of submission of articles to the OHR is any indication, the Holocaust is the most compelling topic to the practitioners of oral history at the turn of the century. This issue of the OHR includes two fine examples of creative perspectives on the Holocaust. Much of the new understanding of the Holocaust--and indeed one of the reasons journals like the OHR have received in influx of submissions on this topic--is that Holocaust survivors have been generous in their willingness to share painful memories of their experiences. …

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