Aging Political Activists: Personal Narratives from the Old Left

By David P. Shuldiner | Go to book overview

Preface

Alice Kessler Harris once defined oral history as "that area where memory, myth, ideology, language, and historical cognition interact in a dialectical transformation of the word into an historical artifact" ( Harris 1991). It is this wondrous complexity that has become the joy and the bane of oral history fieldwork and presentation. Our work is, however, even more complex than Harris intimated. Aside from the fact that we can never ignore the active role the historian plays in creating the historical narrative, we must also recognize that the history we are being given--the story--is not being given for the first time. It has been told again and again, and will be told again and again in the future, each time with new variations and new insights depending upon the context of the storytelling. This is especially true of political activists who have consciously articulated their views of history in a lifelong struggle to understand themselves and their world. History has intense meaning for politics. It tells us from where we came and points the directions in which we are moving both individually and collectively. It is no serendipitous coincidence that history and politics emerge together on the modern landscape.

Rarely discussed in the literature of oral history is the added complication that the interview is also the arena of intense generational conflict; not only between the interviewer and the narrator who are often of a different age, but also between the youth and the present of the narrator. The story we are being told contains within itself all of the ways in which the story teller has fused his or her present visions with the dreams of an earlier time when youth was to be served. No linear model of fieldwork can begin to encompass the multiple constructions of meaning that is the

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