This week’s readings all dealt with Oral Histories in various ways. If I were to name one of these texts as the “central tenet” of the week, I would have to choose Barbara Sommer and Mary Kay Quinlan’s The Oral History Manual. This is a brief but immensely useful guide to oral history projects, providing brief outlines in the first chapter, and going into those outlines’ details in later chapters. This manual seems to go through every stage of the oral history interview process, from planning the oral history project through deciding to which repository you will send the interviews. Chapter 4 of The Oral History Manual covers the legal and ethical questions one needs to consider before and while conducting an oral history interview. In the introduction, Quinlan and Sommer state that asking these questions is imperative to establishing trust and rapport with the narrator (the interviewee).
These kinds of legal and ethical questions are what gave rise to Leon Fink’s article, “When Community Comes Home to Roost.” What began, for Fink, as researching an oral history project at the Coleemee Historical Association run by the Rumley’s, devolved into a series of ethical dilemmas, among which was one of his key questions, “Whose memory and which places get preserved?” The last part of that question was the one I tackled last week when discussing preservation, but in tackling the oral history projects the Rumley’s first part through oral history interviews, a similar quandary arises. Given the situation in which Fink found himself, what he described, essentially, as a problematic historical project about local heritage in North Carolina, at the end of his research and as he prepared to publish his findings on the subject he had to consider the Rumley’s wishes; he had interviewed them for his research, and they had signed a formal release agreement but wished to retract it for fear of defamation through his publication. He ultimately decided to publish his research relying on alternative sources of information he gathered during his research.
Sherrie Tucker faced ethical dilemmas as well as methodological ones in her own research on all-woman bands during World War II, about which she wrote in her article, “When the Subjects Don’t Come Out.” Although the initial focus for her research was about women in all-woman bands defying traditional and contemporary gender roles, she began to wonder about the prevalence of alternative sexual orientations in her interviews, especially when her subjects, now elderly, lived with other women. Ethically, based on interviews in which narrators out other former all-woman band members but then retract their statements and other similar experiences, Tucker asked herself whether or not she could publish such things. This posed a methodological issue as well, and the closest thing to an answer Tucker comes to is that one must find a way to write around those silences.
While these two previous texts present the simultaneously ethical and methodological issues one can run into with oral history interviews, Michael Frisch’s essays in “Memory History and Cultural Authority” deal more with the methodological issues of connecting public memory and culture to historical work, as well as the role of oral history interviews in crafting larger historical narratives. For brevity’s sake I will focus solely on his essay, “Oral History and Hard Times: A Review Essay.” In this text Frisch discussed and analyzed the different reactions to the book Hard Times, which included oral history interviews as primary sources for the narrative. While many literary reviewers celebrated it as telling the history of the Great Depression “as it was,” more critical historical reviewers disapproved of the lens through which the narrators told their own stories. This prompted Frisch to question the nature of oral history, what it could teach us, and what questions the reader ought to ask of them. He ultimately asserted that oral history interviews are invaluable to public history by exhibiting, “the selective, synthetic, and generalizing nature of historical memory itself,” something Frisch considers critical in how people in general make sense of the world and our lives.
My experience with oral history began with the Goin’ North Project at West Chester University under Drs. Charles Hardy and Janneken Smucker. The students did not conduct the interviews, but rather took interviews conducted in the 1980s about the first Great Migration to Philadelphia, and created a database, biographical sketches of the narrators, and more. That project was what first inspired my appreciation for oral history, because to hear how someone experienced major historical events like the Great Depression or the Great Migration gives an added depth and reality to something now detached from us by time, and presents us, as Frisch wrote, with a greater understanding of how people make sense of their lives and the world.
 Barbara W. Sommer and Mary Kay Quinlan, The Oral History Manual: Second Edition (Alta Mira Press, 2009): p. 8.
 Ibid, p. 7.
 Leon Fink, “When Community Comes Home to Roost,” in Journal of Social History, Vol. 40, no. 1 (Summer, 2006): p. 119.
 Ibid, pp. 138-139.
 Sherrie Tucker, “When the Subjects Don’t Come Out,” in Queer Episodes (University of Illinois Press: 2002): p. 294.
 Ibid, p. 296.
 Ibid, p. 303
 Michael Frisch, “Oral History and Hard Times: A Review Essay,” in A Shared Authority: Essays on the Craft and Meaning of Oral and Public History (State University of New York Press, 1990): p. 8.
 Ibid, p. 13.
The theme for this week is “Preservation,” and through this week’s readings, my understanding and appreciation for preservation increased drastically.
I’ll begin with Dolores Hayden’s Claiming Urban Landscapes as Public History, in which her opening anecdote sets up the focus of the text. This anecdote involves a sociologist and an architectural critic arguing over which buildings are worth preserving historically. Herbert Gans, the sociologist, argued that common buildings, like mills, factories, tenements, etc. have as much historic significance as architecturally prominent buildings, whereas Ada Huxtable, the critic, asserted that architecturally and aesthetically remarkable buildings deserved particular attention. Both of these individuals, in their own ways, were right, but there was a disconnect preventing them from seeing so. This question of “what gets preserved?” is one that all three of the readings for this week tackled, and the crucial answer is “whatever places hold significance to public memory and experience,” whether that be an architecturally and historically renowned building, or the lowliest of tenements in New York City.
This question of “what should be preserved, and why?” is specifically addressed in the Introduction to Marla Miller and Max Page's book Bending the Future: Fifty Ideas for the Next Fifty Years of Historic Preservation in the United States. Much of the discussion about what gets saved and why, according to Miller and Page, hinges “on two key-and controversial and highly charged-concepts: integrity and significance.” In order to figure out what should be preserved, and why, we, as public historians and preservationists need to figure out what integrity these locations or buildings have, and what makes them significant enough to warrant status as a protected site.
This brings me to Andrew Hurley’s Beyond Preservation. Hurley incorporates this concept into his writing, using his book to make historic preservation a more effective instrument for revitalizing inner-city neighborhoods through public history as a medium. He argues for finding the significance and integrity in the common as a means of serving inner-city communities and revitalizing their economies. He argues that there is a way for historic preservation to better serve those communities; that one could, with moderate ease, lure investment, “back to the urban core,” but that added import must be given to “[fostering] stable, diverse, and enriching communities.”
Although there are countless complicating factors that render historic preservation, particularly in cities, especially difficult, I found each of these readings truly enlightening. In conclusion, I enjoyed and learned much from these readings. Using history to give back to communities in a long-term fashion that puts the focus on them, their integrity as a community, and the significance of the locations within those neighborhoods and cities is something that speaks to me. Given my desire to work in LGBT+ History, I would greatly enjoy the opportunity to take what I learned from this week's readings and put it to use in serving and preserving the nation's LGBTQ+ historical places, places that currently, with few exceptions, are not being preserved.
 Dolores Hayden, “I: Claiming Urban Landscapes as Public History,” in The Power of Place (The MIT Press, 1997): p. 3.
 Marla Miller and Max Page, “Introduction,” in Bending the Future: Fifty Ideas for the Next Fifty Years of Historic Preservation in the United States (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2016): p. 18.
 Andrew Hurley, “Preface,” in Beyond Preservation: Using Public History to Revitalize Inner Cities (Temple University Press, 2010): p. ix.
 Andrew Hurley, Beyond Preservation: Using Public History to Revitalize Inner Cities (Temple University Press, 2010): p. 30.
Over the past few weeks I have been working on a preliminary draft of my exhibit label for the Independence Seaport Museum. My label will be in the section of the exhibit discussing the Cruiser Olympia’s role within United States Interventionist policy. Other exhibits in that section discuss, among other things, the culture shock that the Olympia’s sailors experienced while abroad, and the Russian Revolution’s role in shaping US Interventionism. The purpose of my label, however, is to explain Allied intentions and actions at the Russian port city Murmansk, and how various groups in the region reacted to the presence. As of right now my label focuses more heavily on the intentions and why the US stationed the Olympia at Murmansk. I address that they were invited by the Bolshevik government in Russia due to an increased threat from Germany during World War I, but other than that I did not include much about how groups in the region reacted to them. I think moving forward that will be something to focus on more heavily than simply the wartime context of Allied interventionism. The current draft of my exhibit label stands as follows:
“It is World War I. In November 1917, after the Russian Revolution, the Bolshevik’s signed an armistice with Germany to broker peace, but by February, Germany invaded again. By May, Germany possessed Ukraine and Finland, Russia’s pivotal grain producing regions. Two locations that remained free were Archangel and Murmansk, ports in north-western Russia containing over two million tons of military materials from Allied forces. These materials could help Germany defeat the Russians and then the West. Thus, the Bolshevik government reached out to Allied forces for help, and among those coming to their aid was the United States Cruiser Olympia.”
This draft stands at exactly one-hundred words, whereas last week it was around 150. As I worked on refining what I had, I was reminded once again that brief and concise pieces are far more difficult than longer research projects. This is a useful exercise though. Learning to write concisely while still getting the point across is a critical skill, particularly for those who write things like exhibit labels in their profession. That being said, looking at what I have right now, I can see what I will be discussing at length with my group mates this week. The key questions I am asking of this label at the moment are: How much of the wartime context can be removed? Does explaining the threat Germany would pose after obtaining those military materials explain well enough why Allies intervened? Does explaining that they were invited explain that? Does that invitation explain well enough what the local reactions were? Presently I am inclined to answer most of these questions with, “No.” With that in mind, these are the questions I will pose to members in my group when we meet this week, with more of a focus on where and how I can shift the focus in this label.
Polly McKenna-Cress and Janet Kamien’s book Creating Exhibitions is an incredibly helpful anthology for those who are preparing to create an exhibit. Unlike Beverly Serrell’s Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach, this text does not present the reader with a concise “to-do list” before describing in depth what can help exhibition creation go more smoothly, but rather dives right in, providing a thorough description of key concepts and practices to consider when creating an exhibition. Creating Exhibitions places large importance on cooperation with one’s team members on the project, and how to get the most out of that cooperation. From discussing the different collaborative ways to get initial creative juices flowing (pgs. 215-216) to emphasizing the critical balance between too much conflict and too much compromise (p. 14), this book is endlessly helpful for those working with a team to create an exhibition. After explaining the importance of, and providing advice for how best to cooperate with a team, the rest of Creating Exhibitions describes the processes involved in preparing an exhibit, the different roles that should be designated to best delegate the labor (p. 22), and all that essentially goes into creating an exhibition up to its opening and upon its closing.
As I read this book I thought it interesting how well Creating Exhibitions goes with Exhibit Labels. These two texts together provide an impressive, if initial, overall understanding of what goes into planning, designing, funding, presenting, labeling, and generally running an exhibition. While Creating Exhibitions digs into the logistics of collaboration, funding, and designing an exhibition, Exhibit Labels delves into the placement, writing, and audience of the individual labels that are actually a part of that entire exhibition. It’s like the labels are a branch of the exhibition tree that Creating Exhibitions does not really address. Creating Exhibitions presents just about everything else that goes into the whole ordeal, and Exhibit Labels covers that smaller, albeit critical, matter of what actually gets written and presented for public consumption in conjunction with the exhibition’s artifacts, lectures, etc.
These are both texts that I intend to hold onto into the foreseeable future. I have already written how helpful I found Exhibit Labels in a previous post. To be brief, Exhibit Labels presented me with clear and concise guidelines on how to write the best possible label for an exhibit. Creating Exhibitions presented me with a thorough, if at times overwhelming, overview of what goes into creating an exhibition, how to best get it done (both well and efficiently), and how to work with those on a future creative team. Although I could potentially have figured out some of the different phases through which a team must go in creating an exhibition, there were other aspects to this process I would not likely have considered. For example, I would never have thought of the “bidding” portion wherein, to my understanding, fabricators bid for the opportunity to actually build the exhibition (p. 285). In summary, this entire text was enlightening, and although I presently feel nowhere near ready to actually undergo the processes outlined in this text myself, I do think that after sufficient experience in the field and with a visionary creative team, creating an exhibition could be an achievable possibility for m in the future.