87. 🗃️ #oah2022 🗃️
thinking about being a writer & practitioner of history
Hello, and happy Monday.
I hope that you all had a lovely weekend. It was absolutely beautiful in Boston on Saturday, and so I spent some time walking outside. But a lot of the past week was spent preparing for an attending the Organization of American Historians Annual Conference. Luckily, the conference itself was in Boston, so I didn’t have to travel too far. All I had to do was take the T across the river, and caught up on episodes of “Who? Weekly” and “Like a Virgin.”
This was the first time that I have engaged with so many people for so long at such a high capacity, so most nights I would come home, play a little Pokémon, and go straight to bed. But the conference itself was great. Like the Arab American Studies Association conference from last weekend, the panels that I attended showcased really interesting research that I’m looking forward to reading in future published forms. While it was so helpful and fun to see new ideas percolating among my colleagues, I found that the panels that made the most impact on me were about process and craft.
These panels featured more senior scholars who were reflecting on their work alongside their colleagues. It was so interesting to see the ways in which they communicated their projects—what worked and what didn’t—and how they are thinking about larger questions on the practice of writing history, and making methodologies work for us & our communities in these times. I wanted to share some insights from two panels in particular below, because I think that they are important conversations that all holds writing historically-based work should be reckoning with.
✏️ Still processing.
Oral History in the Public-Facing Humanities: Challenges and Opportunities
Chair and Commentator: Todd Moye, University of North Texas
Presenters: Rebecca Scofield, University of Idaho; Molly Todd, Montana State University; Tomás Summer Sandoval, Pomona College; James Levy, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
This panel brought together a group of researchers who were engaging with public-facing scholarship through the use of oral history. All of them had done work within the communities they were writing about, and using the stories of their interlocutors to create community projects like online databases, plays, and public exhibitions. While each of them talked through their specific projects, they all collectively were contending with questions of positionality, memory recovery, and commitments to the community about which they were writing. Here are some brief ideas that sparked up in my thinking during this panel, which I’d like to share with you:
The tension between our critiques as academics and the work we are doing for our community. I wrote this during Rebecca Scofield’s talk on the Gay Rodeo Oral History Project. During her talk, I noted how closely she worked with her narrators to meet them where they were at. For instance, despite not being the most ideal place to conduct these oral history recordings due to noise, Scofield and her team conducted interviews at the rodeo, where these folks wanted to be when talking about their experiences. This got me to thinking about how the conventions or “best practices” of certain methodologies actually occlude what we are most trying to uncover as historians and writers. At times, there is a deep tension between what we must do as “practitioners in the field” and the work we must do to honor the communities that we are writing about. As many would agree I’m sure, the latter takes precedent for me and the work that I do, but I think that acknowledging this gap is helpful in nuancing our methodologies as a way of defining and refining our purposes for doing this kind of work in the first place.
Tomás Summers Sandoval - 2 commitments rooted in the work of Ethnic Studies:
commitment to challenge the limits of academia
service learning & reciprocity within the community; the necessity & appreciation of non-academic expertise
Tomás Summers Sandoval talked about his work conducting oral histories with Latinos who had fought in Vietnam, as well as their family members who experienced the after effects of trauma. While many elements of his talk provoked a lot of thought in terms of engaging with a community from which you come, I was particularly struck by the way that he incorporated the ethos of Ethnic Studies (the disciplinary field) in his methodology. Because Ethnic Studies as a field grew out of social movement and radical political consciousness, so much of the work that we do also speaks to a larger political project of collective liberation through access to knowledge. The way that he tied these larger considerations to the work of his project reminded me to have the bigger picture in the back of my mind when researching and writing. How am I making sure that I honor the field of Ethnic Studies in what I do?
Writing About Disturbing Content
Chair: Sarah Snyder, American University
Panelists: Brook Blower, Boston University; Crystal Feimster, Yale University; Adriane Lentz-Smith, Duke University; Andrew Potter, Colgate University; Coll Thrush, University of British Columbia
Although I came a bit late to this panel, it also provided many insights about issues that many historians commonly face: how to do the work of writing abuot content that is emotionally charged. The panel’s vulnerability with the audience was unlike anything I had previously seen. Additionally, this was the first time I think that I’ve seen the idea of “historians as writers” be addressed collectively by practitioners in the field. Particularly in terms of histories of trauma, the panelists emphasized that what is at stake for you as a writer & historian should be considered in making decisions in the way that you tell a story.
They also recommended 2 works to read if you’re interested in thinking about questions of trauma, positionality, and intention more:
🌀 Still consuming.
Korean dog grooming vids (like the one above) are what has been getting me through the madness.
Great piece on emotional growth from Haley Nahman’s Maybe Baby.
Visual homogeneity and the moodboard.
Ugh, this really resonates. Honestly the barrage of bad videos or ones stolen from TikTok is the reason I no longer really scroll through Instagram.
Related content to the above.
📖 Book club corner.
Friends! It is time for the next book club pick! This month’s theme is: NATURE! Cast your vote below by Saturday, April 9 and I’ll announce the pick in next week’s newsletter.
Which book do you want to read for April Book Club?
Here’s the event info:
Date & Time: Monday, April 25 @ 5PM PST/8PM EST
Suggested Donation (for those able to donate): $3-10 through Paypal or Venmo (@idyalz)
You can learn more about the tiny driver book club here!
🐶 A pup-date.
It was sunny today in Oakland and Girlie was PARCHED:
As always, thanks so much for reading through, and I'll see you in the next one!