WHAT IS ORAL HISTORY?

Ohio organic farmer & longstanding early OEFFA newsletter editor Holly Harmon Fackler, at her home in Plymouth, Ohio [Fairfield County]. 

Oral History is a kind of long-form interviewing that focuses on a person’s life history, the history of a movement, the history of a place, or anything in between. Oral history isn’t a discipline — it’s a set of approaches, methods and ethics that developed out of a social justice commitment to the voices and experiences of everyday people.

Oral history interviews are distinguished (sometimes) from journalistic interviews in that our questions are open-ended; the emphasis is on the narrator. Oral history is not a conversation. The interviewer’s job is to ask follow-up questions that track the narrator’s stream of thought. The typical destiny for traditional oral history projects has been the archive; but many public historians, folklorists and artists have explored new avenues for oral history presentation — from listening parties to film to experimental multi-media productions and installations. Growing Right was imagined in this vein.

Our project, in particular, combines traditional oral history documentation and interview techniques with methods from ethnography, folklife documentation and documentary arts. Because Growing Right is about vernacular ecologies — how all of us view, engage with and act towards environments and ecologies in our everyday life — we’re obsessed with context. We don’t just want to record our narrator’s stories — we also want to document the farms, homesteads, and environments where they live, work and root their vocations. So, we’re as much about “sense of place” as we are about story.

Growing Right is indebted to the training, support, advice and ridiculous good cheer of so many people in the oral history community. Especial thanks go to: the Oral History Association (OHA), the oral history twitter community, Cory Fischer-Hoffman, Suzanne Snider and Oral History Summer School, Bethany Wiggin, Christina Kim, Sara Wood and the Southern Foodways Alliance, Britt Dahlberg and the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s Center for Applied History and Center for Oral History, Erin Bernhard & the Philly History Truck, Ty Pierce, Doug Boyd, Michael Ann Williams, Erika Brady, Tim Evans, Ann Ferrell, Brooke Bryan, and many, many more that we’re neglecting to name!

Our oral history methods are the product of a specific combination of trainings, including those gathered at the following events, institutes, and programs:

Suzanne Snider’s Oral History Summer School | Cory Fischer Hoffman’s Urban Oral Histories Seminar | The Chemical Heritage Foundation Oral History Institute | The Southern Foodways Alliance’s Oral History Workshop | Berkeley’s Advanced Summer Institute for Oral History | The Dept. of Folk Studies + Anthropology at Western Kentucky University | Penn Program in Environmental Humanities | the Eastwick Oral History Project | The Ohio History Connection’s Oral History Program | The Kentucky Oral History Commission | The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress

All oral histories for Growing Right are conducted by folklorist and oral historian Jess Lamar Reece Holler, using a Marantz PMD-660, PMD-661 and TASCAM 100MKII audio recorders with a combination of shotgun, condenser and cardioid XLR microphones, with varying degrees of skill & aplomb.