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April 24, 2014

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Workshop Encourages Oral History To Preserve The Past

Originally published: 2013-10-07 11:00:27
Last modified: 2013-10-07 11:03:04



Each person's story is a thread in the fabric of history and is worth preserving.

That message was a key theme during Friday and Saturday's "Echoes of Emancipation: One Region, Many Voices" conference at Tusculum College.

Those in attendance were aided in digitizing their personal records and encouraged to orally share their own life story, or that of their family.

"The whole point is to motivate people to preserve their own story, to tell their own story and use those stories to look forward -- not to look backwards but to look forward and say, 'Hey, these people did it. Look at what they confronted. They did it. Look at what we need to tackle; we can do it too,'" said Dr. Beth Vanlandingham, a key event organizer and a professor from Carson-Newman University.

Many workshops during the two-day conference focused on this theme, including a workshop presentation prepared by Lizzie Watts, superintendent of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site.

The session was entitled "Asking Good Questions: An Oral History Workshop."

This workshop was held in conjunction with another, "Preserving Your Family Artifacts and Papers," by archivist Kathy Cuff, of Tusculum College.

Because of the federal government shutdown and the related furlough of National Park Service employees, Watts was unable to give the presentation she had prepared.

Instead, Dollie Boyd, of Tusculum College, gave the presentation in Watts' place, although Watts was in attendance as a private citizen.

The workshop encouraged digital recordings of family and community histories.

The value of an actual recording, rather than simply a manuscript, is the ability to preserve the vernacular of a region, Boyd said.

Keep the "salty language" and grammatical errors if possible, but be respectful of the interviewees' wishes, she added.

"If they tell you, 'You'd better not put this in there,' you'd better not," she said, laughing.

Key elements to a successful interview, Boyd said, are a list of questions, comfortable surroundings, an unobtrusive recording device, and objects that trigger stories, memories, feelings and sounds.

Maps are also excellent for determining where events occurred and for prompting additional discussion, she added.

Other places to search for family history or to use to jog memories can be family Bibles, photographs, diaries, scrapbooks and quilts.

"The women of the family tend to be the savers," Boyd said. "They tell the stories."

While it can be tempting to a family to skip over the things that are painful, Boyd encouraged interviewers to be patient.

"My best advice for oral history is just to let it flow," she said. "If there's an important topic you need to talk about, you'll get there."

For more information and stories, see The Greeneville Sun.

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