OHA@50: Traditions, Transitions and Technologies from the Field


Part celebration of a half-century’s accomplishments and part a peek into what lies ahead for oral history, the 50th anniversary of the Oral History Association is set for Oct. 12-16 in Long Beach, California.  Meeting in conjunction with the Southwest Oral History Association, the conference will feature more than 100 sessions, workshops, plenary speakers, awards presentations and off-site tours to engage oral historians from around the world.

The 50th anniversary celebration is set for Thursday evening, Oct. 13, at Long Beach harbor’s Aquarium of the Pacific. Here are some highlights of what else is in store, with a rundown of the plenary sessions, keynote, workshops, tours, and more.

Plenary sessions call for reflection

 OHA conference attendees can grapple with observations about the past and future of oral history at two plenary sessions.

“Oral History, Now (and Tomorrow)” is the theme of the Thursday, Oct. 13 plenary session featuring remarks by oral historians and OHA leaders Doug Boyd, Paul Ortiz, Stephen Sloan, Amy Starecheski and Natalie Fousekis.  They will address various developments in the field, such as increased professionalization, the use of oral history to effect change and to document current events, the rise of story booths as a form of oral history, the impact of technology on oral history and assorted ethical questions. Plenary planners hope the session will generate a lively dialogue as oral historians embrace the future.

“Examining Methodology through Interdisciplinary Work” is the theme of the Saturday, Oct. 15, plenary session.  Three scholars and activists from disparate disciplines will reflect on how the interdisciplinary nature of oral history affects how oral history is practiced.  Past OHA president Donald A. Ritchie, historian emeritus of the U.S. Senate, will moderate the discussion.

Panelists scheduled to participate are:

  • Nan Alamilla Boyd, professor of women and gender studies at San Francisco State University and founder of the oral history project at the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco;
  • Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, historian, memoirist, feminist, human rights activist and most recently, author of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States;
  • E. Patrick Johnson, the Carlos Montezuma professor of performance studies and African American studies at Northwestern University.


Keynote speaker is director of USC Shoah Foundation

 Stephen D. Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation—The Institute for Visual History and Education, is the 2016 OHA conference keynote speaker on Friday, Oct. 14. A theologian by training, Smith is particularly interested in the impact of the Holocaust on religious and philosophical thought and practice.

Smith is committed to making the testimony of survivors of the Holocaust and of other crimes against humanity a compelling voice for education and action. Through his leadership, the institute focuses on finding ways to optimize the effectiveness of the testimonies for education, research, and advocacy.

He founded the UK Holocaust Centre in Nottinghamshire, England and cofounded the Aegis Trust for the prevention of crimes against humanity and genocide. He was also the inaugural Chairman of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, which runs the National Holocaust Memorial Day in the United Kingdom.

Smith is involved in memorial projects around the world. He is a delegate of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.  He was the project director responsible for the creation of the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in Rwanda and trustee of the South Africa Holocaust and Genocide Foundation.


Workshops offer opportunities to hone oral history skills

Four workshops on Wednesday, Oct. 12, and two on Saturday, Oct. 15, will give novice and experienced oral historians a chance to refresh their skills.  Here’s the lineup:

OHMS: Enhancing Access to Oral History Online.  Callie Holmes and Christian Lopez of the University of Georgia will help workshop attendees learn how to use the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS), an open source, free, web-based system to enhance access to oral histories online.

Oral History and the Law. John A. Neuenschwander, a past OHA president and retired history professor and judge, will cover major legal issues that could affect oral historians. Participants will learn about legal release agreements, challenges to restricted interviews, copyright, defamation, orphaned interviews and other matters with legal ramifications for oral history.

Creating Digital Oral History Exhibits. Janneken Smucker of West Chester University will show workshop participants how open source, free and low-cost online tools can make it easy to create oral history exhibits online by embedding audio clips and adding images, maps and other contextual information. Participants are encouraged to bring a laptop computer to check out the options.

Podcasting and Oral History. Molly Graham of Rutgers University and Folklife Research, Inc. will teach the basics of telling stories with sound, including the basics of sound editing, publishing, processing and outreach.

 In the Presence of the Past: An Introduction to Oral History Tools, Techniques and Methodology.  Virginia Espino of Moon Canyon Films will introduce basics of oral history in this Saturday morning workshop.

Creating Brave Spaces for Oral History—Teacher Workshop. Cliff Mayotte and Claire Keifer of Voice of Witness present a hands-on Saturday afternoon workshop for educators that emphasizes oral history as a powerful mode of inquiry. Teachers can earn continuing education credit by registering for both Saturday workshop sessions.


Tours feature art, architecture of Long Beach

 OHA conference attendees can get an expert’s view of the Art Deco buildings that tell the story of the development of Long Beach or an up-close view of contemporary Latin American art by participating in off-site tours on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 15 and 16.

On Saturday morning, John Thomas, president of the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles, will begin a walking tour about the history of Long Beach, beginning at the WPA mural at Third Street and the Promenade, just northeast of the Renaissance Hotel.

On Sunday afternoon, take advantage of the opportunity to visit the Museum of Latin American Art, the nation’s only art museum dedicated to contemporary Latin American art. The museum includes an outdoor sculpture garden, gift shop and restaurant.


International scholarship winners named

 Oral historians from three continents have been awarded scholarships to help defray their costs of attending the Long Beach OHA conference. Five recipients were selected from a strong field of applicants.

Joana Craveiro, Portugal
Marella Hoffman, UK
Meera Anna Oommen, India
Annie Pohlman, Australia
Samantha Prendergast, Australia

The OHA is pleased to be able to offer financial support to oral historians from around the world whose participation in the annual conference adds international perspectives that enrich the event for everyone.


Labor working group urges solidarity with hotel workers

By Paul Ortiz, Labor Working Group

For the past several months, members of OHA’s ad hoc Labor Working Group have been in close contact with representatives of UNITE-HERE, Local 11, which is seeking to organize at the Long Beach Renaissance, the OHA conference hotel that the union is boycotting.

The OHA signed its contract with the Renaissance long before the boycott was announced, and the OHA would face severe financial penalties if it broke the hotel contract. Nonetheless, oral historians attending the conference can show their support for labor in several important ways.

The OHA Labor Working Group has organized an international letter writing campaign in consultation with UNITE-HERE asking that hotel management allow workers to vote for union representation immediately. At the conference, we are organizing a Friday morning informational picket in solidarity with hotel workers that will take place outside of the Renaissance from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. In addition, we are urging annual meeting participants to wear solidarity T-shirts and bumper stickers for the duration of the conference. (T-shirts and bumper stickers will be available for sale at the annual meeting.)

We will also be convening a special OHA Labor Forum Saturday morning between 8:30 and 11:45 at the International Association of Machinists union hall at 319 W. Broadway, just three blocks from the conference hotel, which will include the latest information about the labor situation at the Renaissance.

For information on how to get involved, please contact, Labor Working Group chair Paul Ortiz, ortizprof@gmail.com. Also go to Hotel Updates for more information.

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