President’s Letter

By Amy Starecheski
November 2021

After the annual meeting the tireless team that leads the Oral History Association is often, well…tired. This year, after our first planned online conference, was no different, although at least we didn’t have to recover from travel fatigue as well as the full inboxes that come alongside full post-conference minds. We took a little break and got back to work, though, because OHA has a lot going on this year!

One major task on which I imagine many members are eager for an update: opening the application portal for our NEH-funded Fellowship Program for Under/Unemployed Oral Historians: Diversifying Oral History Practice. We welcome our selection committee, chaired by OHA First VP Kelly Navies: Paul Ortiz, Daisy Herrera, Dao Tran, Robert Luckett, Marie Cochran, Brian Greenwald and Sara Sinclair. Applications are open now, with a deadline of Jan. 15, 2022.

Most of the rest of our work has been focused on supporting the structures through which members engage in the work of the OHA. Our standing committees met in the weeks after the conference and began their work for the year with new charges and new members. Members passed the necessary bylaw changes at the business meeting to make our new Advocacy, Public Programming, and Development committees official. As they begin their work, stay tuned for new OHA swag, year-round programming for members and resources for oral historians whose work puts them at risk.

We also now officially have a caucus structure, and all we need are members to start making them! Here is the key text from those new bylaws:

            The OHA is defined by its mission and governance documents, but also by the interests, concerns, and needs of its membership. One of the ways these shape the Association is through our caucuses. A caucus is a formally-recognized group within the membership, one defined by a shared identity, interest, or other criteria. The goal of a caucus is to foster community and inclusivity while creating mutually-beneficial relationships within the Association.

            Caucuses are created by members according to their own initiative and interest. Council formally recognizes a Caucus upon their request and in accordance with the goals of the Association. In general, a request for recognition should be made by at least ten (10) members in good standing and include a succinct description of the defining composition of the caucus. Once recognized, caucuses will be advertised within the Association and its membership. They will also be given meeting time within the program of the annual meeting.

            Caucuses have no formal responsibilities to the Association but, as recognized and valued segments of our community, the OHA welcomes their voice, advocacy, and contributions toward strengthening the work of the Association.

            At the annual meeting we saw several OHA task force projects make their public debuts, each of which represents years’ worth of work, and which distill decades of experience.

The Independent Practitioners’ Task Force, co-chaired by Sarah Dziedzic and Jess Lamar Reece Holler, launched two documents. The first is OHA’s Statement on Freelance, Independent, and Contract Oral History Labor, which we can all use to advocate for fair pay and ethical hiring for oral history work. We welcome oral history centers, projects and institutes to sign on to this document. The second is the Independent Practitioners’ Toolkit for Oral Historians, a 55-page comprehensive guide to practicing as an independent oral historian, from managing intellectual property to crafting a budget. One conference attendee shared in a post-conference survey that the session based on these documents included “the best job advice I’ve ever received in my life.” So check them out! And tell us how you’re using them.

The Social Justice Task force also shared a near-final draft of its suite of documents, which co-chair Nishani Frazier highlighted at the opening plenary for the conference. In the coming months we will share final documents for approval by members. At the end of November, Nishani and her co-chair, Cliff Mayotte, will be teaching a free public online workshop, geared to potential applicants to the NEH fellowships, based on these tools and ideas. Registration for the workshop will open alongside the NEH application portal.

Both of these are major contributions to OHA’s ongoing work to advocate for oral historians and for ethical oral history best practices. In the coming year, Council and the new Advocacy Committee will be working to amplify, act on and disseminate the critical insights of these projects.

Some happy news for OHA volunteers: Council voted this month to formalize our recent policy of offering free registration to the annual meeting for active committee and task force members. This is part of a larger conversation: One of the major questions we are wrestling with this year is what it means to have inclusive paths to leadership in OHA.

As outgoing President Dan Kerr noted in his final president’s report, OHA will always be a membership organization that relies heavily on volunteer labor. Some of these volunteer positions require a few hours here and there. Others are very demanding.

How can we make sure that all of this labor is recognized and valued? How can we make sure that those without full-time jobs that support professional service are welcomed into OHA service and leadership? Over the course of this year I will be convening spaces for oral history practitioners–both OHA members and non-members–to discuss these questions. If you would like to help shape these conversations, please reach out.

I have been an OHA member for more than 20 twenty years, have chaired committees, served on Council, organized conferences. But it’s only in this past month, my first as president, that I have truly understood the energy and care that fuels our work.

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