This summer the OMA presented at the annual conference of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) held in our very own state of Oregon!
The OMA presented “Oregon’s LGBTQ+ and Communities of Color: Community-Based Oral History Projects” as part of the session “Building Better Bridges: Strategies & Best Practices for Engaging.” The presentation showcased two oral history projects: one is the product of a collaboration with a history class that focused on the local LGBTQ+ community and the second is called Latinos en Oregón that has so far, expanded to the Latinx communities within four counties in Oregon.
The “Oregon’s LGBTQ+ and Communities of Color: Community-Based Oral History Projects” presentation slides and notes are available below, and a PDF is available online
Natalia Fernández is the curator of the Oregon Multicultural Archives and OSU Queer Archives and is an associate professor at Oregon State University. Natalia collaborates with LGBTQIA and communities of color to empower them to preserve, share, and celebrate their stories. Her work includes collection development, instruction, and exhibit curation. Natalia will discuss two oral history projects: one is the product of a collaboration with a history class that focused on the local LGBTQ+ community and the second is called Latinos en Oregón that has so far, expanded to the Latinx communities within four counties in Oregon.
For communities who have been traditionally marginalized in both the historical record and in historiography, oral histories can be a form of empowerment, a way in which community members can literally add their voice to the historical narrative. In addition, the process of a community sharing its stories can be personal opportunities for self-reflection, an appreciation for the struggles endured, and a celebration of the community’s accomplishments thus far. My current work on two oral history projects are the results of collaborations that enable – in one case, university students and in another, community members – the opportunity to engage with their local communities by conducting oral history interviews with groups that are traditionally underrepresented within the archival record. These groups include members of the LGBTQ+ community as well as members within Oregon’s Latinx communities.
Based on these two projects, a few ideas for best practices that have emerged for me include: 1) building relationships with individuals who have pre-existing, strong, and trusting relationships with community members, 2) developing workshops to directly train interviewers and well as developing “train the trainer” workshops in order to build project capacity and sustainability, 3) providing online access to the interviews gathered and metadata about them, and lastly, 4) brainstorming and implementing ways to celebrate the stories shared.
For the OSU Queer Archives Oral History Project, I collaborated with an upper division history course in which students conducted interviewers with members of the local county’s LGBTQ+ community and its allies. One of the most fruitful class sessions was one in which I conducted a live oral history interview, and afterwards, co-facilitated a number of small group activities for students to brainstorm interview questions for their interviewees. Other successes within the class included students conducting pre-interviews with their interviewees, the use of an interview check list, and an end of the course reception in the archives for all the students and interviewees to gather and celebrate. In total, two course collaborations have resulted in 20 interviews added to the OSU Queer Archives.
For the Latinos en Oregón oral history project, due to it’s geographic scope of now being in 4 counties relatively far from my location, I needed to develop a model that would ensure project capacity and sustainability. This meant seeing myself more as an oral history consultant and project archivist who worked in collaboration with a variety of partners that together were the ones to lead the project efforts within their respective communities. Using the “train the trainer” model for this project has facilitated more project autonomy for the local communities as well as more time for me to focus on facilitating interview access and working on metadata creation. Another successful project component has been creating unique google drive accounts for each project team to share content such as training materials, as well as interview files for me to download and archive. Also, with each community determining how to showcase the stories gathered, communities are able to both celebrate the stories gathered thus far and encourage others to share their histories. Examples include playing interview clips as part of local events and curating exhibits within local historical societies.
With best practices come lessons learned:
- first, when working with community liaisons and project partners, develop strategies to reduce potential biases in project participant selection – examples include: creating an interviewee demographics spreadsheet, establishing a diverse project advisory board, and developing a project promotion plan
- when training interviewers, provide guidance regarding interviewing standards but also be open to the community’s specific needs – examples include sharing interview question templates that are adaptable to each interviewee, as well as determining recording equipment options that are user-friendly, affordable, and if possible, create archival quality
- when providing access to the stories gathered, discuss and plan how to best share the interviews with the community itself to ensure the community’s benefit above that of scholars and non-community members – examples include the use of social media and content access through local historical society archives
- and lastly, when planning for project celebrations, be clear about your role based on your availability and desire to participate, but of course, strongly encourage community celebration and promotion of the stories gathered – examples include curating exhibits within local community centers and/or organizing public programing featuring both project partners and interviewees themselves