Oral History for Michiganians: A Conference (2014)

The event was help on November 7-8, 2014 at the Michigan HIstorical Center in Lansing

The 2014 conference was open to everyone – practitioners, would-be practitioners, and all who use recorded interviews as historical documents. The event followed the tradition begun by the Michigan Oral History Council, thirty-five years prior. The goal was to educate  for excellence in methodology, techniques, curating, preservation and use. The organization encouraged individuals and institutions involved with the creation and preservation of oral history to uphold certain principles, professional and technical standards and obligations through conferences, workshops, consultant service and publication.

We were honored to partner with the Michigan Historical Center and Archives of Michigan in offering this event. Several history related groups and individuals joined in support. A rich mix of presenters designed sessions that focused on:

  • Oral History as a historical document for research and writing
  • Recognition and study of ethnic groups
  • Use and benefits of projects conducted by students
  • Information about fast changing technology, and 
  • Adherence to Best Practices and Principles recommended by the Oral History Association

As part of the event, a documentary viewing was held as part of the Friday Evening Conference Program

“For the 25” is a documentary film that chronicles the experience of four Marine scout snipers before, during, and after combat in Afghanistan. Based on oral history testimony, the film talks candidly about the hardships (and humor) these men experienced in war and how those struggles continued as they readjusted to life with varying  degrees of PTSD. Created in Michigan by Michigan filmmakers for college credit, the film at that time had been viewed by close to 1,000,000 times including three screening/film festivals; and has been shown in PTSD and veteran hospitals as a therapeutic tool. This presentation focused on the benefits of oral history and oral history-based film making. It was introduced by Jeffrey Chamley, Michigan State University professor and former President of MOHA, and presented by Rebecca Zantjer whose thesis work partially investigates the way oral history methods and theories can be applied to make technology more useful and inclusive.

Martha Aladjim Bloomield – A Conference Presenter Comments on Presentation Topic

Martha Aladjim Bloomfield, author, oral historian, artist and photographer,who specializes in sharing stories of marginalized people, presented on the importance of voice in historical research as part of the Saturday morning Conference program.

She wrote:

“Primary research and secondary sources give context to each other to tell a people’s history. Specifically, personal stories help paint a more complete historical picture with depth and breadth that complement the facts and events of a specific era.”

“Interviewees provide their dimensions and meaning to more traditional historical texts when they share their stories that reveal their own memories, experiences, struggles, challenges, hopes, and dreams. When provided the opportunity, they often also share family artifacts — three dimensional objects, documents, photographs, journals, and letters that enhance and validate their stories. When others tell these  people’s stories, they necessarily infuse their own interpretation with different meaning and facts.”

“Of particular interest to me are the stories of refugees, immigrants, migrants, and the homeless — those who are marginalized from the greater society and whose stories we do not often hear directly which are so essential to understanding our society and others throughout the world.”

At the time of the conference, Bloomfield had authored The Sweetness of Freedom,Stories of immigrants (2010) with Steve Ostrander and written My Eyes Feel They Need to Cry; Stories from the Formerly Homeless (2013) and Hmong Americans in Michigan (2014). She was also working on a documentary film with an international team of academics and journalists on the memory and adaptation of Hmong people in the Diaspora. She was also completing a manuscript on Bulgarian Jews on oral History interviews she conducted in Bulgaria in the spring 2013.

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