Keeping True to Our Politics & Taking it Back Home

The Oral History Association has developed and refined a set of ethical guidelines and best practices, many of which are relevant and helpful for practitioners doing oral history in a social movement context. But there are also unique values, challenges and commitments informing movement work and infusing movement culture that can affect how one approaches oral history when undertaken with an explicit political, transformational purpose. The heart of Friday’s Groundswell discussions revolved around these practical and ethical challenges we face in doing our work.

For the morning’s “Keeping True” session, we split into three small groups (imperfectly) assembled according to the following “types” of oral history work: Oral History Archiving, Production & Distribution; Community-Based Process; and Oral History Activism from the Academy. Each small group was encouraged to draw from their own oral history-based practice in exploring a series of questions related to accountability, collaboration, and equity. After lunch, participants were invited to self-select into groups of three for small group “problem-solving workshops.”1 Over the course of the day’s discussions, three overarching themes seemed to emerge: accountability, narrator participation, and the particular dynamics of the settings and institutions that serve as the primary “homes” for practitioners’ work.