Saturday, November 12, 2005

Oral History Association Meeting - Providence, Rhode Island

The Oral History Association Annual Meeting November 1-5, 2005

Although I have attended the Oral History Association (OHA) sessions at the annual Organization of American Historians (OAH) meetings, this was the first Oral History Annual Meeting I attended. Similar to the Western History Association, it is a mix of all types of people who do oral history and those with the technical expertise to do interviews, and/or transcribe and all the way to those who come from the recording industry and know all about the algorithms that affect same. In fact, I arrived a day early to be sure to be there for the start of the session on digital technology and new media. While much of it is was beyond what I needed, the man running the session from Kentucky was even more helpful than he was an expert on recording equipment and production software. I also met an interesting woman who runs the oral history program at North Carolina State in Charlotte and will have to check out the online components of her program. Among other things, that collection includes oral histories with photographers of NASCAR drivers.

I had arrived too late the first evening to venture beyond the hotel. The Providence Marriott immediately reminded me of a dated 1970s Holiday Inn Holidome. It was ample for our setting but was set apart from the downtown area with enough dark space in between that I found out later I should not have been walking through there by myself. The capitol building was part of what lay between our hotel and the newly revitalized downtown and was more than safe during the day – if you don’t count the drivers turning right on red without watching for pedestrians in crosswalks who have been given their own green light. On that note, the most interesting observation I made was a woman driving with a real problem. She was on her cell phone without a hands-free kit and also talked with her hands. She had adapted to the situation by leaning the top half of her body against the steering wheel and actually appeared to be driving with her elbows as her arms flailed around – her left arm more than the other since she had her cell phone in her right hand. It was also interesting to see the progression of traffic – or lack thereof – because so many people were either talking on their phones or getting ready to dial their next number. Apparently Rhode Island has passed a law against talking on cell phones while driving but is not yet enforcing it.

The Bluefin Grille was not impressive even for being in a Marriott and I did have lobster bisque and a salad the first night since I knew I needed something to eat. But that was my only meal there. Later in the meeting, someone commented that only a few years ago, this was the place to be because downtown was so dangerous and the large hotels there had either not been renovated or not been built. The Westin looks amazing, by the way. We were right along I-95 for most of the time and it clearly reminded me of the overcrowding of the East Coast – with rush hour beginning at 3:30 and a sea of slowly creeping cars. Of course, there was more a vibrant air to the hotel once everyone started arriving for the conference the next day.

Before going to the digital technology workshop at 1pm, I ventured down that morning to walk around and explore the town a bit. So far, I am doing well with my new regime of getting at least some significant exercise while I am traveling since it had begun to catch up with me and, furthermore, is part of my more focused goal of just plain taking care of myself. Although I headed the wrong direction to find Brown University, I did get there eventually and, just before you arrive near the campus, I came across a wonderful bagel and coffee shops.

While bagels have indeed arrived in Kansas, unless you go to a specialized bakery or bagel chain, they just taste like chewy bread since there is an art to actually backing them. And, I do know enough about them to know that some think they needed to be boiled. I also noticed that Caffe Panne had cinnamon rolls and hoped to have the opportunity to try those once my craving for bagels was satisfied. As I entered, it became clear very quickly that this was a neighborhood place and everyone was very friendly to the young woman working behind the counter. The gentleman who was explaining the menu to me the first day reminded me of the former star of Boston Commons who is now co-starring in Yes, Dear. But he was much more handsome. That was a nice way to start the day.

I spent the rest of the morning walking around the Brown campus. One of my absolute favorite things is to walk around a college bookstore – especially one that is for a bigger campus than ours. I look to see what the faculty authors have published as well as some branded clothing that might be interesting. I did find some long sweatpants that were NOT gathered at the bottom as well as some interesting books. One faculty author has written about the government and the internet and how the federal government especially is trying to utilize the internet to get information out to people. This seems to be especially appropriate background reading for my first meeting as a member of the National Archives Electronic Records Advisory Committee meeting later this month in DC. It is a policy book and I am anxious to see how the reading goes.

I walked around the shopping area near the campus and found a pair of water shoes to use for the kayak. For lunch, I stopped at a Mediterranean café and took home some hummus and tabouli (sp?) along with some large flatbread for dipping. It was very good and not something we normally have in Pittsburg. I first ate similar food from a gourmet grocery store in Pensacola while I was teaching at the University of West Florida. I remember having to be careful whenever I ordered in that store or they would also give you a bit more than you asked for in order to be able to charge you more. It was amazing how often a quarter of a pound ended up saying .47 on the scale. I quickly learned how to say I want “up to a quarter of a pound.” ?

I also picked up a book called Faculty Towers authored by an English professor. The book details the impact of the academic novel on her life – she was reading them even before she considered becoming a professor. I’ve always enjoyed academic novels and as I finished reading it while I was waiting for my plane today, I think it’s given me some ideas of where to find more such novels to read. The author detailed not only American novels about academic life but also those set in England. Well, I’m a bit tired of the English approach to the world after so many Bridget Jones’ Diary-style books I picked up were also set in England. I was more thirsty for those set in a more familiar territory and will probably repeat that pattern with the academic novel. At this juncture, it also appears that academic life in the United States and in Great Britain vary much more than the differences in single life between the two nations. That judgment arises from my knowledge of the English higher education system.

Wednesday evening I ventured up to the McCormick and Schmick’s Restaurant since I knew that I wanted some good seafood. I tried a broiled lobster since I usually have it boiled. It was a nice evening in a nice restaurant.

Although there was a morning session I wanted to attend the next day as the meeting expanded into full swing, I did return to the breakfast shop and had to have another bagel but also took home a cinnamon roll. The conference program stated that there would be a “working lunch” and I ended up eating this cinnamon roll then. I was quite amazed to discover that it was still so fresh it did not need any heating up.

I found it quite interesting at the session about doing interviews with Iraq War veterans that one of the presenters who said he was a protestor during the Vietnam era also called himself a veteran of the Vietnam war. I don’t think it’s quite the same as going halfway around the world and risking your life. But he apparently thinks so. It also shows how much our culture has changed and how the sixties are slowly dying a very slow death.

The two best sessions I went to as part of the regular conference was one in which representatives of Drake University in Iowa and Millersville in Pennsylvania talked about how they are using oral history to document the history of their universities. They also discussed the connections with their alumni and fund-raising departments. Food for thought – especially as our longtime Vice President for Academic Affairs and former History Department Chairman retires and as our faculty member who has been in our department since 1959 still teaches. They are definitely people whose memories need to be recorded before it’s too late. Getting the story before it’s too late, however, is the backbone of oral history and always the dark cloud hanging over you.

The other excellent session was about education professionals from the elementary through the college levels and their work with oral history with pre-service teachers and students. Again, more good ideas. Oral history only became recognized as a discipline in the 1960s. Before that, it was mostly the domain of folklorists. And, only for about the last twenty years has anyone been documenting its use in education. As the nation’s NCLB mandates focus our attention more on hands-on learning that is also tied to the state standards, oral history appears to be an excellent approach for that. There were numerous good ideas to utilize as we implement our Kansas Humanities Council grant on immigrants telling their stories to local schoolchildren.

Thursday evening Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson came to speak to us and did a superb job. And that is saying a great deal since colonial history is not necessarily my favorite. Friday I attended the newcomers breakfast which was fun. Of course, the breakfast roll did not match the one from the bakery.

For dinner Thursday evening I headed to Federal Hill on the trolley and came back in time so that I could also take the trolley back and not take another risky walk around the capitol after dark. I went to the site recommended by the oral historians hosting the meeting but found that they had quit serving at 3:30. I walked around this Italian market in amazement. I’m afraid I would weigh 300 pounds if I had regular access to a market like that. So I ventured across the street to their restaurant and had a limoncello martini before dinner. The meal was good but I was looking forward to returning to the market the next day for lunch and was not disappointed. The mussels were outstanding and I bought some pizelles to take home. I love almost anything with anise flavoring.

I arrived back at the meeting in time on Friday to attend the session on oral history and the law. It was a good update and provided much useful information. Later on Friday I was introduced to some great bourbon and have discovered I acquired a taste for it. I usually have to mix Coke or Dr. Pepper with my whisky but this bourbon was smoother than I imagined. Dinner at AquaViva was simply outstanding as was the company. The goat cheese with tomato sauce appetizer was simply outstanding as was the shrimp and asparagus risotto. The Chianti wine was the perfect adult beverage. Our walk back was a great way to say goodbye to Federal Hill and the rest of the city.

Early this morning I took the Amtrak from Providence back to Boston. The train was just late enough to prevent me from getting on an earlier flight but I decided to sit and read and have a shrimp cocktail at Legal’s Test Kitchen before leaving Boston. If all goes well with one of my other projects, I will be back in Boston in January.

Thank goodness I’ll have tomorrow to recoup before getting back to teaching. I wasn’t home much of the last month and it’s starting to catch up with me. I’m so glad the OHA meeting was such a worthwhile and timely experience but I am also thankful that I only have to travel to Kansas City for the upcoming National Council for the Social Studies meeting.

Comments: Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]