Apr. 14: Who Gets to Tell the Story?: A Fresh Approach to Collaborating with Activists to Create Archives

WHERE: Pupin Hall, Northwest Corner of Columbia University campus, Room 420

Although we live in an era of unprecedented “democratized documentation” where everyone with a smart phone can save millions of pieces of information about their lives, what is ever-elusive are practices to guide the gathering, contextualization, and distribution of oral history & documentary material from people who do not habitually frequent or donate to oral history centers. If we do not develop a rich, vibrant set of such practices, we will remain very good repositories for people who want to tell stories of the powerful from the inside-out, and we may remain okay at telling stories aboutthose on the margins. But we will continue to deny future generations the stories from people at the margins that are told by people living at the margins -- that is, marginal stories told from the inside out. As activist Cynthia Brown notes, “Those most directly impacted by injustice should be at the forefront of any activism that is happening for change.” The reason, she said, was simple: “When your life does not depend on the outcome of whatever you are fighting for, you will compromise at a place where people who are impacted by the outcome would never compromise.” This is also true for those of us engaged in building oral histories. People most impacted by historical injustice should be at the forefront of any archival collection documenting their lives. Those on the margins need to tell stories on their own terms, and make the key decisions about how those stories are collected, archived, contextualized and disseminated to the public. If they’re not at the center of the decision-making, our knowledge base of their lives is dramatically limited. This talk will examine how we’ve piloted this in a multi-year collaboration between the civil rights group SNCC and CDS, “The SNCC Digital Gateway: Learning From the Past, Organizing for the Future, Making Democracy Work.”

Wesley Hogan is the director of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University and teaches the history of youth social movements, African American history, women’s history and oral history. Her book on SNCC, Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC and the Dream for a New America (2007), won the Lillian Smith Book Award, the Scott-Bills Memorial Prize for best work in peace history, and the Library of Virginia nonfiction literary award. She was the co-director of the Institute for the Study of Race Relations at Virginia State University from 2006-2009, whose mission is to bring together community organizers, researchers, and young leaders to promote healthy communities. Between 2004-2008, she was active with the project bringing together the Algebra Project, the Young People’s Project and the Petersburg City Public Schools, and coordinated an oral history project of the civil rights movement in Petersburg. She is currently working on a post-1960s history of young people organizing in the spirit of Ella Baker, and co-facilitates a partnership between the SNCC Legacy Project and Duke, “The SNCC Digital Gateway: Learning From the Past, Organizing for the Future, Making Democracy Work,” whose purpose is to bring the grassroots stories of the civil rights movement to a much wider public through a web portal, K12 initiative, and set of critical oral histories.