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Orality, Affective Power, and Activism: Making Oral History Art

Thu, October 5, 8:30 to 10:00am, Hilton Minneapolis, Marquette III

Session Submission Type: Mini-workshop


"Oral histories teach us things; but they also make us feel. Indeed, these unique affective qualities guide our interpretations. Many of us oral historians – of the academy and the community – delight in the process of communicating the affective power of orality to our various publics. However, our meaning-making often becomes a process of transmutation: from the aural to the textual. While textual renderings can communicate a narrator’s spoken words, does a shift from aural to textual diminish orality’s affective power? Perhaps “oral history art” – that explores visual, object-based, and audio mediums – could offer stronger approximations of narrators, and importantly, help us engage a broader range of publics. Conversely: how might oral histories add new dimensions to creative projects? And what might this mean for activist work?

In this mini-workshop, we invite oral historians to consider alternative outcomes for their oral history projects. In particular, we will consider artistic production – in its many forms – as expressions that pose new opportunities for interpretation and engagement. Through formats of experimental film, sound art, and vernacular materialism, participants will see and hear storytelling works that address race and place, abortion and documentation, intergenerational memory and queer lineage, and embodied ecologies. Then, borrowing methods from sound studies and other fields, the mini-workshop will transition into a communal activity of artistic listening. Participants will collectively create “oral history art” to reimagine public engagement and think deeply about the creative potential for their own oral history projects.

Throughout the session, panelists and attendees will discuss how creative interpretations of oral histories engage the publics. Together, we will pose questions on representation and misrepresentation. We will ask what disadvantages might occur in a retreat from textual analysis. Lastly, we will consider aural and visual ableism and how our work should consider publics of varying abilities."

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