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Say It Forward: Empathy and Ethics in Oral History

Fri, October 18, 3:45 to 5:15pm, Sheraton SLC Hotel, Wasatch

Session Submission Type: Mini-workshop


The democratization of oral history makes space for storytellers of all stripes, especially those previously marginalized, to amplify the voices of their communities. But with a platform comes a responsibility toward ethical, inclusive, and empathetic representation. Behind the simple act of asking others to share their stories, there are nuances related to ownership, trust, retraumatization, and sometimes, safety.

As oral historians, we must be mindful that the process of collecting stories is just as important as the stories themselves.

Voice of Witness’s new book, Say It Forward: A Guide to Social Justice Storytelling, offers resources and steps to address power discrepancies, awareness of cultural norms, insider/outsider dynamics, and self-care for interviewers in the oral history process.

This 90 minute interactive workshop will bring Voice of Witness’s ethics-driven oral history methodology to life by examining the development of our upcoming book, How We Go Home: Voices of Native North America.

How We Go Home is a collection of 14 narratives from across Indigenous North America which highlight the human rights issues, past and present, that are shaping Native lives today.

This workshop will explore:

-Creating a brave space for narrators, using listening as a powerful tool for empathy, and grappling with diverse perspectives
-How to approach our relationships with narrators to best serve our work and the communities we support
-Approaches to intergenerational storytelling and positioning individual narratives in a longer historical context

During the workshop, participants will have an opportunity to experience this process as storytellers and active listeners, while nurturing the empathy required for both. We’ll share strategies that connect listening and empathy to engagement, and discuss the ethical choices we make when we share these stories in a public setting.

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