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How to survive election season, oral history style

By Caitlin Tyler-Richards


Every presidential election, similar concerns arise: Don’t the campaign ads seem especially vicious? Has the media coverage always been this crazed? Will we ever actually get to vote? While I know many who become more motivated the more absurd the election season becomes, I tend to become disenchanted with the whole process, wondering how my one small vote could compete against the Koch Brothers or Morgan Freeman.

Believe it or not, to keep the thoughts of voter purges and new ID laws from sending me into a blind panic, I’ve taken to trolling through online archives dealing with civil rights and past elections. Yes, this historian-in-training finds a disturbingly academic comfort in undertakings like the University of Southern Mississippi’s Civil Rights Documentation Project and the American Folklife Center’s Civil Rights History Project. I have spent an absurd amount of time listening to interviews from the Southern Oral History Program’s Long Civil Rights Era Initiative. I like to think my mother and my 10th grade social studies teacher would be extremely proud.

A group of African-American children gather around a sign and booth to register voters. Early 1960s. Image courtesy of Kheel Center, Cornell University.

I’ve also found refuge in more contemporary interviews and analyses, such as the Miller Center’s take on the October 3rd presidential debate. The Miller Center actually boasts a lovely and comprehensive presidential oral history program that not only documents the lives of past presidents, but also covers special topics like the life of Senator Edward Kennedy and White House speechwriters. The two other projects I’ve stumbled upon are Louis B. Nunn Center for Oral History’s project on how religion impacted the 1960 presidential election in Kentucky, and the “Slaying the Dragon of Debt” by the Regional Oral History Office of the Bancroft Library at the University of California–Berkeley, which examines fiscal policy and national debt since the 1970s.

Between the panicky pronouncements from Walker, Texas Ranger and threats of rioting on Twitter, it’s hard not to get caught up in the maelstrom of the campaign season. However, history — and oral history in particular — helps it keep it all in perspective of the larger struggle towards whatever ideal USA one holds dear (mine features chocolate and a public option). While I would not dissuade anyone from worrying over the outcome of November 6th, it’s good to remember that we’ve been on this roller coaster before, succeeded and failed by a variety of metrics. And we’ll do it again.

See you at the polls.

Caitlin Tyler-Richards is the new editorial/ media assistant at the Oral History Review. When not sharing profound witticisms at @OralHistReview, Caitlin pursues a PhD in African History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research revolves around the intersection of West African history, literature and identity construction, as well as a fledgling interest in digital humanities. Before coming to Madison, Caitlin worked for the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice at Georgetown University.

The Oral History Review, published by the Oral History Association, is the U.S. journal of record for the theory and practice of oral history. Its primary mission is to explore the nature and significance of oral history and advance understanding of the field among scholars, educators, practitioners, and the general public. Follow them on Twitter at @oralhistreview and like them on Facebook to preview the latest from the Review, learn about other oral history projects, connect with oral history centers across the world, and discover topics that you may have thought were even remotely connected to the study of oral history. Keep an eye out for upcoming posts on the OUPblog for addendum to past articles, interviews with scholars in oral history and related fields, and fieldnotes on conferences, workshops, etc.

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One Response to “How to survive election season, oral history style”
  1. [...] called oral history, we continue to address issues that are relevant today. It informs and provides perspective on current issues, and some history is lived every [...]

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