Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Oral history, collective memory, and community among cloistered nuns

By Caitlin Tyler-Richards


This week, managing editor Troy Reeves speaks with scholar and artist Abbie Reese about her recently published book, Dedicated to God: An Oral History of Cloistered Nuns. Through an exquisite blend of oral and visual narratives, Reese shares the stories of the Poor Clare Colettine Order, a multigenerational group of cloistered contemplative nuns living in Rockford, Illinois. Among other issues, Reese’s photographs and interviews raise valuable questions about collective memory formation and community building in a space marked by anonymity and silence.

A metal grille is the literal and symbolic separation and reflection of the nuns' vow of enclosure. The Poor Clare Colettine nuns film Abbie Reese, in this screenshot, for a collaborative ethnographic documentary film in-progress by Abbie and the nuns. Courtesy of Abbie Reese.
A metal grille is the literal and symbolic separation and reflection of the nuns’ vow of enclosure. The Poor Clare Colettine nuns film Abbie Reese for a collaborative ethnographic documentary. Courtesy of Abbie Reese.

In her interview with Troy, Reese talks about how popular culture sparked her interest in nuns and what it was like to work with the real women of the Poor Clare Colettine Order. Reese also discusses how she came to incorporate oral history into her work as a visual artist and her next, upcoming project.



Reese was also kind enough to share an excerpt from an interview with Sister Mary Nicolette. When sending the clip, Reese noted, “Her voice is hoarse from the interview because the nuns observe monastic silence, speaking only what is necessary to complete a task.”


You can see and hear more from the Poor Clare Colettine Order at Reese’s online exhibit Erased from the Landscape: The Hidden Lives of Cloistered Nuns.



Abbie Reese is an independent scholar and interdisciplinary artist who utilizes oral history and ethnographic methodologies to explore individual and cultural identity. She received an MFA in visual arts from the University of Chicago and was a fellow at the Columbia University Oral History Research Office Summer Institute. She is the author of Dedicated to God: An Oral History of Cloistered Nuns, and her multimedia exhibit, Erased from the Landscape: The Hidden Lives of Cloistered Nuns, has been shown in galleries and museums.

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, like them on Facebook, add them to your circles on Google Plus, follow them on Tumblr, listen to them on Soundcloud, or follow the latest Oral History Review posts on the OUPblog via email or RSS to preview, learn, connect, discover, and study oral history.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only history articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

Recent Comments

  1. [...] Oxford University Press lets us peer into the world of cloistered nuns through Abbie Reese’s book Dedicated to God: An Oral History of Cloistered Nuns. This post features an interview between Reese and managing editor Troy Reeves about this visual and oral narrative. There’s also a bonus clip from Reese’s conversation with Sister Mary Nicolette! [...]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *