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Re-thinking the role of the regional oral history organization

By Jason Steinhauer

Jason Steinhauer. Photo by Amanda Reynolds
Jason Steinhauer. Photo by Amanda Reynolds
What is the role of a regional oral history organization?

The Board of Officers of Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region (OHMAR) recently wrestled with this question over the course of a year-long strategic planning process. Our organization had reached an inflection point. New technologies, shifting member expectations and changing demographics compelled us to re-think our direction. What could we offer new and existing members that local or national organizations did not —and how would we offer it?

Our strategic planning committee set out to answer these questions, and to chart a course for 2014 and beyond. Four board members served on the committee: Kate Scott of the Senate Historical Office; LuAnn Jones of the National Park Service; Anne Rush of the University of Maryland; and myself, of the Library of Congress, acting as director. OHMAR dates back to 1976 and has been a vibrant organization for nearly 40 years. Therefore, our goal was not to re-invent but rather to re-focus. To start, we identified OHMAR’s core values. We determined them to be:

  • Openness
  • Passion
  • Community
  • Education
  • Expertise


Whatever our new direction, we would stay true to these ideals.

For months, the committee discussed how OHMAR could better serve members with these values in mind. We also polled membership and consulted with past organization presidents about what they valued in OHMAR and what they wanted in the future. What emerged was a plan with several key considerations for how any regional organization can serve its membership:

  • Build community. Through digital technology, formal and informal events, and low-cost membership, regional organizations can foster meaningful professional networks, offer support, and create opportunities for intimate interaction on an ongoing basis.
  • Provide targeted resources. Local knowledge can allow regional organizations like OHMAR to provide targeted educational, professional, and monetary resources. For example, oral historians working for the federal government in and around Washington, D.C., have unique challenges to which OHMAR can provide specific tools, tips, and advice.
  • Leverage expertise. Our region boasts tremendous expertise courtesy of oral historians such as Don Ritchie, Linda Shopes, Roger Horowitz, and more. These experts can help educate new members, especially those from fields such as journalism, the arts, public history, and advocacy on best practices.
  • Offer meaningful opportunities. By forming new committees, we can offer members meaningful ways to get involved and gain leadership experience.


We presented our findings in the form of a new Strategic Plan at our April 2014 annual meeting. The intimate two-day event was attended by more than 60 oral historians and reaffirmed the value of regional conferences. In fact, feedback stated that for some, ours was the best conference they had ever attended. On the afternoon of the second day, our members ratified OHMAR’s Strategic Plan for 2015-2020. Accordingly, next year, we will focus on improving our internal operations, updating our bylaws, and overhauling our website, member management system, and e-newsletter. In the following years, we will also introduce several new initiatives, including a Martha Ross Memorial Prize for students, named for our beloved founder.

We will be discussing our strategic plan and the role of regional oral history organizations in a panel at the Oral History Association’s upcoming 2014 annual meeting in Madison, Wisconsin. We hope you’ll join us and share your ideas.

Jason Steinhauer serves on the Board of Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region (OHMAR). He directed the organization’s strategic planning process from 2013-2014. You can follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonSteinhauer and OHMAR at @OHMidAtlantic.

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 their latest OUPblog posts via email or RSS to preview, learn, connect, discover, and study oral history.

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  1. [...] out to Sea, which came about through a collaboration with Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region (remember them?) and a seminar I taught in Spring 2013. That semester, I worked intensively with six [...]

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