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The power of a story: Hundreds expected for Oral History Association conference

October 6, 2014

Wisconsin, and Madison in particular, will be front and center during the Oral History Association’s 48th annual meeting.

The meeting will take place at the Madison Concourse Hotel from Oct. 8-12. This year’s theme, “Oral History in Motion: Movements, Transformations, and the Power of Story,” speaks to the rich history of Wisconsin, and Madison, says Ed Van Gemert, University of WisconsinMadison vice provost for libraries and university librarian.

“We are thrilled to host this year’s meeting. Madison is a fascinating cultural hub, and the perfect place to look at the evolution of oral history,” Van Gemert says. “Between the Wisconsin Idea, and serving as a major center of social movements for decades, we have the opportunity to showcase the importance of oral history.”

The gathering is expected to attract more than 500 librarians, historians, archivists and educators from around the country. The event will include sessions in oral history and social change, preservation and access, and community history, among others. Discussions will focus on the myriad new possibilities, and challenges, created by the digital revolution in the collection, curation, presentation and preservation of oral history. 

“Oral history is one of a kind material that libraries, like UWMadison, need to take ownership in showcasing,” says Troy Reeves, head of the Oral History Program with UW-Madison Archives. “UW’s Oral History Program, the materials available through our Archives and Special Collections, and countless other resources within the UW Libraries, offer the public a unique and personal look into history.”

Photo: Dow protesters

Dow protesters demonstrate on the UW–Madison campus in 1967.

Photo: UW Archives and UW Digital Collections

During the week, performances highlighting important moments in Madison history will be available to the public. A special staged performance of “Uncivil Disobedience” will take place on Oct. 8. The piece highlights the thunderous events of the anti-war movement during the Vietnam War-era, including the 1970 bombing of UWMadison’s Sterling Hall. On Oct. 10, the documentary “Private Violence,” which addresses the history of domestic violence against women, will be screened at the Madison Public Library’s central branch. Jazz great and UWMadison professor Richard Davis will also provide an oral history interview on Oct. 11.

“We have been delighted with the local response to the conference,” says Oral History Association executive director Cliff Kuhn. “The enthusiasm among people in Madison has been tremendous. We anticipate a great exchange between local residents interested in oral history and practitioners from across the country and even the world.”

Coordinators hope the hands-on workshops and public events raise awareness of not only oral history, but the libraries’ roles in documenting for the future. The OHA meeting is sponsored by the UWMadison Libraries, Department of History, Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, and the School of Music, and is funded in part by the Humanities Council.

More details on events open to the public

— Natasha Veeser