With the popularity of podcasts and the ease of technology, oral history is more accessible than ever. Podcasts like StoryCorps and the Southern Oral History Program’s Press Record share crowd-sourced and academic oral histories with the general public. StoryCorps however, is the newest generation of oral history work that disrupts the traditional practice. Instead of Studs Terkel holding a microphone and asking questions, StoryCorps deputizes the general public to participate in making a “history of America by America for America.” Traveling StoryCorps booths have captured thousands of stories and challenge the traditional narrative of history. However, StoryCorps is more than just a guaranteed weepy “driveway moment”. Its effect is opening new doors for shared authority in museums.
When I visited the NMHAAC this winter I was struck by the curatorial approach of collecting a “people’s history”. Seeing objects that belonged to people whose names are not in American textbooks was inspiring. However, I was most interested in the oral history booths located throughout the main exhibit. The booths allow individuals to continue to share their stories, adding to the diverse history celebrated at the NMHAAC. Most importantly, recording oral histories through the NMAAHC offers a chance to fill in the silences of American history. American history has largely ignored the African-American experience and recording oral histories at this place, on the National Mall, powerfully acknowledges the importance of African-American lives and culture.The future for museums and cultural institutions is embracing shared authority. Using oral history as a tool for community engagement is crucial to garnering interest in an institution and remaining relevant. More museums should follow the lead of the NMAAHC and embrace
The future for museums and cultural institutions is embracing shared authority. Using oral history as a tool for community engagement is crucial to garnering interest in an institution and remaining relevant. More museums should follow the lead of the NMAAHC and embrace crowd-sourced oral history to add people’s voices and stories to the formal collection.