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December 06, 2016
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Telling stories, preserving traditions

Library patrons can check out simple-to-use audio recorders from the Western Sullivan Public Library to use for conducting oral history interviews.

December 13, 2013

[Laura Moran is a librarian at the Western Sullivan Public Library, where she oversees the library’s oral history project and offers training to people interested in learning how to conduct oral-history interviews. The next training session will be held on Wednesday, December 18 at 4:30 p.m. at the Jeffersonville Branch at 19 Center St., Jeffersonville. For Moran, recorded oral histories are collaborations among the interviewer, the interviewee and a third, yet-to-be-determined person of the future who will one day listen to the recording. She calls oral history “the raw material for historians.” The River Reporter (TRR) asked Moran to talk about oral history starting with some thoughts appropriate to the holiday season.]

TRR: Keeping long-standing family traditions is sometimes hard to do in our modern world. Traditions get lost or fall away—Grandma’s recipe for potato pancakes, the tradition of cutting down your own Christmas tree. During this holiday season, what kinds of things might an oral historian want to ask about during his time of year?

Traditions. How did we celebrate 100 years ago, 50 years ago, 20 years ago? What is the same, what is different. If different, how so? If the same, how did those traditions manage to survive? Learning not only the traditions, but also how to preserve them helps to carry those traditions into the future.

TRR: What long-standing traditions does your family have during the holiday season? And what does your family to do make sure they are passed on?

MORAN: My immediate family is small and loves to get together—yet we are so far apart. When we do manage to travel, we always relive our family myths. We are the only ones who know them and it is comforting to laugh and cry with others who lived through the same things. As the years pass and events fade, they also change. The very act of remembrance changes the way we remember. We try to keep alive the memory of those who have passed on—like my grandmother, Helen Nicholas, whose repartee was lighting quick, whose storytelling opened my imagination at a very early age. We tell her stories and stories of her to her grandchildren. I wish that I had recorded her before she passed on…

What are a couple of examples (great stories you’ve come across) conducting oral history interviews yourself?