Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fall 2011 Oral Histories

Below you'll find 9 stories recorded by students in the ART 302: Curatorial Studies course. For the project, students could select any person to interview and the parameters of the interview (content, scope). All students asked three common questions (or variations of these, depending upon the person). These include:
1. Who has been the most important person in your life? Can you tell me about him or her?
2. Who has been the kindest to you in your life?
3. Have you shown kindness to anyone? Tell about this experience.

This project has been a highlight of the semester, for many reasons. I hope that you are able to listen in. Note: because the students recorded their interviews on-site with their persons, there may be variances in sound quality and volume. Be ready to adjust your volume on your own computer when you click the DivShare/listen box. Also, it's best to listen to these with headphones.

And, by all means, feel free to leave a comment below any oral history.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Oral History: Interview with Doc Birdwhistell

Photograph of Doc and Sarah taken in the John L. Hill Chapel. Music "Count Your Blessings"

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Oral History: Interview with Christian Gill

Photograph of Jordan and Christian taken at the kitchen table. Music by Ash, "Orpheus"

Oral History: Interview with Ralph Sabato

Photograph of Ralph and Dana in the living room looking at a map of Italy, pointing out Fuscaldo. Music Andrea Bocelli's "Dare to Live"

Oral History: Interview with Mrs. Jane Hope Oldham Fields

Photograph of Jane Hope and Katie taken in the new Rucker Village. Music: “Bridge over Troubled Water” by Aretha Franklin; closing: Cold Play’s “Viva la Vida”

Oral History: Interview with Glenn Stivers

Photograph of an oral history between a father and daught . Music: Pitx's "See you later"

Oral History: Interview with Joan South

Photograph of Portia and Jane. Music: “You Found Me” cover by Vitamin String Quartet

Oral History: Interview with Diane Darrow

Photograph of Diane and Jen at Diane's workplace. Music: “You Found Me” cover by Vitamin String Quartet

Oral History History

(an introduction to the Fall 2011 project with reference to the Fall 2010 inaugural project)

Above: a view of Georgetown College from 1892. Below: the Cochenour Gallery, the Dr. Donald L. and Dorothy Jacobs Collection, and the Anne Wright Wilson Fine Arts Gallery, three exhibition spaces on the Georgetown College Campus.

In the Curatorial Studies class over the past few weeks, we've moved from curating objects to recording information to be placed on the smartPhone app "Take it Artside!" that we helped bring to life last year. (The app was launched in 2010 and GC art is one of the founding educational partners. See info here.) The third part of this transition is to move from the object and its record to the non-object and its story, that is, the oral history. Well, truth be told, the oral history is an actual object, in that it exists in a digital file, but its essence is truly the conversation with others. And readers of this blog will hear more about this project in the coming weeks.

As we transitioned through these projects, though, we engaged in a discussion about "the object." We asked if art, science, history, or any museum needs objects. We read Rainey Tisdale's attempt to answer this question. We mentioned Steven Conn's recent query articulated in a U Penn podcast where Conn points to museum experiences and, in our "museum age", the blending of culture, politics, and commerce, when we venture into a museum and purchase a replica or memento experience in the gift shop!

In museum circles, there is a divide between those who feel the object is essential and those that do not. Take, for example, Google Art Project. Truly, seeing John Constable's Salisbury Cathedral via GoogleArt affords me the opportunity to see a digitization of the canvas. I can see evidence of Constable's brushwork in a way that I cannot, even when I am standing directly in front of this magnificent work in the Frick Collection. There's an enhancement to my experience when I see the canvas through the monitor or screen of my computer. But, this is not a substitution for the painting. I have seen Constable's painting first hand and, after several views of it, I feel I can begin to know about it. And, I can appreciate this opportunity to view a digitization of the painting. But, I also know that this digitization is not the painting itself.

So, you might heed caution against using an app as a substitution for the work of art (or other authentic object). The object - the painting, the sculpture, the installation, the work itself -- is necessary in order to live the experience in most cases. Unless you're David Hockney.

To move from viewing art to educating us about it, I think that one of the most interesting applications of technology to the museum experience is as this type of enhancement that we see hinted in the Google Project. Recently, the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh has connected works of art -- through technology -- to educational purposes. Their fantastic new app affords viewers "a multimedia exploration of Warhol's art and life, combining archival materials, letters, images, film, video and audio clips. It sheds light on more than 50 works that span the artist's career, including Silver Clouds, Sleep, Mao, The Last Supper and Self-Portrait. See information on the Warhol app here.

So, to return to the question above: is the object necessary? Given some of the information above, what do you think?

I first introduced this idea to my students in the Fall 2010. I kept track of the oral histories on the GCVA department blog. They are reposted below (and linked as well, in most cases).

Oral histories from Fall 2010 (the first class that undertook this project):

Oral History: Katie Webb Kneisley by Jacob

Oral History: Patrice Payton by Weezie

Oral History: Velma Adams by Celisa

Oral History: Michael Breidert by Bess

Oral History: Mike Sutherland by David

Introduction to the two-part class project from the Fall 2010: interviews with current students; and then oral histories with someone that the students wished to spend time with:

The focus of the final third of the Curatorial Studies class has centered on Janet Marstine's New Museum Theory and Practice book (image of cover, at right). We've read chapters devoted to agendas and architecture as well as virtual settings and visitor experiences. While students have read the chapters in the book and prepared written responses of them, we've additionally been able to discuss the content by engaging it directly: through projects that we've managed in class and those that are currently underway.

One of these projects, identified as project 4, consists of two parts: interviews and oral histories. For the first part (what we call Project 4a) students were asked to interview four current GC students, in person or via email or other means, about the Christian mission of the college. Each student in the class gave no introduction to the questions to be asked and, as a means of reportage, either wrote out answers exactly (as in a transcript) or summarized, paraphrased, and/or cited critical passages from the interview and discussion as part of a report of this project. There are several insightful comments made by the interviewees as well as keen observations made by the interviewers.

Students were given one week to complete the interviews. The responses from the students and the interviewers' take on them (as well as complexities of this assignment and the practical aspects) were discussed in class. And, for two weeks, in the midst of working on other projects, we discussed what we might do with the responses that we've collected. What should we do with this information? There was never a promise or, even, obligation to the respondents as to how the material might be consulted, reflected upon, or shared. (Incidentally, I should note that the interviewees were permitted to remain anonymous or to have their identity revealed.)

Last Friday, November 12, the class decided to offer an opportunity for others to help us decide what to do with the material. Do we report on it in some way, given that similar conversations are being had across campus among faculty and staff? Do we "curate" these interviews? And, if so, how and to what ends? Or, as with many projects, do we learn from the experience and build upon this skill for our next project, that is, the Oral History project (Project 4b)? If you have any comments or suggestions, please let me know and I will share these with the class.

One suggestion was to bring some of the content from this experience onto the pages of this blog and ask readers for advice; hence, this post. But, should we extend that suggestion further of and disclose details of Project 4a here? If so, why? Or, why not? If we consider this blog to be a "virtual reality" space, such as an online archive of our department, how does a post impact the possibility and authenticity of that material? Relatedly, in her discussion of web galleries as companions to or substitutes for actual galleries, Lianne McTavish has acknowledged, "virtual reality galleries represent museums that are not neutral spaces, fading into the background while viewers have immediate experiences of art works" (p. 231). Does a post about a conversation prevent further investigation of it? Or, does a post encourage and foster further engagement, on a personal level? To what extent could posting questions and responses on a blog, managed by an academic department, privilege the content in some way? McTavish further questions what happens "when everyday people begin to produce the content of virtual museums, appropriating the roles of curator and even museum director" (p. 227). A virtual museum, just as a traditional museum, is not neutral, neither is a blog or other Web 2.0 technology. Our GCVA blog welcomes visitor and reader input through the comment feature offered beneath most posts. Does that make a person an "author"? Yes, simply because they have contributed an idea in a written format. What kind of author are they? What else does the nomenclature or title of "author" imply? Consider that at any given time, readers can post a comment on Amazon.com about any title on view in their gallery of books to purchase (essentially "reviewing" a book). But is that what "reviewing a book" actually means? Historically, no. Now? Perhaps.

While there seems to be no clear articulation of what to do with the quantitative and qualitative data that Curatorial Studies students have gathered, there is much to be learned from this kind of work. It seems that museums, virtual realities, and Web 2.0 deny neutrality, as do the Project 4a interviews and the educational institutions where such work is done. Perhaps, in the case of Project 4a, a critique of our individual take on the college's mission and a sampling of opinions from our larger community as to the institution's mission may serve to bring new light to the current state of our institution and our past, present, and future framing of it.

PS: Be on the lookout for our final project, Project 4b Oral History, which will premier on Friday, December 3 at 1:00pm. All are invited to watch and listen to the students' oral history interviews.


Introduction to part two of the class project, the oral history project itself, originally posted on gcva blog 12/3/2010

Students in the curatorial studies course (ART 302, offered every fall) developed an oral history project that focused on a person close to them. Below you will find an image of the person being interviewed and the student and the audio file, edited by the student. We hope that you enjoy this project as a curatorial, virtual, and compassionate endeavor.

This project was inspired by a few resources and individuals. First, the famed journalist and chronicler of people, Studs Terkel, author of the interviews collected and entitledWorking.Cleveland author, Harvey Pekar, did a graphic novel interpretation that both revived and spread interest in Terkel's work and approach. In developing this project, I also was informed by the approach of a faculty memberat Case Western Reserve, my alma mater.Dr. Gladys Haddad, professor of history and American Studies and chronicler of the Western Reserve, hosts a blog and journal entitled Regionally Speaking. An oral historian extraordinaire, Haddad kindly shared her course materials from a recent seminar that she taught with Dr. John Bassett (Case, English Department). For this project, their students were charged with the task of interviewing a graduate of the Flora Stone Mather College for Women, the sister college of the Adelbert College for Men at Western Reserve University (Case's predecessor). And, of course, the StoryCorps project, an independent non-profit that encourages listening to one another as "an act of love."

Foremost in this project was the transition for the students from curating objects (such as sculpture on campus or objects from the GC archives, permanent collection of art, and theatre department props) to virtual curation. This topic is taken up by McTavish's essay in Janet Marstine's New Museum Theory, a book that we've discussed on this blog previously. There were plusses and minuses of dealing with the digital realm: plusses include the ability to keep a record of the conversation; the ability to edit repeatedly, and the ability for others to hear and comment on our work. Minuses include the need to work with a new program (Audacity); the complications that arise when working with technology; and the very public nature of this project -- now.

As Marshall Berman, then prof of political theory at CUNY, remarked in his early review of Terkel's Working, as an incredibly rich, close tapestry of stories. Before addressing the book, however, Berman addresses the genre in which it came, the Popular Front of the 1940s-60s, an era that put humanity as part of "a great river of humanity, flowing through the heart of the country, America's primal source of life and energy....fed by a thousand streams...from every occupation... every race and color and ethnic group, every class..." This project is much less ambitious than those aims above, and yet, the outcomes are significant: the project offered the students the opportunity to spend time with a person, discuss one or many topics face-to-face, and to listen to another individual. There were very few limitations placed on the student, in terms of who to select for their interview. They chose a parent (as a way to learn about the student's father, who is deceased), a former co-worker, a high school Calc and a high school English teacher, and a grandparent.

As you might suspect, I could go on and on about this project. So, if you're interested in hearing more from me, do let me know. But, at any rate, the interviews are below. Take a listen and let us know what you think. We hope that you enjoy them!