21 Jul Preserving our Stories & Experiences
These past few weeks I have been training high school students and young adults in the Richmond and Washington D.C. areas on how to conduct oral histories for the National Park Service. I’ve also, through my internship, had the chance to go through a service-wide oral history training in Philadelphia, PA. This session was attended by interns and staff in the Northeast region of NPS. It was through this 3-day session that I had I truly understood how and why the NPS conducts oral history within their organization and how future and current employees can benefit from the stories and experiences of former NPS staff.The National Park Service has one of the largest collections of oral histories, conducted by many NPS staff and volunteers throughout the years. In celebration for the 100 anniversary the Park History Program has encouraged parks and park employees to collect new stories, experiences, and oral histories of former employees, volunteers, and of members the community of where the park is located. Collecting oral histories of any community is important. For the National Park Service, oral histories are collected to enhance exhibits at the Parks, understand why and how local communities do or don’t utilize their local parks, and to recognize the accomplishments and achievements of individuals within the Park Service. Oral history can also be a tool for marginalized groups in our society to tell us their story and record their own histories. Traditionally, the historical (written) record has focused on the victors of wars, the rich, and the people who had been fortunate enough to receive an education. Starting in the mid-20th century we start seeing more scholars interested in using oral history to record histories of African Americans, Latinos, LGBT people, and other groups to fill in the gaps of history and create a special archive for them. Personally for me, I would love for NPS to collect more stories of people of color within the Park service just to show everyone that we exist as employees, volunteers, and as visitors at NPS and NHS sites and to show others in our communities that our history and experiences matter. Oral histories can reveal more about a document or about a single event in history. I encourage everyone to participate on a oral history project it can be one of the most fun and rewarding things you can do.