Southern Foodways Alliance hosts history workshop

Posted on Jul 7 2015 - 1:59pm by Suad Pattonbey

The Southern Foodways Alliance will host a workshop on oral history from July 13-17.  This year’s workshop will have only six students,  to create a less crowded, more intimate space for the students to share their ideas and apply it to their own work.

“I think the interesting thing about oral history is that, traditionally, it’s always been processed for an academic archive,” Wood said. “So, once the interviews are collected, they’re put right in to the  archive of a library or an institution and they kind of sit there for researchers or historians or writers to find them.”

Guest speakers will include locals, mainly, including Tina Antolini, Andy Harper, Alysia Burton-Steele and   award-winning University of Massachusetts professor Erin Anderson,  who has completed with digital publishing and experimental work with oral history.

“I think, in the last decade or so, people who work in oral history are trying to find ways to bring those stories to the surface outside of the archive, and to put them into a consciousness of mainstream audience,” Wood said.

The Southern Foodways Alliance records, studies ,and celebrates the diversity of southern cuisine. The organization strives to place a common thread across racial and social lines; to remember the past and envision the future.

“Oral history is essentially a first-person account of an event or a story,” said Sara Wood, oral historian for the Southern Foodways Alliance. “When I go out into the field, we usually pick a project stemmed around that.”

Oral historians try to give the unsung a chance to speak their personal truth, even when accounts don’t line up with previous personal or historical records, Wood said.

“I think that plays into the whole idea of folklore,” Wood said.  “But at the same time, I think it complicates things down the road once in a while for historians who are trying to find all of the facts.”

Wood also said memories are a significant in capturing oral history.

“Memories are a very interesting and complicated thing as well.”

Research has shown that a person’s account of a recent event can change drastically with time, Wood said.

Former SFA oral historian Amy Cameron-Evans founded the oral history workshop a few years ago. Evans’s process includes an introduction to oral history, defining what it was, its methods and practices, how to collect interviews and how to process materials after returning from the field.

Wood observed during last year’s workshop that many of the students had either just started or were far into an oral history project of their own.

This year’s workshop will take a different approach, Wood said. She said she has found it interesting to take  people into the field to learn fieldwork techniques. She thought it would be particularly useful to those who were already in the field, stuck, or were trying to process certain materials.

The application was open to  both undergraduates and graduate students. SFA received applicants from across the country and Canada and kept some spots open for SFA members who were not in school.

Other SFA projects include “Jackson’s Iconic Restaurants”, a rich culinary history of Jackson, Mississippi.  “The Lives and Loaves of New Orleans” was focused on the multi-cultural influence on New Orleanian-styled bread.

“Essentially we are taking a subject that, I guess, traditionally, would be tackled with a combination of research and archival materials,” Woods said. “But the core of oral history is really recording one person’s account.”

About the Author