The University of Mississippi’s College of Liberal Arts and ISOM Center hosted an IDEAS Forum on Monday evening to speak about the current Queer Mississippi Oral History Project and its potential theatrical adaptation.
The Queer Mississippi Oral History Project has over 40 interviews and counting. The project was established to allow LGBTQ people who were born or have spent time in the Magnolia State to speak on their experiences of growing up queer in the state. The archive started in the spring semester of 2018 and is still being updated with interviews and content for students, researchers, professors and the public.
“IDEAS Forum: LGBTQ Histories Brought to Life” featured Ole Miss graduate students and esteemed professors who are working closely together to take the oral history project and create a script for a larger audience to enjoy.
“Some of our goals for this archive is to create scholarly research, public exhibits and to create spaces in which there are more conversations about LGBTQ history and lives in the state,” the current director of the oral project and Ole Miss associate sociology professor Amy McDowell said.
The archive is a resource that anyone can use across the curriculum, whether it be a class about poverty or a class about culture.
“The opportunities here are pretty endless,” McDowell said.
In an effort to reach a larger audience and increase inclusivity in this state, McDowell is working with the theater department. Instructional assistant professor of theatre, Peter Wood is alongside the team and is hoping to blend aspects of theatre, sociology and LGBTQ history into a documentary-style theatre performance.
“We’re also considering how to turn an autobiography, which is these interviews, into dramatic forms,” Wood said. “That requires us to think artistically, and it requires some decisions that sociologists or oral historians don’t necessarily have to make when they’re making those recordings.”
Wood raises the question of how to appropriately take these stories and turn them into a dramatic form that is “compelling, that is interesting, that has an audience really invested in these characters.”
Criminal justice graduate student Alan Cuff also spoke at the forum, stating his role and excitement for the entire project.
“There is something profoundly impactful and very uniquely powerful about hearing these oral histories and getting to listen to these interviews,” Cuff said. “That is a very important and crucial aspect of understanding people and getting a better idea of how we can work towards creating a more diverse and inclusive environment in Mississippi and in the rest of this country.”
Cuff’s work on the project is to find themes or code the interviews with specific common life ideas in the person’s life story. For example, when coding the interviews, themes of tension, conflict, humor, isolation, safe spaces and even turning points are all noted down.
A sense of tension in Mississippi, as well as a sense of pride, are prevalent themes in these interviews, said Cuff. The idea that “Mississippi is growing and changing for the better” is one he hopes the project perpetuates.
“I’ve been able to talk to some of my friends in Mississippi, as well as even internationally, and they’ve been very interested and love this idea of being able to hear these life stories,” said Cuff. “I know that it is going to make a profound impact on people.”
UM’s College of Liberal Arts has a series of events happening throughout October in observance of LGBTQ History Month. Here is the full calendar.