Tag Archives: Oral History

Listen & Learn – Voices and views from MPR’s audio archive

Recent legislation and rulings related to LGBT rights, particularly the Supreme Court vote on marriage equity sent me poking around my own memory to reflect on what has been a long struggle.  For whatever reasons the voices of individual leaders, some not well known, echoed in my aural memory.   Knowing I had never met the speakers I realized the source of those memories be radio – more specifically public radio.  And that led me to explore the voluminous audio archives of Minnesota Public Radio.  Poking around this rich reservoir of oral history rekindled images and voices that, in turn, open up huge mental archives of dormant memories.

My quest was very specific – to track the evolving story of LGBT rights in Minnesota so I forced myself to focus – not easy because the audio chapter on “Civil Rights in Minneapolis” offered far too many tempting side roads – 152 to be on that one topic to be exact.

My first reminder was that it wasn’t until 2001 that the State of Minnesota officially decriminalized homosexuality.   The first bit of recorded oral history in the MPR archives dates from a poignant interview from the June 12, 1972 DFL Convention in which Jack Baker talks about the parallel goals of the women’s caucus and the gay rights caucus.   Baker’s prescient observations span four decades of history.

Later in 1972 St. Paul native author and activist Kate Millett is recorded speaking at Macalester not specifically about gay right but about discrimination evidenced by the failure to pass the ERA.

State Senator Allan Spear, prominent equality advocate, is recorded in 1974 talking about the formation of the Minnesota Committee for Gay Rights, a step to move the issue into the mainstream.

In a 1976 interview Senator Spear talks about the need to distinguish between moral and non-moral issues in making legislative decisions.  A legislator must represent independent judgment, Spear contends, particular in the case of human rights issues.

There is an interview with Senator Dean Johnson reflecting on the gay rights bill vote in 1993.  The bill prohibiting discrimination against gays and lesbians in employment, housing and other areas passed the Senate by a vote of 37-30.

And there’s a March 2004 report by Tom Scheck on the massive anti-gay rights rally at the State Capitol.

The list goes on – and I tracked just one of scores of issues covered in the archives.  As with any quest to understand the history of ideas, the visitor is the explorer and the fun is in the find.

This unique digital resource offers the searcher some serious plus features:  most important, the spoken word has special power to evoke both memories and emotions.  Another serious plus lies in the fact that armchair access eliminates a host of hurdles.

On the down side, the link lacks the olfactory stimulus of that special archival aroma of crumbling paper, drying leather and time.  Though somebody has probably invented an archive scented spray capturing the essence of smells lacks the authenticity of audio preservation.   Maybe you could light an old wax candle to set the mood…..

Scott County Fairgoers Share their Stories at First-Ever Mobile Oral History-mobile

Some Scott County old timers have an overflowing backlog of stories about their visits to the Fair over the decades.  They stroll through the ever-changing exhibits, ponder the impact of technology, learn about new programs and ideas from Extension, admire the beautifully groomed animals, reflect on urban sprawl  and past excursions to the County Fair.

Other visitors to the Fair are new to Scott County, to Minnesota, and definitely to the uncommon characteristics of a real County Fair.  Newcomers may at times been overwhelmed by the crowds, Fair fare, the music, the relative merit of a purple ribbon – and yes,  even more food .

What all of these Fair-goers share is that deep reality that each has a story to share.

Still, the county Fairgrounds is not the  ideal setting to stop and bend a neighbor’s ear with  memories of bygone days .

Not to worry.  Scott County Fair visitors have a unique opportunity to capture and record  their stories for tomorrow’s Fairgoers.  All are welcome to stop at Minnesota’s first mobile oral history booth where they will find equipment and trained technical support at the ready to ensure that the even old stories find new life and widening circles of listeners.

Originally the dream of Kathleen Klehr at the Scott County Historical Society, the Mobile Oral History project is shaped by a partnership between the Scott County Historical Society (SCHS) and the Scott County Agricultural Society and funded in part by a Programming Grant from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

With the Fair just days away project planners and volunteers are working with an interior designer and builders to construct the mobile unit.  These front line workers describe the recording booth on wheels as  “a weatherproof, comfortable room on a road-worthy, tow-behind trailer.  It will be ADA compliant for easy access and ability because the entire trailer will drop with hydraulics to the ground. Though it’s a rush job on a unique project and a sparse budget, all will be in readiness by the Fair’s grand opening on Wednesdat, July 25 – soon!

As project planners expressed in the grant proposal “This oral histories project will increase understanding between and among long-term residents and new immigrants; increase participation in a historical project from new audiences, gather and preserve memories from an aging population; promote an appreciation for cultural traditions; and offer a forum for open, in-depth discussions.”

The work continues after the close of the Fair on July 29.  The recorded stories of Scott County Fair visitors will be preserved with great attention to technical standards, transcription, high quality archival services and accessibility for community members and researchers alike – now and in the future.  Through a special collaboration with the Shakopee Women’s Prison residents at the correctional facility will transcribe the recorded stories because, as one planner observed, “this is all worth very little if the substance of the stories can’t be retrieved later.”

And after the Fair, the mobile story collector, now field tested and road-ready, will hit the pavement.  The Scott County Agricultural Society is providing a pass-through grant to the Scott Historical Society to purchase the technology and to own and maintain it.  The Agriculture Society will own, insure, maintain and store the trailer.  Together they will prepare an operating agreement that will permit other organizations to rent the trailer and the technology so that the model developed and tested in Scott County can visit other sites to collect more and diverse stories that capture the essence of a community and the reflections of Minnesotans’ personal experiences.

For Scott County Fairgoers, the challenge is to dip into their personal reservoir of stories to breathe life into the tales that others have not yet heard, the stories that will help neighbors new and old to understand each other and the shared heritage that is common ground for 21st Century Scott County neighbors.

Here Comes Peter! The Magnificent Peter Shea

Writing about Peter Shea, his quietly amazing projects and his magnificent mind, is no easy task.  As my then-young son once observed, Peter is just so “Peter-ish.”  Any profile illuminates but a single facet of a multi-faceted man of ideas.

For example, if you have to ask “Why the Bat of Minerva”? then you probably don’t know Peter Shea – yet.   The Bat is Peter’s long-running cable show (15 years plus – Peter’s not so sure of the inaugural date.) is a midnight Saturday and Sunday night regular on Metro Cable Network/Channel 6 in the Twin Cities.  Peter says that the format, in which a disembodied Peter poses questions from off-camera “allows me, a shy person, to have conversations I want to have and to pursue lines of inquiry with real people rather than with books and articles. …and it does some diffuse good for the community, in several dimensions: providing a model of civil, extended conversation, giving people ideas about the lives they could live, getting ideas and ways of working into circulation, helping bright and under-exercised people realize what kinds of challenging work are available to them.”

Over the years the soft-spoken Peter has posed thought-provoking queries to scores of famous scholars, authors, scientists, Americans on the rise, global leaders.  In recent times the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota has archived The Bat so the hour-long interviews are streamed for those who missed the midnight premiere. A sampling of recent interviews suggests the breadth and tone of Peter’s guests:

  • October 6, 2010 – Juliet Schor, a professor of Sociology at Boston College where her research focuses on trends in work and leisure, consumerism, the family, and economic justice. Most recently she is the author of Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth (2010),
  • September 29, 2010 – Mike Tidwell, author of Bayou Farewell and founder and director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
  • August 30, 2010 – Rob Gilmer, a Ph.D. candidate in the History Department at the University of Minnesota. In the fall of 2010, he will be teaching Oil and Water: The Gulf Oil Spill of 2010, a course which has garnered national attention.
  • August 20, 2010 – Paul Barclay, a professor of History at Lafayette College where his research interests include Japanese empire, especially in Taiwan, frontier studies, and the use of images as historical documents or instruments of ideology.
  • August 15, 2010 – Ann Waltner, a professor in both the Department of History and the Department of Asian Languages and Literatures and director of the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota, talks about Matteo Ricci’s 1602 map of the world, recently acquired by the James Ford Bell Library.
  • August 5-15, 2010 – Minnesota Fringe Festival

Though these are the most recent, the full list of interviews over the years is astounding – Eugene McCarthy, John Davis, Rosalie Wahl are among Peter’s favorites. He also mentions  Maja Cerar (violinist), Carolyn Walker Bynum (medievalist), Morton Subotnik (composer), Andrew Light (environmental ethicist) and Ann Sharp (educator).  The Bat website lists the boundless and boundary-less library of videos Peter has produced since the early days of The Bat when Peter’s two sons (now grown) ran the cameras and, Peter hopes, “got some of the message.” Peter, who allows he’s not much into numbers, produces some impressive ones, e.g. some 82,000 visits  to the IAS website and nearly 10,000 video views since Fall 2008.

True to form, Peter has plans.  One big plan is just unfolding.  In a new series entitled Meet the Neighbors Peter, who also works with Shalom Hill Farm near Windom,  has begun interviewing members of the rural community for cablecast on community cable then archived in a blog.  He’s also been asked by the U of M Department of English to profile all willing faculty – of course he’d like to expand that to other departments.  In general, Peter hopes to produce “rich and coherent archives.”  He cites, for example, “a fine collection of interviews from the Spark Festival of Electronic Music” and a “small but growing collection of interviews done in connection with the Minnesota Fringe Festival.”  One oral history project underway, documentation of the history of the philosophy for children movement.  High on the list of Peter’s current enthusiasms is collaboration on expanding access to  the lectures from “Oil and Water: The Gulf Oil Spill of 2010” a U of Minnesota course which IAS is providing online through the Bat.

Peter’s hopes for a bright technology future include great confidence in the future of cable, primarily because “the standard media have messed up fine productions with commercial interruption and commercial packaging to an extent that seems to me suicidal.”  At the same time, equipment is improving and coming down in cost so that “normal people with normal time resources can do interesting niche programming, and the shortcomings will be more than compensated by the lack of commercial distortion and the freshness and immediacy of low to the ground production.”  This offers unique possibilities for rural Minnesotans, Peter expects.  Other dreams include visions of easy archiving and repackaging, Internet 2, and every viewer both a producer of control of his or her own access options.

Learn more about Peter’s background, plans, persona and style by watching an interview archived on the IAS site.

You will never keep up with Peter’s fertile mind and high hopes – to keep abreast of the tangible products, watch the Bat of Minerva website or tune in to Channel 6 at midnight on any Saturday or Sunday.