The Study of Oral Histories: Lectures from Susan Tucker and Martha Ward

I had the amazing opportunity to attend an extensive lecture by anthropologists Susan Tucker and Martha Ward, who discussed how they have used oral histories in their research and life. I thought the forum was very informational when it came to oral histories. I could relate to the speakers when they discussed how vital people’s experiences are to society. Before my grandmother got ill, my mother tried to write down all of her recipes. It was very important to my mother to preserve these methods of preparing delicious, homemade foods, such as my favorite sweet bread dessert, because she wanted to keep my family’s history alive.

Tucker was a skinny, white woman with brown medium-cut hair and a timid, monotone voice. She seemed to really have an excellent background on her research studies from her lecture. I really enjoyed Ward, a short, white woman with dirty blonde hair, because she went out of her stereotypical perception and did accounts of an African American woman. This truly shows her courage and respect for others. Because of the depth of the discussion on oral histories, I enjoyed the forum and thought it was worthwhile.

For the past thirty years, Tucker has done studies on the Sisters of the Holy Family, culinary history, and African-American domestic workers. She defines oral histories as an understanding of knowledge and telling of lives through personal accounts. One of her projects included interviewing about 170 women, transcribing fifty of the interviews, and only getting forty-four of them published. This is definitely a great example of how much work and time go into anthropology. Her inspiration for performing the research about African-American domestic workers sparked from her experience as a nanny in . During her job, Tucker began to understand the inequalities of domestic workers and decided to research it when she arrived back to the .

Martha Ward talked about her research on Marie Laveau-the legendary Voodoo Queen. Ward explained how past histories on Laveau were mostly false because white male authors were prejudiced. Her research began with conversations from people on the streets of New Orleans, which is called the “gumbo ya ya.” She met people at the cemetery who said Laveau was a true healer and very nice person. Despite these “street” conversations, others, such as author Robert Talent, think Laveau was an evil woman. Ward believes the book Talent wrote about Laveau was not a good description of her life. Therefore, Ward wrote her own book about Laveau that she thinks is a “true” account of her life.

The lecture relates to our class because it emphasizes the importance of oral histories. By recording different perspectives, anthropologists or just everyday people can learn more about events in history. This concept can also be applied to literature. For example, the Tao Te Ching, was translated by Stephen Mitchell, so that English readers can understand the teachings of Lao-tzu. Not all of the translations of the words are exactly the same, but translations give individuals a good idea of what the author was saying. The Odyssey, which has been retold several times,was sung by Homer. It has been passed down for so many years and through so many generations that it has been changed and adjusted so different cultures can read it; however, the epic poem is still important to world literature.

Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales shows how oral history from one person’s view can give readers a picture of how society was at a particular time period. For instance, The Canterbury Tales allows pilgrims from a wide range of social classes to tell stories from their own personal perspectives. Readers are then able to learn the importance of stories, or oral histories, as the pilgrims travel to Canterbury to honor St. Thomas a Becket. Overall, just knowing that people really influence history, through their spoken words, is amazing in itself.

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