A Toolkit for Telling an Alternate Institutional History

A Toolkit for Telling an Alternate Institutional History

This third quarter of my Chang Prize project has been both preparatory and reflective. 

I have been glad to look forward to my upcoming digital publication, “Fragile Solidarities,” and dive into archival work for it. The past few months have thus seen me engaging in archival research in the collections of mainstream memory institutions (such as the archives at the University of California, Berkeley and University of California, Los Angeles) as well as community-based archives, such as Densho.

I have also been glad to look back at my work with Archiving Communities of Resilience and Resistance and SAADA & its community-rooted anthology Our Stories, and share reflections about each through talks, panels and presentations. The past few months have also seen me present on the projects before academic audiences at Duke and the University of Pennsylvania, grassroot advocacy groups such as Make Us Visible NJ, and community media such as Rukus Radio and podcast Asian Americans Unsilenced.

Most recently, I spoke at the “Digital Storytelling and Alternative Institutional Histories” workshop. The workshop was organized by the thoughtful members of the Digital Humanities Working Group in the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester and was part of a broader digital archival and storytelling initiative by the group to document the histories of underrepresented communities on campus – communities whose experiences, contributions, and sometimes very existence have often been excluded in retellings of the institute’s past. As I talked with the workshop attendees, I realized that gathering and sharing alternate oral histories in an academic institute is a rather particular task. There is no guide book on the “right way” to go about it. Such projects are also often undertaken by campus advocates and organizers who lack prior training conducting oral histories or experience with digital preservation.

As I looked back on my project and shared the methods I used, ethical questions I considered, and resources I consulted, I found myself wishing I had written it all down somewhere, in case seeing how I went about the project could be helpful for future work at other campuses.

This update is thus an attempt to put together a brief toolkit, of sorts, on how to tell an alternate institutional history through oral history work. All resources are pulled from my earlier work with the Archiving Communities of Resilience and Resistance project, unless otherwise noted.

Here is a list of the resource documents:

  1. An example of an oral history transcript (specifically, the transcript for Dr. Edray Goins’ oral history, which I would strongly encourage you to check out regardless of whether you are planning your own project or not!)
  2. A question flowchart that will take you through guided questions intended to help you plan for and navigate the different steps a campus oral history project
  3. A sample informed consent form for both your oral history interviewers and narrators
  4. An overview of principles and best practices (created by the Oral History Association) for conducting, processing, and preserving an oral history

I hope you find the resources helpful.

The last thing I’ll share - because I really do hope you take a few minutes to read Edray’s transcript! - is an abbreviated overview of Dr. Goins’ oral history.

Dr. Edray Goins Oral History Transcript - Overview

Dr. Edray Goins (BS ‘94) attended Caltech as an undergraduate in the early ‘90s, majoring in both mathematics and physics. During his time as an undergrad, Dr. Goins served as a founding member and president of the Caltech chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE); dedicated countless hours to advocacy work with the Office of Minority Student Affairs; researched and wrote on the history of Black students at Caltech in the Tech student newspaper; and broadly spent much of his time connecting together, building space for, and advocating on behalf of Caltech’s underrepresented minority student community. After graduating from Caltech, Dr. Goins earned his doctorate in mathematics from Stanford before briefly returning to Caltech as a postdoctoral fellow in the math department. He is now a professor of mathematics at Pomona College.

Dr. Goins’ oral history focused on his four years at Caltech as an undergraduate. He shared reflections on his personal experiences as a student at the institute, including his political activism and advocacy work. His stories shed light not only on his individual history, but also on the broader history of Black students at the institute - and on the long-threaded history of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous members of Caltech’s campus navigating the institute and carving out spaces for community and solidarity - from NSBE to La Casa to the Minority Student Affairs Office to the (yet unrealized) Minority Student House. 

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