I give you my word : the ethics of oral history and digital video interpretation at Texas historic sites




Cherian, Antony, 1974-

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This dissertation examines the process of using oral history and digital video to revise interpretation and represent more inclusive histories at three rural Texas historic sites—-Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site, the Lyndon Baines Johnson State Park, and Varner-Hogg Plantation—-21st century sites that, to varying degrees, have persisted to interpret a Texas master narrative that is no longer socially tolerable in its silencing of marginalized Texas voices. In particular, the dissertation focuses on complicated and rarely discussed ethical issues that surfaced during my work from 2001 to 2006 shooting, editing, and situating interpretive documentary videos at the each of the three sites. Historic sites in Texas, like others across the United States and worldwide, have been receiving increasing pressure from scholars and community groups to represent women, racial minorities, and other marginalized groups more prominently in the narratives they interpret. Oral history and digital media have played key roles in this ongoing movement. Oral history has widely been touted as a tool to democratize history, and advocates of digital video interpretation cite its affordability, relative ease of use, and its ability to “say so much in so little time.” These factors are all the more compelling for local, regional, and state-wide historic sites that are chronically under-funded, under-staffed, and that must often interpret multiple, complicated narratives with very little time or space in which to present them. However, little has been done to explore the unique and complicated ethical issues that arise from using oral history and digital video at historic sites. This dissertation takes a case study approach and uses as its intellectual framework ideas of reflective practice, part of the contemporary discourse among public history practitioners. Each case study introduces the site through a critical analysis of the images and texts produced by the site; presents the central historical silence at each site; describes the solution that oral history and digital video interpretation was expected to provide; and then uses the project’s process-generated video footage and records to examine key situations that led me to raise ethical questions about the individual projects and the overall enterprise.




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