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Oral History Association Annual Meeting

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I recently returned from the Oral History Association’s annual meeting in Montreal. The above is the poster I presented at the conference. It describes the plans for the Heath High School Oral Histories project and provides an overview of the history of the shootings at Heath in 1997 and Marshall County in 2018. The response of visitors to the poster session was similar to that I generally find when I discuss this project. People were very interested and felt that the project was both historically significant and extremely relevant to the current day. However, they were also frustrated by the very fact that this story was so timely––that such tragedy was not confined to the past, but rather continued and repeated through the years into the present.

During the poster session, I also had a very informative discussion with Pamela Schwartz, the chief curator of the Orange County Regional History Center in Orlando who has overseen the OneOrlando Collection, a collection of memorial objects and oral histories from individuals affected by the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting. The work of her team provides an incredible model for preserving memories of a significant but traumatic event in a community’s history. They have expertly navigated a course that balances sensitivity to the memories of the dead and the suffering of the living with awareness of what researchers and the public need to know (which can be different from what they want to know). Given the recency of the Pulse tragedy and the vulnerability of the Latinx and LGBTQ+ communities affected, the OneOrlando team are also working to determine when information will be made available. This concern will be important to keep in mind with ongoing efforts to document memories of the shooting at Marshall County. Most of the survivors are still minors, which makes them especially vulnerable, and the trauma of everyone affected is still very fresh and raw.

–Joanna Federico, oral historian