Tuesday, April 10th, the South Dakota Oral History Center was invited to present at the National Parks Service's [NPS] Climate Friendly Parks Workshop in Custer, SD. The goal of the workshop was to explore ways in which the NPS can be more sustainable at the individual and national park level. The role the SDOHC played was to show how past voices on the subject of the environment, climate change, and sustainable living can add to our current dialogue of these important concepts and also how current oral history interviews can aide in this discussion and add to the ideas circulating about our ever changing world.
[Vine Deloria, Sr., sermon on the importance of ecology]
In the traditional sense, oral history is the process by which stories are passed from generation to generation, told in order to connect present peoples to their past. Today, oral history is the "systematic collection of living people's testimony about their own experiences." Meaning that oral historians "verify their findings and place them in an accurate historical context."[Moyer, Judith. Step-By-Step Guide to Oral History. 1999.] Being a part of the historical record, oral history can be used to study any subject through the use of impartial interviewers and archival repositories. It can then, also, be used by current scholars to study past events through the experiences of those who lived through them. For example, a study into periods of catastrophic weather, would lead a scholar into listening to interviews of people who lived through these climatic events.
[Tom O'Neil speaks about the Blizzard of 1905]
As oral historians, we can also study different traditions that encompas the beliefs that humans have a direct impact on weather through certain ceremonies and dances.
[Felix Allen speaking of the Gourd Dance]
Perhaps most importantly of all, oral history is more than just a way to document historical events and notions. Oral history is also a way to open up a dialogue on current issues and actions. In his interview with Jeanie Irwin, a student of the University of South Dakota in the 1970s, Professor Herbert Hoover, ask Ms. Irwin to elaborate on the current discussion of ecology.
[Jeanne Irwin on ecology]
By asking this question the interviewer, Professor Hoover, is demonstrating this ability of oral history to not only document events but ideas that are being debated at the time. Through the use of impartial interviewers, oral history documents ideas and debates from all angles and through storing these interview recordings oral history becomes a way to explore our own present ideas, themes, and actions, by listening to the voices of the past.
- Jennifer McIntyre, SDOHC Digitizer/Curator
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Visit http://www.nps.gov/climatefriendlyparks/ for more information about what our nation's parks are doing to promote sustainable practices throughout the NPS and sustainable living in our communities.