DC Oral History Collaborative

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By Deborah Bailey
Special to the AFRO

There are 705,749 stories to tell in Washington DC. While this is the estimated population of the nation’s Capital – it also represents the aspirations of the DC Oral History Collaborative.

Jasper Collier, program manager for the DC Oral History Collaborative, hopes every person in the District, with a unique story to tell, will consider applying for one of the project’s Oral History Project Grants designed to unearth the hidden stories of DC’s unique communities, neighborhoods and people.

“You don’t have to be an academic or an expert to apply for one of our grants. You just need to be able to explain in detail why your story is unique and how it adds to the rich culture of the city,” Collier explained.

The DC Oral History Collaborative, a partnership between Humanities DC, the DC Public Library and initially the Historical Society of Washington, DC, offers grants of up to $7000 for DC residents to collect oral history interviews based on a theme connected to Washington DC.

“We have long been a local grant maker, since 1980,” Collier said. “But now, we are providing training to the public to elevate everybody’s work.”

“We want to make sure the great oral histories recorded today are available to serve as a resource to future generations,” Collier added.

The DC Oral History Collaborative has initiated a series of interviewer training workshops and an Intro to Oral History Webinar, to encourage more Washingtonians to consider projects documenting their personal, neighborhood and community history.

The project will offer training for grant recipients as well as the general public on topics such as techniques behind oral history interviewing and creating professional level recordings. Project staff want DC’s oral history projects to be available for others to access for years to come.

The project originally started in 2017, through the support of former DC Council member, David Grasso. Grasso thought oral histories could serve as a vehicle to support community building in neighborhoods that had become strained with the influx of new residents starting in the early 2000’s and continuing through the 2010’s.

Grasso’s hope was that oral histories could connect new residents having very little knowledge of the historical significance of DC communities, with established DC residents who were natives or long timers.

“While community unification is still one of our areas of focus, we also want to document more of DC’s unique culture,” said Collier.

“We would love it for instance if residents involved in DC’s Go Go music community would think about applying for a grant,” Collier said. “Whether you are a musician or a fan, this is a unique culture born in Washington DC and we need to document it while it is still part of our contemporary experience.”

DC residents are also invited to browse through DigDC – the “People’s Archive” a digital collection of artifacts maintained by the DC Public Library. Contents of DigDC include an interview with Nadine Seiler, curator of the Black Lives Matter poster fence displayed during the 2020 protest march of the death of George Floyd at Black Lives Matter Plaza. Residents can also see artifacts like The DC Jazz Festival Oral History Project as well as original photographs from the 1963 March on Washington.

The DC Oral History Collaborative will resume a series of Coffee Chats in the Fall to give residents thinking about a grant project the opportunity to talk with staff before submitting a proposal.

“The Coffee Chats are also for anyone who wants to get to know more about the power and relevance of oral histories,” said Collier.

The next Oral History Coffee Chat is scheduled for August 28 https://www.eventbrite.com/e/oral-history-coffee-chat-mapping-segregation-in-dc-tickets-162596898701?aff=ebdsoporgprofile

The DC Public Library’s Dig DC Catalog can be accessed at: https://digdc.dclibrary.org/.

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