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Learning from our Elders: Interviewing Activists from Past Generations

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Learning from our Elders: Interviewing Activists from Past Generations

Co Facilitated by: Cindy Choung and Rachel Bernstein

November 17, 3-4:15 PM EST

Implicit in the word activist is a commitment to transmitting values across generations. This PSN Chat will discuss the methods, rewards, and challenges of oral history interviewing with our elders.

What are the challenges involved in interviewing elders? How can the life review process, often so intense, be most productive in an oral history interview? Are there dangers of young activists finding too many parallels in the stories they gather? What is the emotional fall-out for interviewers and interviewees in this situation -- where the stories narrated can be passionately felt and often fraught, for one or both of the people involved. For this discussion we welcome interviewers of all ages, both those who have experiences interviewing elder activists, those interested in the prospect of doing so, and those who have been interviewed.

Cindy Choung is a graduate of Columbia University’s Oral History MA program. With a BA degree in Cultural Anthropology, specializing in East Asian mass culture, Cindy always held an interest in the cultural significance of stories. In the summer of 2009, her interest in interviewing led her to the Thai-Burma border in order to take part in the making of Nowhere to Be Home, a collection of oral history interviews concerning the human rights crisis in Burma (Myanmar) published by Voice of Witness/McSweeney’s.

Rachel Bernstein is an oral historian / public historian who researches, writes about and teaches American working class history, with a particular focus on New York City. She is a co-founder of, taught in the graduate program in public history at NYU 1984 - 2010, and works on public history projects with the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at NYU, the CUNY/Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education, and elsewhere. She is author, with the late Debra E. Bernhardt, of Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives: A Pictorial History of Working People in New York City (NYU Press, 2000), which uses oral history excerpts and photographs to tell the story of 20th century NYC workers. A project particularly relevant to this workshop is the Clara Lemlich Awards, started in 2011, honoring elder activists, unsung heroines their 80s and above who've devoted their lives to the public good, in the tradition of those who sparked so many reforms in the aftermath of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire over one hundred years ago. see

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