A SyLlabus for SST 560: Oral History & Documenting LGBTQ Histories in Mississippi

We like to occasionally post syllabi from Southern Studies courses, like Dr. Brian Foster’s SST 102: The Southern Protest Mixtape and Dr. Darren Grem’s course on southern music history. Today we share Dr. Jessie Wilkerson’s SST 560: Introduction to Oral History, which has as its theme “Documenting LGBTQ Histories in Mississippi.”

SST 560: Introduction to Oral History
Documenting LGBTQ Histories in Mississippi
Professor Jessica Wilkerson

Some words are open
Like a diamond on glass windows
Singing out within the crash of passing sun
Then there are words like stapled wagers
In a perforated book—buy and sign and tear apart—
And come whatever wills all chances
The stub remains
An ill-pulled tooth with a ragged edge.
Some words live in my throat
Breeding like adders. Others know sun
Seeking like gypsies over my tongue
To explode through my lips
Like young sparrows bursting from shell.
Some words
Bedevil me.

Audre Lorde, excerpt from “Coal”

“Oral sources tell us not just what people did, but what they wanted to do, what they believed they were doing, and what they now think they did.”

Alessandro Portelli, “What Makes Oral History Different”

Course Description and Objectives

In 1997, historian John Howard noted in the introduction to the path-breaking edited volume Carryin’ On in the Lesbian and Gay South that southern archivists actively worked to “thwart us, to exclude us from the fold.” At the same time, a “bicoastal bias” pervaded American lesbian and gay history. Gay and lesbian southerners did not fit easily into a master narrative, nor did they constitute a cohesive group in the South. Since Howard’s call for more robust histories, a growing, interdisciplinary body of scholarship has begun to deepen the archive and expand the analysis of LGBTQ history in the South. In this seminar you will build on this scholarship by adding to the archive of southern queer histories, primarily through the method of oral history interviewing.

In the past several years, LGBTQ organizations have sprung up in Oxford, on the University of Mississippi campus, and across Mississippi, and in 2016 Oxford held its first gay pride parade. Many in LGBTQ communities and their allies celebrated in 2015 as the Supreme Court validated same-sex marriage as a right of citizenship. They also organized in the face of backlash as new state laws sanctioned discrimination and as old challenges remained. These present-day movements built on the legacies of antiracist, feminist, and gay rights movements that arose across the South in the 1970s and 1980s. This course will focus on the experiences of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, and/or queer people in the region of Oxford and North Mississippi and on the campus of the University of Mississippi. Some of you may focus on more recent history, while others may seek to chart lost or buried histories. Together we will work on a collaborative oral history and documentary project that highlights the current political climate with an historical perspective. In doing so, students will conduct historical research and develop intersectional analyses that underscore the relationship between LGBTQ rights, economic fairness, racial justice, and gender justice.

Course Goals:
*Become familiar with interdisciplinary scholarship in LGBTQ and oral history
*Develop archival research skills
*Practice oral history methodology and ethical interview techniques
*Work in teams to create a documentary project that will be exhibited in April 2018

Key Texts:
Nan Alamilla Boyd and Horacio N. Roque Ramírez, Bodies of Evidence: The Practice of Queer Oral History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012)
Mary L. Gray, Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility (New York: New York University Press, 2009)
John Howard, Men Like That: A Southern Queer History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999)

Week One, January 22—Introductions
1) Josh Burford, “Making Queer History Visible in North Carolina”
2) Jonathan Ned Katz, “Homophobia in Mississippi, 1958,”in Outhistory.org
3) Chenault, Ditzler, Orr, “Discursive Memorials: Queer Histories in Atlanta’s Public Spaces,” in Southern Spaces

Week Two, January 29—Southern Queer Histories

  • John Howard, Men Like That: A Southern Queer History           

Week Three, February 5—Youth and Queer Desire in the Rural South

  • E. Patrick Johnson, Chapter One, “Some Bitter and Some Sweet: Growing Up Black and Gay in the South,” Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South, An Oral History.
  • Mary L. Gray, Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America

Week Four, February 12—Queer Oral History

  • Nan Alamilla Boyd and Horacio N. Roque Ramírez, Bodies of Evidence: The Practice of Queer Oral History Mary L. Gray, Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America

            With a focus on:

  • 3, Daniel Rivers, “Queer Family Stories: Learning from Oral Histories with Lesbian Mothers and Gay Father from the Pre-Stonewall Era”
  • 5, Nan Alamilla Boyd, “Talking About Sex: Cheryl Gonzales and Rikki Streicher Tell Their Stories”
  • 6, Jason Ruiz, “Private Lives and Public History: On Excavating the Sexual Past in Queer Oral History Practice”
  • 8, Michael David Frankin, “Friendship, Institutions, Oral History”
  • 10, Horacio N. Roque Ramírez, “Sharing Queer Authorities: Collaborating for Transgender Latina and Gay Latino Historical Meanings”
  • 13, Steve Estes, “Don’t Ask: Discussing Sexuality in the American Military and the Media”
  • Afterword, John D’Emilio, “If I Knew Then”

Week Five, February 19—Imagining a Project
1) T. Evan Faulkenbury and Aaron Hayworth, “The Carolina Gay Association, Oral History, and Coming Out at the University of North Carolina,” in The Oral  History Review 43, no. 1 (2016): 115-137.
2) Chesnut, Gable, and Anderson, “Atlanta’s Charis Books and More: Histories of a   Feminist Space,” in Southern Spaces.
3) Listen to at least one interview from the SOHP’s “LGBTQ Life in the South” collection or the “Madison’s LGBTQ Community” project or the “Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project.”

Week Six, February 26—From Planning to Interviewing
1) Oral History Association, “Principles and Best Practices”
2) Southern Oral History Program, “A Practical Guide to Oral History”
3) Charles T. Morrissey, “The Two-Sentence Format as an Interviewing Technique in Oral History Fieldwork,” The Oral History Review 15 (Spring 1987): 43-53.

Week Seven, March 5—Oral History Interviews as Research Process
1) #Alessandro Portelli, “What Makes Oral History Different,” in The Death of Luigi  Trastulli and Other Essays: Form and Meaning in Oral History.
2) “What Makes Queer Oral History Different,” The Oral History Review 43, no. 1 (2016): 1-24.
3) #Patricia Leavy, Introduction in Oral History: Understanding Qualitative Research

Week Eight, March 20—Politics, Activism, and Oral History
1) Anne Balay, “Surprised by Activism: The Effects of One Oral History on Its Queer Steel-Working Narrators,” The Oral History Review 43, no. 1 (2016): 69-80.
2) Catherine Fosl and Lara Kelland, “‘Bring Your Whole Self to the Work’: Identity and Intersectional Politics in the Louisville LGBTQ Movement,” The Oral History    Review 43, no. 1 (2016): 138-152.
3) Stephen Vider and David S. Byers, “Queer Homeless Youth, Queer Activism in Transition,” in Slate (December 10, 2015).

Week Nine, March 26—Storytelling and Oral History in a Digital Age
1) “‘Confessing Animals,’ Redux: A Conversation Between Alexander Freund and Erin Jesse,” The Oral History Review 41, no. 2 (2014): 314-324.
2) Alexander Freund, “Under Storytelling’s Spell? Oral History in a Neoliberal Age,” The Oral History Review 42, no. 1 (2015): 96-132.
3) Anna Sheftel and Stacey Zembrzycki, “Slowing Down to Listen in the Digital Age: How New Technology is Changing Oral History Practice,” The Oral History Review 44, no. 1 (2017): 94-112.
4) Explore the website of the Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project

Recommended Reading: Alexander Freund, “Confessing Animals: Toward a Long Durée History of the Oral History Interview,” The Oral History Review 41, no. 1 (2014): 1-26.

Week Ten, April 2— Interpreting Oral History Interviews
1) Katharine Borland, “‘That’s Not What I Said’: Interpretive Conflict in Oral Narrative Research,” The Oral History Reader, ed. Robert Perks and Alistair Thomson, (1998), pp. 320-32.
2) Kathleen Blee, “Evidence, Empathy, and Ethics:  Lessons from Oral Histories of the Klan,” The Journal of American History 80, no. 2 (Sep., 1993): 596-606.
3) Ch. Two, Karen Krahulik, “Remembering Provincetown: Oral History and Narrativity at Land’s End,” in Bodies of Evidence.

Week Eleven, April 9
Oral History and Performance
1) Della Pollock, “Telling the Told: Performing Like a Family,The Oral History Review 18 (Autumn 1990):  1-36.
2) Natalie M. Fousekis, “Experiencing History:  A Journey from Oral History to Performance,” in Remembering: Oral History Performance, ed. Della Pollock (2005), pp.  167-86.
3) Sarah McNamara and Viridiana Martínez, “I Speak Inglés”

April 25—Oral History Exhibit and Presentation, 7pm at Burns-Belfry Museum and Multicultural Center, open to the public