I am writing to ask for your support in order to send University of Florida students to the Southwestern Oral History Association annual meeting at California State University, Fullerton to perform a student-created performance titled Voices from the March which is based on the experiences of UF students at the Women’s March on Washington and the Presidential Inauguration of Donald J. Trump. In this web feature, you will hear from our students about the importance of this research endeavor. First, let me give you a brief history of this exciting project.
A few days after the 2016 Presidential Election, Bonnie Moradi, director of the UF Center for Gender, Sexualities, and Women’s Studies Research (CGSWSR) contacted me with an audacious idea: CGSWSR and the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP) should join together to send a team of students to document the newly-announced Women’s March on Washington.
At the same time, students at the University of Florida were raising their voices in alarm and asking if the fragile gains made by generations of LGBT, civil rights, and women’s movement organizers were now in danger of being eroded or lost entirely. In the midst of what appeared to be a moment of social crisis, Women’s Studies and Oral History decided to do what we do best as researchers: use the skills we teach in the digital humanities, interviewing and narrative writing to document first-hand the historic events unfolding in the nation’s capital.
None of this would have been possible however, without the financial support of dozens of individuals and research centers who contributed precious funds to this field work collaboration. (We did not have a line item in our budget to send students to Washington, DC!)
In retrospect, it seems quite clear that our students were asking us for the right to witness and to document history firsthand. Ultimately, we were able to outfit seventeen University of Florida students with state-of-the-art digital equipment to record events which were being watched by millions of people at the same time all over the earth. Included among our project objectives were the following goals:
- Capitalize on a unique and timely opportunity for students to learn about the relationships among politics, social movements, and social action.
- Document a critical moment in U.S. political history and women’s history, situating it in historical context.
- Explore the human impact of this historical moment and what it means for different people’s sense of safety, belonging, diversity, and inclusion.
- Train students in methods of oral history data collection (e.g., interviewing, recording, transcribing).
- Train students in methods of creating multimedia public scholarship (e.g., podcasts, mini-documentaries, articles) for scholars, students, and the public.
I am pleased to report that thanks to the support of numerous individuals and research centers, our students built upon the success of this collaboration in order to give numerous panel, roundtable and professional paper presentations at academic conferences, public history programs, and newspaper op-eds. Students have produced digital podcasts that have been aired on national outlets including iTunes and the Oxford University Press’s Oral History Blog. Due to the outstanding collaborative relationship between SPOHP, CGSWSR, and colleagues at the George Smathers’ Libraries, the University of Florida has been named the National Repository of the Women’s March on Washington Archives Project. Students are now using the interviews, photographs, video clips and other data collected by researchers across the country in senior theses, MA projects, dissertations and multimedia formats.
In the fall of 2016, SPOHP also began collaborating with UF Arts in Medicine faculty Jeffrey Pufahl on a theatre performance titled Telling: Gainesville which drew on oral histories to tell the stories of military veterans in war and peace. After Telling: Gainesville played before standing-room only audiences throughout the fall, Jeffrey approached SPOHP with a new, exciting idea: create an interactive stage performance based on our students’ experiences at the March on Washington. Voices From the March was born!
Our students performed Voices from the March for the first time at the UF Social Justice Summit on January 27, 2018 and it received rave reviews. “We weren’t able to catch up with you after the performance of Voices from the March last night,” one parent wrote to me. “However, my daughter and I wanted to tell you how deeply impressed we were by both the play and the underlying commitment and rigor of the students who performed in it. It was thrilling, powerful work and I was moved to tears several times.”
Another parent of a high school student who watched Voices from the March wrote to me that, “I consider last night’s performance a landmark in [my daughter’s] education, really, all the more effective because the play’s calls for compassion, reflection, and justified anger came from the mouths of young people closer to her age and her emerging vision of herself.”
Now, I am asking for your assistance in bringing Voices from the March to a national audience. Your support will make it possible for University of Florida students to bring to life a remarkable experience and moment in American history which has already transformed lives. I will let the students in this feature explain why they believe Voices from the March is a vital endeavor. Thank you in advance for your support, and I look forward to answering any questions you may have. Together, we are stronger!
Director, Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Associate Professor of History, University of Florida