April 7, 2008
‘Dose of listening’ captures oral history
By Kim Urquhart
“Sound is evocative. It tempts the ear, rests the eye, focuses the mind. It says: Lean in closer.” As Mary Loftus spoke, those gathered to celebrate the Oral History Project shifted imperceptibly forward. “When we chose to capture the memories and life stories of 30 amazing Emory women, we did so not with the latest technology, but with a sensitive microphone and a large dose of listening.”
Emory Magazine’s Loftus emceed the special Women’s History Month event on March 26. “The History of the Oral History Project” offered a behind-the-scenes look that brought together the cast and crew of the podcasts created by the President’s Commission on the Status of Women.
The idea for the Oral History Project was born in 2005. Other oral histories had been under way in various corners of the University, but this would be the first to look across Emory, explained creator and PCSW Chair Susan Carini. Carini and her Emory Creative Group set to work on the two-year project. The result: a series of interviews with 30 women who have made indelible contributions to Emory history.
The project rolled out this fall, marking the 30th anniversary of the PCSW, and the 15th and 20th anniversaries respectively of the Center for Women at Emory and Women’s Studies.
The March 26 celebration provided an opportunity for interviewers and interviewees to reflect on intended, and unintended, benefits of the project. They spoke of friendships, evocative moments, and unexpected twists on the path down which their own stories took them.
“A life review is perhaps the toughest interview you can be asked to sit through,” noted Loftus. But each woman shared with equal parts candor and affection personal and professional failures and triumphs.
Susan Henry-Crowe, dean of the chapel and religious life, found in interviewer Dana Goldman a sympathetic ear, instant rapport and an ease that inspired a feeling of freedom. “There was a way in which you pulled from me the sort of things that were deeper in me,” said Henry-Crowe, who, as a pioneer in her field, is a veteran in giving interviews.
And Goldman found in Henry-Crowe a role model as well as a great interview. “There’s a certain sense of pressure, as a relatively recent graduate from college, to know what my life is going to look like,” she told Henry-Crowe. “What really struck me was the story of your life. I remember you said something like ‘I’ve never had a plan,’ and I just felt my whole body relax.”
The stories – which are inextricably linked to Emory’s story – will continue. Now under the auspices of the Center for Women, the project will feature more remarkable women each year.
“We will do all in our power to keep their words echoing and reverberating across campus,” Carini said.
Tune into the Oral History Project podcasts at www.pcsw.emory.edu.