Oral historian Sara Sinclair
has been documenting the stories of Indigenous Americans through her upcoming book with Voice of Witness
, How We Go Home
. She documented the story of Jasilyn Charger, a Cheyenne River Sioux woman who was one of the first people to camp and create community at Standing Rock. Despite being credited as one of the youth who launched the Standing Rock movement, Sinclair writes, Charger found that her voice was largely absent from a New York Times
article about her. The journalist relied heavily on things that other people said. In contrast, Sinclair’s oral history interview gave Charger a meaningful opportunity to tell a more nuanced story about her life and family, and why she went to Standing Rock, and what has happened since.
Georgetown University’s new Profiles in Peace Oral History Project
shares the stories of women peacebuilders on the frontlines of conflict around the world, including Leymah Gbowee, whom I talked about earlier. Gbowee shared how it was only once she began to process and understand her own story, that she could begin to more deeply understand the stories of other women, and organize them. This is a critical point: The more we listen to women’s stories, in their own words, the better able we are to understand each other and build power together.
“Women do not need capacity, they need visibility,” Gbowee reflected. Through her own in-depth oral history, in which she discusses overcoming abuse and trauma, we see her not as an exception––not as an unrelatable, prize-winning, world leader––but as an ordinary, extraordinary woman who worked with many others like her to impact her society.
The great power of oral history is that it is within everyone’s reach. We don’t have to wait to be told that our stories matter, or to have someone in a position of power recognize us—we can recognize each other.
Oral history is not about mastering complicated recording equipment and getting expensive history degrees, it’s about genuine curiosity and a commitment to listen. In a culture that’s obsessed with telling, listening allows us space to reflect more deeply, understand our differences and commonalities more profoundly, and honor people who change our lives and our world while educating ourselves and others.
What ordinary, extraordinary women do you want to honor, listen to, and learn from? Check out these resources from the Oral History Association
and get started today.