Living Donors and the Oral Historian

When Kristin wrote recently about the troubles of working with living donors, I could not help but relate her woes to my own summertime job experience.  This summer I have worked as the Oral History Intern at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City where I have had the privilege of engaging a whole other type of living donor: the oral history interviewee.

In October, the Tenement Museum will debut a new exhibit entitled Shop Life. This basement exhibit explores the history of business culture at the landmarked 97 Orchard Street tenement.  One of my goals is to strengthen the Museum’s oral history collection with information about other neighborhood shops and storefronts, past and present. These interviews might someday serve as the foundations for a Shop Life neighborhood walking tour to accompany the new tenement exhibit.

LES TLH PostLower East Side tenements

To collect oral histories, I rely on the theory and methodology taught in our graduate course Oral History at Loyola University Chicago.  We delved into the intricacies of interview technique, transcription methodology, and the ethical implications of exploiting interview sources for our own academic and professional gains.  Now that I am in the field doing this work for myself, I realize one topic, preceding all the rest, remained largely unaddressed: How do you even get someone to sit down with you for an interview?

Continue reading “Living Donors and the Oral Historian”


Museum Review: Elsewhere

The Elsewhere Collaborative is a museum set inside a former thrift store and functions on one key idea: nothing enters the museum and nothing leaves. The prior owner of the thrift store, Sylvia Gray, might be characterized as an eccentric collector in her time. Operating the store from the 1940s through the 1980s, it’s a true testament to a half century’s worth of material and popular culture.

LFH Blog
LFH blog

The place itself is welcoming and accessible. Entry is by donation. When I arrived for my happenstance visit, a group of young adults (probably mid-20s) gathered on chairs outside the main doors engaged in lively conversation. They stopped and asked me where I was from. Continue reading “Museum Review: Elsewhere”

Plans for Summer 2012, Part Two

Winter BreakThe Field Museum, Chicago Illinois
Photography by Anne E. Cullen

What do public history grad students do with their summers? Learn about the exciting internships and projects that students are undertaking across the country. And check back in the fall for students’ reflection on their summer work.  To read about what our first batch of respondents are doing with their summers, click here.

Continue reading “Plans for Summer 2012, Part Two”

Museum Review: “A Dream of America” Exhibit

“Let me emphasize that while a girl is hired to work, she is also a human being, who must have her hours of rest and play.  She will be all the better for having been treated with respect,” wrote Inge Lund, a female Swedish journalist, in 1916.  Lund travelled to Chicago in the early 20th century to work incognito in the wealthy homes of Chicago’s elite.  Her goal? To reveal the harsh working conditions experienced by Swedish American domestic servants through a series of exposés in the Chicago Daily News.  The Swedish American Museum lauds Lund as the Swedish American’s “Undercover Maid.”  Lund’s story is just one among many recounted at the Swedish American Museum’s permanent exhibition “A Dream of America: Swedish Immigration to Chicago.”  The exhibit follows the story of Swedish immigration to and settlement in Chicago, with special emphasis upon the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Swedish American Museum

“A Dream of America” recounts the narrative of Swedish immigration to Chicago with original artifacts, many of which the Museum’s Swedish American patrons donated throughout the years.  Continue reading “Museum Review: “A Dream of America” Exhibit”