Personal History - Can it “fit” into Public History and Historic Preservation?
Just this past year, I elected to take a 4-module online certificate program in Reminiscence and Life-Story Work through the University of Wisconsin-Superior. I actually found out about this program on the Oral History Association website. I completed three modules of posting initial, as well as, responses to fellow classmates and wrote up numerous assignments. I also conducted a group reminiscence project with fellow seniors at a house of worship that I attend. This project formed the basis of my Capstone experience. In these project sessions, which were held on two separate Friday mornings (one in November and December), eight topics ranging from School Days and Work were selected from an assigned text. The topics were equally divided up so that four for each monthly session were used. Within these topics, subtopic questions were selected by each of the seniors, so that everyone received a question to respond to. For the most part, a great deal of shared conversation took place between these seniors during the timespan of an hour. But then I came up with my own question; a question of application, which was:
Can personal history “fit” into the larger spectrum of public history and historic preservation?
I believe it can. And here's why:
Our elderly individuals can relate to the times when they visited a specific museum or historic site and took away a specific message or developed an opinion about the how such a place was to be interpreted. Perhaps that site was demolished or the museum was permanently closed. Their voices could provide a interesting and worthwhile narrative and preserved in the historical record. They may have reminisced about a certain hotel or a business housed in a wonderful Brutalist building, in which they had some very pleasurable experiences long ago. All of a sudden, they discover that hotel or building is about to be demolished. Can these folks become “instant” preservationists and help save that building? Can they become activists in the long-run and inform planners, as well as, developers about their reactions to a preservation issue? Yes-all of the above. Reminiscence is oral history-oral history is information-information translates into action. It should and it must