29 May 2008

paddling up shit creek. or not.

So a couple of weeks ago I emailed the leader of a very powerful branch of a conservative womens activist group that I just happen to be doing my thesis on. According to my adviser, I was perhaps a bit audacious in asking her, in the first line, for access to her organization's records. I never heard back. I was starting to lose sleep over it. Finally on Tuesday I dug deep into the interwebs and found her phone number in a pdf on like, the fifth google search page. Of course, I was too scared to actually call that day, and decided to wait until Wednesday. Wednesday I finished Pedestals & Podiums and was of course in no condition to do history because of the author's emphatic epilogue about how so.many.Mormon.women. have gone inactive because of the Church's policies on women and attitudes towards feminism. I just felt so sad inside. So today, finally, I bit the bullet and made the phone call. I was still really scared, because naturally the last thing I want is a negative response, but sometimes something is better than nothing, right? I mean hello I have to sleep at night.

Anyways, the woman recognized me from my email and is like, oh sorry I didn't write back, but... (and the caps are all me filtering this as I'm listening)
WE DON'T HAVE ANY RECORDS.

What?!

Yep. It turns out I am doing an organizational history on an organization that allegedly doesn't hold onto stuff. It's not a huge deal-- THIS IS WHAT ORAL HISTORY IS FOR, PEOPLE*-- and the feminists held onto a lot of the materials my people put out-- but I have to admit my whole bike ride home from work, I kept muttering to myself in disbelief-- "No records! No records!!!" in this really aghast tone-- argh! And of course I started conjuring up images in my head of these cackling old Relief Society grandmas wearing frumpy cotton dresses (the kind with doilies at the neck) and sensible shoes from Stein Mart dancing around the flames of a bonfire they conjured up somewhere outside of Provo to thwart my attempt at making them subject to the demands and interpretations and judgments of history. But now we know the truth-- these ladies are above history!-- I think as I watch hidden in the sagebrush. More cackling, followed by refreshments served after they thank Carol for doing the centerpieces...

Ok, that's taking it a bit far... they probably just didn't sense their own historocity. But still, tell me you wouldn't be caught up in that daydream if you were me! Anyways, this woman did consent to an interview, and was gracious, even if it was perhaps the longest eighty-three seconds of my life. I'm not really sure what to make of this whole "no records" thing (though now you know what I'd like to make of it) but fortunately I have enough of the requisite sense of adventure found in historians to feel kind of excited about this ultimate test of my archival sleuthy-ness and oral history prowess.



*talk about instant argument for my "why oral history is useful in the intermountain west" paper! Handed to me on a frigging platter!!!

1 comment:

Big Brother said...

I think this simply makes your research topic more interesting and possibly more noteworthy. Go forth and historicize orally so that a record may soon exist.

Big Brother