Dang. Today was one of those interview experiences that really transformed what it means to me to be an oral historian. I spent two hours with her in a drafty library basement and came away with an interview released only to me, rather than the library for public use, and the release was further edited to limit the interview's use to the topic for which I contacted her. That's fine, I go with what works for the narrator.
But it's funny, in the midst of all that I have to do, two hours is a lot of time to come away with only ten minutes of actual usable material. What do I make of that, a second instance in which few of my questions were answered? I concluded that really the whole of the two hours, regardless of content, was so much more than just doing oral history research-- it was sharing in this profound, intangible human experience that I don't even think I can start to describe. I love that my research puts me in touch with people that I would never otherwise meet.
Today I think I finally realized how sublime it is to just listen, and how much people appreciate the small gesture of someone listening to them with an open mind. I can't even tell you what it is like to be in a completely quiet room just listening to someone interpret their life. I came away from the interview with a higher respect for the opportunity I have. I don't know that the end result of preserving people's contributions to history is number one for me anymore; I think there is something to be said for giving people the opportunity for telling their stories and embracing the value of those stories to that person. I think the process is more important than the product. I think history is less about understanding the world and more about understanding each other. I think regardless of what happens with my applications and my life long term, I can really appreciate the education I'm getting in the moment and what it does for how I think about what it means to be human and to be alive.