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Sativa Quinn (sativa@ESKIMO.COM)
Thu, 7 Sep 1995 13:31:42 -0700

Well, I've been here a couple months & I don't know what to think. I
would suggest to newcomers who are also wavering that you try sending a
"set anthro-l mail digest" message to the listproc address, you have to
scroll past the annoying stuff instead of deleting it, but your other
mail is less trouble to get to.

My last anthro-l digest actually had many good things in it, on
contemporary events yet, always nice to see that some of us live more or
less in the here and now as well as wherever else our concerns might be.

Anyway, I'm going to jump on the bandwagon of throwing out your personal
topic of interest & see what happens.

I've been doing some oral history rsch. in an NA community, and am about
to take an Oral History class up at U. Alaska Fairbanks which should
include several people w/ similar experience. This made the posts on who
has a right to interpret history to whom extremely interesting to me, &
alot of good issues were debated, but in this type of case, still more
come up. I am looking at some events from the early 20th cent., using
non-native sources from the period, since that's all there is,
biographies of elders written about 10 yrs. ago, and my own interviews w/
those people as well as some others to construct a version of what
happened. I quote liberally, hoping to present more of a "mosaic" rather
than a univocal version, but of course, I make editing choices with all
of this material.

I am not Native. I am the person doing this job for two reasons. A: My
degree is required to make the product respectable, regardless of what
impact it does or doesn't have on the quality of it. B: Yes, I do have
something in the way of specialized experience at doing library research,
writing well according to current hegemonic standards, and perhaps,
conducting an open-ended interview which still drives towards the needed
information, though I think this takes ALOT of practice & I've got a ways
to go.

To my mind, this ties in w/ questions about whether we are "scientists"
too. What I am is a sort of translator for people who can't or won't
understand one another directly. As such, I am in one of the many
"helping" professions which will have succeeded fully only when it makes
itself obsolete, in this case because the barriers to effective
communication w/ sufficient respect for differences will have lowered to a
point where "normal" people can do it. I see translation as an art,
wordsmithing on a tightrope between over-exoticizing & over-trivializing,
to somehow bring out the points that you, or some collaboration between
you & some representatives of either the subject or the audience,
consider to be important at this point in time. I do not pretend that my
choice of topic or the details emphasized is unmotivated by present
concerns. I do try to be thorough and fair in some sense, though. This
probably requires elaboration but we can discuss it if anyone takes the bait.

Is anyone else out there doing oral history &/or "ethnohistory" a la
Sahlins & Obeyesekere? I'd be especially interested to hear from people
who have confronted these issues directly in any culture whatsoever.