Questions and Thoughts on Oral History and Tradition

This semester I am studying Oral History and will be doing an hour long interview. I thought I would post these questions. I had a lot more but I think these particular ones cover the basics of what Oral History is, oral tradition and how it is used, and how these forms of history can be beneficial. I need to decide on a topic for my class and I am thinking of interviewing a Catholic nun... After reading this post, does anyone else have any suggestions that they would be interested in? I was very fascinated with some of the differences and information I learned. Hope you find something interesting and new in this post as well. :)

1. What does the study of History teach us?: The study of history can teach us how to look through the eyes of another human being and what life and culture were like for them. History fores us to look at the world and life differently than how we live it- even when studying the history of someone who lives next door or in the same family. We can learn why people did they things that they did...sometimes through journals and letters where we can 'see' what they were thinking and what thinking went into those decisions and how they changed the life of everyone involved. This study can teach us to become more introspective about ourselves and how we make decisions and to question why we do what we do in our lives. The study of history also teaches us about basic human traits and humanity itself. We are forced to face our fears, prejudice and other ways of thinking when studying history and we are also forced to think about our role in the history that is being made today that we call our life. It can also teach us how to live in our contemporary society in an intelligent and informed matter. Being able to understand or at least show tolerance to the actions of ourselves and those around us keeps life more interesting, safer, useful... and beautiful!

2. What is oral history?:
Oral History is almost the most personal of all ways to collect historical facts and research. Oral history is the research, preparation and collecting of facts, observations, recollections, etc... of knowledge from another human being. Oral history can not be gotten by reading a dusty ledger or sitting quietly in a dark library. Oral history tests you as a historian and as a human. To collect information, you must be personable, able to engage with others, able to listen and not steer the conversation in different directions or toward your own biases. You must be able to act sympathetic-even when you personally are not- and help people to share honestly what is in their memories and also be able to assess the information and the individual sharing it. Oral history is a little different than oral tradition and oral history can be more useful for the society that is generally mostly literate. One reason for this is that the people in these societies are less likely to use their memories to hold 'things' long term... as they could be written down or recorded. The focus of this class will be on the “collecting of an individuals spoken memories of his life, of people he has known, and events he has witnesses or participated in”.

3. What are the common types of historical sources?:
The most common sources for historical information can be easily classified into groups. The grouping of written documents can include, but are not limited to- journals or diaries, books or other published works such as newspapers, letters, and governmental records such as census forms, applications, and tax records. Other examples can be land or property deeds, ledgers and/or records kept by groups such as churches, non profits, small informal groups, etc... Another group would be 'visual documents' and would include pictures, portraits,and prints that-while they may contain no writing- can tell us a lot about the subjects and environment/culture at the time they were created. The grouping of physical documents can encompass almost anything that hasn't already been covered...such as coins, clothing, tools, furniture, buildings, art, music, etc...

4. What is oral tradition? What role does it play in literate and illiterate societies?: Oral tradition is a story, tradition or practice that is shared orally or through speech- usually handed down from generation to generation. Oral tradition is usually eventually written down, but can tell us so much about the society and the people who originated them and allows history to be kept and shared by groups who do or did not have writing. It was a good way to keep valuable information for others in your group and would allow the literate and the illiterate alike to share the information. One downside of written documents is that they are only as useful as the person attempting to read them. If there is no one who can read the document... then the information is just as unavailable and gone as if we didn't have the documentation in the first place. (Sometimes you can get lucky and discover how to read the documents so they shouldn't be discarded- the Rosetta Stone is an example.) Oral tradition can cover such 'documents' as speeches, songs, interviews, and conversations. Oral history, especially if shared by a quite charismatic speaker, can evoke emotions, memories and actions that the written words is hard pressed to match. And again, the spoken word is available to all who know the language- whereas written documents have an added impediment. Spoken word, as shared with more people and preserved by memory is more accessible to everyone -anyone in hearing distance. Other documents can easily be destroyed- a book can be burned, etc... But to destroy a memory, you must destroy all who have the memory before they can spread it... and like destroying a trail a gossip, it is a horribly impossible thing to do! :) So societies that have no way to write it... or will be punished for writing it down.. would carefully remember these 'documents' so that they could still be shared.

5. What is the difference between oral history and personal observation?:
Oral history is something that is told to a person-usually a person that has very little experience with what is being discussed. One purpose of oral history is to share something with someone who doesn't have that experience. Personal observation is experience. While people can tell you their experience, you as the historian will also be colored by your view of the experience and merging the perspectives will be more difficult if not impossible. The best way for me to understand this is by looking at the difference between the words sympathy and empathy. A person can have sympathy and some understanding of an experience, but because they have not experienced it, they cannot have the depth of knowledge of one who has personally experienced it. So a woman who has lost a child has a much better understanding of a different woman’s situation when she has lost a child and can have empathy, but a woman who has never had a child cannot not truly understand what that other person has gone through- no matter how many times it is explained. There will always be missing pieces... sort of like the concept of history in general. :)

6. Why is oral history especially important in this age of communication revolution?: People in this communication age are far less likely to keep written documents such as journals. Facebook allows you to store and save your status updates now, but that doesn't tell you what was said in conversations or really what you were thinking when you wrote that tiny jot of information. And once we forget the information... it is gone. People used to write letters and mail them- now we write emails and delete them... or we save time and talk on the phone. I think we also spend less time with people these days and so sharing with people is less of a priority. We divide ourselves off and just are not big parts of our communities as we once were. We are not as intimate with a large amount of people and our circle of trust grows ever smaller. However, this rationale may only apply to the 'common man' as the more well off and famous are very likely to have volunteers to collect and categorize the person's written documentation. These documents may be less revealing than the past and certainly may not always be the most truthful or unbiased, but these documents should help to flesh in a picture that we would not have had without them.

7. What is the relationship between written records and oral history?: I think the easiest way to discuss these two topic is to start by saying that by themselves they are useful and I do not want to suggest that alone they are not useful documents with which to discuss and research a topic- but only together does the most complete picture of that slice of history able to be discovered. Memory is a fragile substance and when someone tries very hard to be the most accurate because there will be no written record, memory appears to be the most valuable and 'solid'. But without that intense effort memory is a fluid object that can change based on perceptions of the event, passage of time, etc... Oral history can give us insight into new ways to determine written documents as well as a way of verification. When there are discrepancies, that can help open the mind to ideas of new research.

8. What is the greatest advantage of oral history over written records? What are some of the drawbacks of oral history?: The greatest advantage of oral history is that the historian gets to participate so the historian can actively ask for what information they want. Everyone wants to know if Richard III 'did it', but we can't actually ask can we? :) So if the researcher take the time to look into the desired subject, the interview can be filled with questions that potentially bring forth greater meaning and understanding into the subject matter. Sort of an efficient way of getting to the knowledge that you seek! Having questions that have been thought of and determined as useful can have some biases but can also preserve information that would otherwise have been lost... and may very well be useful to future historians. Oral history sometimes is a way to preserve stories and history that would otherwise be lost entirely as some cultures are biases against actively recording your own history. Oral history is also biased in its openness- you do not have to be rich and famous to apply and so it can provide an every-man’s perspective. It can also explain the 'why' behind a person's actions whereas sometimes written documentation is very much caught up in the 'how'. Also, oral history with several slightly different tellings of the same event can also give us clarity into the situation - some constants throughout the stories will make parts of the tale clear. However, some drawbacks are that written documentation for the 'everyman' will probably be lacking- it is important to remember that oral and written history compliment each other. Oral history is also dependent on memory which can have flaws and can be colored by perspective and bias. That said, almost all historical sources have flaws and so knowing the flaws allows us to use the source to its best advantage and your the most valuable use.

9. What is the importance of research in oral history?: Oral history is a great form of documentation, but it needs to be used if at all possible as a complimentary form of documentation. No form of history can be truly accurate if there is nothing to compare it too... what I mean is there is no way to show how accurate it is. So all history should be validated through other sources and oral history is not immune from this rule. Oral history is also very likely to have 'gaps' of information that can be filled in with written documents and other sources. Research before the oral interview is extremely important as well, because it helps you to know what you need to ask; i.e. what answers you already have, what is missing, what is not clearly understood, etc... Otherwise you can have a interview that is full of already know facts and to find to more... you have to do another interview. A little bit of a waste of everyone's time really.

10. What is meant by the phrase “historical significance”?
Why is it important?: Historical significance basically means that there is an meaning or message to the information that is important to that time in history. So you need to ask yourself some questions about a topic to decide if it has historical significance... such as was this information important at the time and does it continue to be important today? How was this information used at the time and changed or not changed over the following years and generations. Did this facts/actions change things that followed in time and place. The term 'historical significance' also is a term in which what information is important depends on what the questions are that are being asked and how the questions and the answerer 'fit' into their cultural, political, local landscape,etc...!

11. What questions/issues should you consider as you decide what topic to research?: One important question (to me) is what topic would I find myself interested in pursuing... or would really find fascinating? No matter how important and needful the information is, if the historian has no real interest or enthusiasm for collecting the information it can effect the results in ways that may not easily be seen or detected. Another question I should ask is how will my interview contribute to the knowledge and information already known- or what will my work be adding to the already collected data.

Hope you enjoyed this!


New Thoughts on a New Crisis

During the first week of December 2010, parts of the Red Sea played host to a biological murder mystery as well as to a huge amount of unwanted global publicity. As an added 'bonus', the situation almost correctly mimicked a situation in a well known horror book ('Jaws' written by Peter Benchley and published in 1974) which added to the world wide furor.

For those who have not read the novel 'Jaws', it is centered on a killer great white shark. The author Peter Benchley writes about an animal 'impelled to attack', an animal that 'exists on instinct and impulse', 'aren't very bright', and a 'maniac running around loose, killing people whenever he felt like it'. Other quotes include: "There is a creature alive today without passion... without logic... A mindless eating machine. It lives to kill." The plot of the book is fairly simple. A great white shark kills some people in the ocean off of a small seashore town in the northeastern United States. The police chief tries to close the beaches, but is overruled by the local major who is worried about the tourist industry. The beaches remain open and more people are killed by the shark. A shark expert is called to kill the shark and the shark is destroyed at the end of the book. The movie that was released in 1975 is centered around this simplified plot- leaving out the subplots for the most part.

The situation that has recently cropped up in the Red Sea is not really different. A shark- or more than one – attacked four people in two days. All four individuals survived and the local governor (Mohammed Shosha) declared the beaches closed for 48 hours. After two sharks were killed during that time, he then reopened the beaches and declared that the danger was past. True to the book, a woman standing chest deep in water was attacked and died almost immediately. Sharks sightings in this area are rare and attacks are rarer still- while five swimmers were attacked in six days recently, there have been only six reported shark attacks in the last decade in this area until now. The beaches were then closed to swimming and will be indefinitely, and hunters have been out looking for the sharks suspected. The one major twist is that these attacks appear to have been committed by members of the oceanic white-tip and the mako shark population- and add that scientist believe that one specific shark was responsible for two of the attacks- a finding that is unprecedented... well, outside of Peter Benchley's book of course. Add to that the idea that oceanic white-tip sharks are not considered seriously dangerous sharks for people and are not listed in the top killers.... and this story sounds a wee bit scary! The mako shark that attacked and caused the fatality has been caught and confirmed by checking its jaws/teeth. The oceanic white-tip is still at large.

There are lots of theories about why this 'tragedy' happened. There are thoughts that the fish supply is low causing sharks to have to look harder for food. Others have suggested that snorkelers who feed fish illegally are causing the fish to come closer to land... and bringing their predators with them. Other suggestions include the idea that illegal carcass dumping off shore could be conditioning the sharks to find food closer to the shore making humans more at risk. And other theories that are a tad less likely are climate change and possible Isreali plots- I swear I didn't make that up! The only thing that scientists seem to agree on is that these attacks are the result of humans disrupting the environmental balance in the area. My first thought upon hearing about these attacks was that the sharks are having a harder time finding food. It is also telling that the humans were a 'mistake' attack because almost all survived- they were stalked, bitten and then the shark left-recognizing that this wasn't his typical food. (that's a guess) Let's be blunt- if the shark wanted to eat the humans, they would have had no problems doing so and no one in these situations could have stopped them.

A lot of research has been done... and scientists have studied and discovered a lot more information about sharks – not just great white sharks) since the 1974 publishing of the novel that devastated beach tourist areas across the world by causing panic and vacation changes by thousands of people. We know that sharks are not animals that are looking to eat us. We know quite a few facts including

1. Sharks attack in three ways: the hit-and-run, the bump-and-bite, and the sneak attack. The sneak attack is more likely to happen during the time periods of dusk or dawn and also in murky water. The hit-and-run is the most common where a shark sees a piece of us moving (a hand or a foot perhaps) and attacks thinking it is a fish. Realizing that it made an error, the shark lets go and leaves most of the time. The bump-and-bite is the most dangerous as the shark bumps you to see what you are... and if it decides that you are food will attack wholeheartedly.

2. The three sharks that are more likely to attack humans are the bull shark, the great white shark, and the tiger shark. Each of these sharks have different behavior patterns, a different diet, and a different way for attacking prey. For instance tiger and bull sharks tend to hunt at night while great white sharks tend to hunt during daylight hours. Bull sharks are also more likely to attack in shallow water and by far are considered the most aggressive.

3. The most dangerous to humans is the great white shark which, while usually spitting out promptly its mistaken bit of human flesh, leaves huge bleeding wounds on its victims. The great whites that attack human tends to be in the 8'-12' range in length leading to speculation that they are inexperienced juveniles still figuring out how to hunt for the seals they prefer.

4. We are more dangerous to sharks and humans kill thousands for sport and food every year.

5. Some sharks travel thousands of miles and some have been known to travel 1800 miles in a six month period. Very few are thought to be territorial.

Peter Benchley himself felt some responsibility for the negative attitudes that the general public felt about sharks that he felt were created due to his book. He later in life became an ocean conservationist and in 2000, he wrote: “considering the knowledge accumulated about sharks in the last 25 years, I couldn't possibly write Jaws today ... not in good conscience anyway. Back then, it was generally accepted that great whites were anthrophagous (they ate people) by choice. Now we know that almost every attack on a human is an accident: The shark mistakes the human for its normal prey.”

What happened in the Red Sea attacks is a tragedy and frightening to think about. We as human beings man never know why the sharks attacked, and why such an infrequent thing happened so many times in one short time frame. What we can do is try to figure it out and change our behavior. For certainly, it seems very likely that no matter what the cause, human beings helped cause this tragedy. Blaming or demonizing the sharks will do nothing positive and has the potential to cause even more ecological imbalance as in our fear, we kill any shark we can catch. I hope that the families are receiving the help that they need to grieve and recover and that the victims are safe and recovering as well. But I do hope we see this as a lesson that we can attempt to learn and not as another opportunity for fear and murder. Our Heavenly Father loves us... and the sharks... and the earth. May we remember that... and that we can coexist... together.


Where I should be... and where I am at- Nutritionally Speaking

So this semester I am taking a nutrition class. One assignment was to write down where nutrient, vitamin and mineral wise I should be... and then after recording an average days worth of food and breaking it down to see how I fit. I did this without adding in the multivitamin that I am fairly bad at remembering to take. Am I eating what I need on an average day or not? (I am sticking with the basics and not adding phytochemicals, etc...)

I am a 36 yo female, therefore I need for good health.....

700u Vitamin A
75mg Vitamin C
5u Vitamin D
15mg Vitamin E
90u Vitamin K
1.1mg Thiamin
1.1mg Riboflavin
14mg niacin
1.3mg Vitamin B6
400u Foliate
2.4u Vitamin B-12
5mg Pantothenic Acid
30u biotin
425mg Choline
1000mg calcium
25u chromium
900u copper
3mg fluoride
150u iodine
18mg iron
320mg magnesium
1.8mg manganese
45u molybdenum
700mg phosphorus
55u selenium
8mg zinc

That seemed fairly easy to come up with. So I recorded my food for the day... and this is what I came up with....

Total calories - 1776
Total carbs - 233 grams
Total fat - 50 grams
Total protein - 53 grams
Total sugar - 49 grams
Sodium - 1449 mg
Potassium - 2163 mg
Fiber - 29.5 grams
Vitamin C - 110.2mg
Vitamin A - 956u
Vitamin E - 5.6u
Iron - 10.84 mg
Calcium - 140 mg
Thiamin - 0.19 mg
Riboflavin - 0.428 mg
Niacin - 9 mg
Foliate - 74.2u
Phosphorus - 486 mg
Magnesium - 133.8 mg
Zinc - 10.05 mg
Vitamin B6 - 1.16mg
Vitamin B12 - 2.5u

Not a good report, really. Yes a few things were high or close to target, but egad.... everything else was low or absent entirely (twelve were completely absent). One thing I can do- I think I will get better about taking my vitamins. I did a fairly good job at following the pyramid too, but vegetables were lacking. Fruit was great as I got five servings of that and beans 'count' as veggies, but I am clearly missing a few things that I am supposed to have... which shouldn’t be a surprise with my food allergies. This list also doesn't take into account essential fatty acids and other very necessary nutrients. It look like if I try and pick up a green veggie everyday and my multi-vitamin I will be closer to where I need to be. For those of you foodies out there, what else can I do?

And to pick on my readers... how are you doing in this regard? Can I challenge you to write down your food for the day and try and figure out where you are- I am willing to help! :)


History of a Song: January - “All Creatures of Our God and King”

This hymn has a long history and actually was originally published hundreds of years after the authors death. The lyrics of this hymn were written by Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone – more commonly known as St. Francis of Assisi. He was born around the year 1181 and was the son of a wealthy merchant in Assisi. In 1204, he had a vision and soon he decided to live in poverty and become a preacher. He developed a following which was endorsed by the Roman Catholic pope in 1210 and became known as the Franciscan order. He was known to have said - “If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.” Later in his life, he founded an order for older women as well as the Third Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance. There are around sixty hymns that it is believed that he wrote and he is also known as the first saint known to have received the stigmata (which he received in 1224 and are commonly known as the wounds of Christ's Passion.) He died in October 1226 and was granted sainthood in 1228. In the Roman Catholic Tradition, he is known as the patron saint of animals and the environment and has a feast day that is celebrated on October 4th every year.

Originally written in Italian and named Cantico di fratre sole (Song of Brother Sun), this hymn was written shortly before his death and reflects his meditations on Psalm 145. It was published almost 400 years later with music called Geistliche Kirchengeange written by Koln in 1623 (in German). Harmony for these lyrics to the tune Lasst Uns Erfreuen was later written by Ralph Vaughan Williams and published in the English Hymnal in 1906 and was # 519.

It was first trans­lat­ed into the English language by William Henry Draper and his version has remained the most popular version to this date. Born in 1855 in Kenilworth, England, he was educated at Keble College in Oxford and was later a curate and a vicar. He translated the song into English in 1910 for a children's festival in England and his version first appeared in a hymn book in 1919. In his lifetime he wrote about sixty hymns, but this song was his only translation. William Draper died in 1933.

This song has been performed by several artists. It has been performed and recorded by the BYU Concert Choir in 1984, Patty Griffin in her newest album release in January 2010, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on their album Hymns of Faith II. In 2008, a group of musicians called Eclipse released an album called “Grateful Praise” with a recorded version of this song... which later received a CASA award for best recorded sacred song. In short, it might be easy to name individuals that haven’t performed this song than those who have- slight exaggeration there. :)

I researched this song on the recommendation of a good friend- Cathy McCoy. What does this hymn mean to you? Is it a hymn that you like... and why? If you do not like it, why not?


Different Visions of Perfection

"It all comes back to one...
For it is He and He alone...
Who has lived the only perfect life we've known" - Michael W. Smith

Perfection – a state of completeness and flawlessness
- 'a finishing' or to 'be finished'; complete
- which is so good nothing could be better
- which has attained its purpose

I have never understood the idea of perfection. Don't get me wrong- I understand the concept and what the word means and symbolizes. But really, what is perfection anyway? I wonder what answers we would get if we placed twenty people around a table and discussed it. I think that the first two minutes would be caught up in the definitions formerly stated... but what happens when you ask for examples? Would we get caught up in pointing at people and certain characteristics that we consider perfect? Or people that 'look' perfect and appear to have the perfect life to us? If we really tried to point at perfection and what is means to us, what would we point at? I wonder if many of us would end up pointing at Jesus and saying that's perfection.

That opens up questions for me though. I am not questioning whether Jesus is and was perfect. I have a strong testimony of my Savior. But I can easily open up the scriptures and find examples of behavior that I would consider imperfect in myself... in some ways I might even consider sinful. One example is anger. Just a random pulling of a few scriptures discussed that anger is a bad thing.

Proverbs 14:17 – He that is soon angry dealith foolishly....

Proverbs 27:4 – Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous.....

Genesis: 49:7 – Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce....

If you look at the words of the prophets and members of the priesthood who speak at conference or even in your local sacrament meeting, rarely can someone find a quote that anger can ever have a good purpose.... yet Jesus showed anger. So... when in anger OK? In perfection, showing anger is acceptable -so anger itself is not a sin.

So after thinking about this idea, what do you think? How do you feel about anger? Is anger a black and white idea in that it is either really bad or good... and how can you decide which forms of anger (or at least angry behavior) is truly acceptable and not sinful? ...And what other emotions and acts can be righteous and unrighteous in your opinion... depending on how they are done?


A New Year... and a New Perspective/Start.

A New Year! Please do not think that I am being even the tiniest bit sarcastic when I say 'Thank God for a New Year!' I am so grateful for the New Year. I know that the idea of a new year is mainly symbolic- that your life hasn't really changed... that the trials and difficulties that you are facing haven't just disappeared or even been resolved... In reality, nothing surrounding you has changed.

However, the symbolism of the new year invites us to once again become introspective and to really look inside ourselves and see what we lack or what we wish to change... what we see and are disappointed to find...and maybe what we wish to accomplish that we have been putting off (self reflection so to speak). This time of year reminds us that the time is now... not later, and the change that we want to see in the world must begin with us. So, while we should take the time to be introspective and mindful every day, many of us don't and that is a skill and a habit that I am still trying to develop.

So I have spent time over the last few weeks really looking at my life and instead of focusing on the trials ans the pain, I have tried to really try and figure out what I have control over and what I would like. And also, what is necessary. But, I made a few rules for myself. One rule is that I can only make a few changes or attempts to change - otherwise all of my good intentions will go the way of most New Year's resolutions... which is distraction, disappointment, and failure. Also, I wanted to pick three things that people could hold me to- I would have one year to complete and the goals should be easy enough to substantiate by others so I couldn't just blow it off. I really wanted to know that I could be held accountable. And last, I wanted the few goals that I shared to be ones that were not too personal so I felt like I could discuss them with others. I am determined to not just get so busy that I do not continue to work on these goals as well as a few personal ones. So here they are...

1. I want to have the credits for both of my minors concentrations to be completed this year- I think it is quite doable.

2. I am pretty horrible at math. I would like to study enough and learn enough to be able to take the placement test at college and pass it - i.e. I want to pass it enough that I am not relegated to prehistory math.... yes, I am really that bad. But it I am able to place high enough to take pre-algebra and algebra and pass them- I will have my associates degree!

3. I would like to get one paying genealogy job this year. It doesn't need to be a big one, but I would really like to test my talent on someone who isn't a friend or relative and really hone my skills! I think that would really do quite a few things for me... including boost my self esteem. And it is something that I love!

So those are a few of my thoughts... What are your goals for the new year? And how many of you will pay attention and help hold me to mine...? :)