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Oral History Newsletter XVII
Fall 2011

Editor: Matthew Berkshire
Photographer: Alison Portis

The Tradition Lives On

Inclement weather and the end of the semester couldn’t stop the Oral History Circle from taking place albeit more than a month past the original scheduled date when an unexpected storm hit the Upper Valley on October 29. Now it was December 3. The semester had just ended, and with oral history projects safely handed in and the winter break underway, nearly 20 MALS students and alums, along with family members and dogs, gathered at the home of Jett and Chris Vaden to celebrate the art of oral history and the tradition of the Oral History Circle.

This time the weather was perfect. So was the setting on a bright and sunny Saturday afternoon: a log cabin in a forest in beautiful Bethel, Vermont. Students past and present talked about their oral history projects – those completed and those contemplated. The kitchen table was blanketed with a home-made artisanal salsa, pigs in a blanket, gooey sugar cookies, quiche, local beers, and hummus. People drifted out of doors and inevitably congregated around the Vadens’ firepit where s’mores were being roasted to the accompaniment of splashes from the nearby waterfall into a rushing stream. Dogs ran after Frisbees, and children of oral historians chased a soccer ball on the lawn and down the driveway.

The tradition of oral history is an ancient means of preserving the past but one that still finds a place in the 21st century. It lives on in such works as The Good War, Studs Terkel’s Pulitzer Prize-winning oral history of World War II; Merle Miller’s Plain Speaking (an oral biography of President Harry S. Truman); Voices of Freedom (an oral history of the Civil Rights Movement); and works by the Frommers in their “It Happened” series and Harvey’s sports books that combine oral history with non-fiction narrative.

The Circle itself is a rather younger tradition, dating back to the mid 1990’s. It makes for a venue where current and former students mingle, enjoy good food and drink, and talk about their work in MALS 191 and beyond in Independent Studies and theses. Not wanting to miss out on the Circle after the threatened North Easter this year resulted in the original date being cancelled, Jett offered her home and hospitality this later date. Perhaps less formal than the usual events, lacking in presentations on ongoing projects and plans, attendees still had a great time, were well fed, and enjoyed the idyllic scenery. After all, the Circle is also about fellowship; throughout the years; it has become its own tradition. This year the tradition lives on.

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