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Oral history put in spotlight at upcoming writer’s retreat

MONTICELLO — Before there was literacy, there was voice. Incenturies past, whole cultures would remember their traditions andheritage by rote, the passing of information through stories andmemorization.

Today, most historical information is gathered and stored by thewritten word or as bits of electronic data. Oral history, however,is not forgotten and still serves as a valuable tool not only inthe search for knowledge of ancient civilizations, but also as ameans to research present generations.

The New Walden Writer’s Retreat and Center annual event Aug.17-20 is aimed at increasing the public’s knowledge of oral historyand training interested people in how to properly interview tocompose an oral history.

“The project is an oral history project, which New WaldenWriter’s Retreat and Center is facilitating, to bring togetherseveral communities and humanities scholars through the support ofa Mississippi Humanities Council mini-grant,” said Phil Sharper,director of the center.

Instructors for the New Millennium, Veteran Voices – 2001 OralHistory Project are Dr. Charles Bolton, director of the Center forOral History and Cultural Heritage at the University of SouthernMississippi, and Dr. Shana Walton, Ph.D., project director of theMississippi Oral History Program at USM. Their time has been madeavailable through the speaker’s bureau of the MississippiHumanities Council.

“I’m a believer in the statement that Mississippians are famousfor their stories, and the participants this year will be trainedby professional archivists in how to capture, document and presentthose stories,” Sharper said.

The free workshop opens Friday, Aug. 17, with a presentation byBolton from 5:30-8 p.m. entitled “How to Conduct an Effective OralHistory Interview” to prepare participants for Saturday’sactivities. The presentation will be made at the New HebronActivities Club on Main Street.

Saturday, participants will be paired with volunteers from thearea who would like to share their recollections of personal,family, community events and history. Walton will overseeSaturday’s activities.

“What we need to do at this point, before the workshop, is toidentify people who would like to interview and be interviewed,”Sharper said. “There is additional space for groups wishing tolearn more about conducting oral histories to observe.”

People who wish to be interviewed should be available to meetwith a participant on Saturday, Aug. 18. The interview will beconducted at the interviewee’s home or a neutral location at theirrequest. Residents who wish to be interviewed are urged to contactSharper by Aug. 10 at (917) 507-3869, or Paul McLain, director ofthe Lawrence County Community Development Association, by Aug. 14at 587-3007.

By the end of the afternoon Saturday, participants will gatheragain at the New Hebron Activities Club and report on theirinterviews, challenges and experiences. Walton will help themarrange and document their work for the public to benefit.

Walton will also host a public forum at the activities clubSaturday night from 5:30-8 p.m. on cultural tourism entitled”Preserving Our Past, Building Our Future.” The event, like theworkshop, is free and open to the public.

“Her presentation will highlight the ways communities candevelop a strategy for preserving their wealth of architecturalcultural heritage through attracting commerce and tourism,” Sharpersaid. “All community members and groups interested in economicdevelopment through preservation of historical and culturalheritage will find this evening most enjoyable and helpful.”

The oral histories gained through the workshop will be archivedat USM in the Oral History Department for use by students andscholars.