Last Friday, the Texas After Violence Project hosted a panel discussion about how the TAVP oral history archive, made digitally available through UT-Austin’s Human Rights Documentation Initiative, features in undergraduate teaching and learning at UT. The event took place as part of Amplify Austin, an exciting annual fundraising event supporting non-profits across the city. Participants convened at the Benson Latin America Collection, which is the physical home of the HRDI.
Rebecca Lorins, Acting Director of the TAVP and organizer of the Amplify Archives event, kicked off the discussion by welcoming the audience and providing some background on the purpose and operations of the TAVP, which aims to collect and archive oral histories that reflect how the death penalty affects communities throughout Texas. Kathryn Darnall, Graduate Research Assistant, followed up Rebecca’s remarks with an explanation of the HRDI’s mission to digitally preserve the archives of social justice movements.
Next, Naomi Paik, Professor of American Studies and Asian American Studies at UT, reflected on her experiences teaching “American Studies 370: Race, Memory, Violence” during Spring of 2012.
Dr. Paik’s course description reads as follows: “This interdisciplinary course examines how processes of racial formation and histories of racial violence shape knowledge production about the past in both historical narratives and in collective and individual memory. We will consider how narratives of the past are produced—from the selection of facts, their assemblage into archives, and creation of historical stories from the archives, as well as in the living and recorded memories of witnesses to the past. ”
Dr. Paik described how the TAVP archives anchored a course unit on race and U.S. imprisonment regimes. In consultation with Rebecca Lorins, she selected several TAVP oral history interviews representing multiple divergent perspectives on and experiences with the death penalty. Working in small groups, students analyzed the archives in terms of how they interacted with prevailing histories and assumptions about capital punishment in the U.S. Dr. Paik emphasized how powerful it is for UT students to engage with archives that are so closely tied to Texas state and regional history.
Following Dr. Paik’s remarks, I said a few words about my role as an intermediary between UT and the TAVP as an Austin community organization.
I have a long-standing relationship with Rebecca Lorins and the TAVP since I worked as a Graduate Assistant for the Bridging Disciplines Program (BDP), an interdisciplinary certificate program at UT. Over the years, the TAVP has hosted several undergraduate interns from the BDP, and Rebecca was a fantastic resource and collaborator as I pursued a project to support BDP interns by creating workshops and other resources on effective internship practices and responsible community engagement. When I took on co-Chairing responsibilities for the Human Rights and Archives Working Group in Fall 2013, Rebecca and I agreed that the time was right to mobilize a project that would offer BDP interns meaningful skill-building opportunities while substantively advancing the digital archiving mission of the TAVP. We circulated this call for interns, and I personally recruited several BDP students I thought might appreciate the opportunity.
Our recruitment efforts yielded a team of five stellar interns, all of whom have demonstrated exemplary commitment to our semester-long digital archiving project. Rebecca does the vast majority of the supervising work; however, we agree that my role serving as an intermediary between the TAVP and the BDP, and offering supervisory support to Rebecca (for example, I respond to blog posts, edit interns’ written work, and facilitate reading discussions on archival theory and practice), is part of what makes this such a functional university-community engagement project. This intermediary-consultant model is very effective at facilitating undergraduate engagement with archival materials. Looking to the future, I think that creating these types of consultant positions for graduate students could offer great professionalization opportunities. (Hmm… possible category of grant funding??)
The panel concluded with inspiring contributions from the TAVP intern team.
Jordan Weber, Tu-Uyen Nguyen, Lillie Leone, Sharla Biefeld, and Jessica Rubio discussed how the internship is connecting with their undergraduate education. Tu-Uyen shared how transcribing and archiving an interview with Rais Bhuiyan, a Bangladeshi-American who survived a murder attempt, is enriching her Asian American Studies minor. Lillie discussed how the hands-on, skill-building aspect of the internship complements and enhances what she’s learning in UT classrooms. Several of the students talked about how the internship has illuminated the definition and potential of oral history as a category of knowledge production and transmission.
A big thank you to all the panel participants and audience members for a fascinating discussion!