This blog post was authored by Britany Green, an intern in the Library’s Special Collections unit from the UTC Department of History in Spring 2019.
When I decided to pursue this internship with Special Collections, I did not know that the experience would be so rewarding. I originally found myself drawn to this internship, for I knew that I would add to the Chattanooga Women’s Oral History Project. Oral histories offer a unique view of historical events, in that they come directly from a person’s mouth. The listener then hears that person’s story in the most personal way possible. With oral histories, a historian can observe a moment in history from someone who experienced it, rather than reading a retelling of it in a book. I knew that I wanted to contribute to the project my interviewing the incredible female leaders of the Chattanooga community and add their voices to the archives of Special Collections. When I joined the project, I noticed that no interviews had been conducted with Latina or Hispanic women. I am most interested in Latin American history, and I am involved with the Latino community in Chattanooga. I wanted to give the wonderful Latinas of Chattanooga an opportunity to tell their stories, so I decided to collect interviews with only Latinas and Hispanics.
Through this internship, I learned many things about the members of our community, and I also gained an appreciation for archival work and historical preservation. I enjoyed meeting with the women and hearing about their stories. They all were candid with me and told me about their struggles, from immigration difficulties to encountering racism in Chattanooga. However, they also spoke to me about their successes. Every woman I interviewed contributes greatly to the Latino community and to the greater Chattanooga population, as well. I talked to the women who manage La Paz, which is a nonprofit organization that works to provide resources to the Latino community. These women create impactful programs that offer services for underserved communities, from healthcare resources to networking events. I met with teachers who incorporate Latin American culture into their Spanish lessons. I discussed immigration reform with a local DACA recipient who frequently goes to Washington D.C. to lobby for political change. I learned about their struggles as women and the ways that they felt like they were connected to other Latinas and women of color. Each interview left me with an important story that I was eager to have documented in the archives for others to hear.
Working in Special Collections helped me better understand the work of archivists and the process of making historical evidence accessible to the public. I developed my skills as a researcher, and I discovered that transcription is a tedious thing that I do not enjoy; I am very thankful for those who do it. My contributions to the project help make the archives more inclusive, in that they offer a way for underrepresented peoples to have their voices heard. This project influences the way historians think about the past, as these interviews provide intimate views of the experience of a minority group. It also preserves the present, for it captures the way the interviewees feel and how their stories shaped them into the people they are today. A new project, called the Latinx Oral History Project, stemmed from my research, as Carolyn Runyon, the Director of Special Collections, and I wanted to create a space that celebrated all of the Latinx voices in the Chattanooga community. I hope that future interns will be inspired by this project and collect more interviews with Latinx people, for they will discover that they have powerful stories to tell.