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Oral History Project Post #1

Some consider factual, material history the be-all and end-all of understanding time periods, places, and events. Something happened here and then and that is all you need to know. This sentiment overshadows the people involved and how they went about experiencing and interacting with said events. One person’s view of an experience, say a bridge collapse or a raging party, may differ greatly from the experience of another person. That is where oral histories come in. Multiplicities are at the heart of the human experience and engaging with these differences of perspectives and interactions with history help to develop a greater picture. It is true that the historical fact of a huge party occurring is true, but hearing about the party firsthand from someone who was there adds depth of understanding.

As the Museum’s former Archivist I created the Oral History Project, hoping that making the programming for it would lead to interns or future archivists to take up the mantle of oral history and dive into the person experiences of roller skaters, rink owners, recreational skaters, coaches, musicians, and everyone in between involved with the roller skating world. Fortunately circumstance gave me the ability to pick up this mantle thanks to grant funding and independent donations. My background is in Folklore (MA), so community is at the forefront of my professional interests and the roller skating community has been a fascinating one to learn about as an outsider.

You hear repeating sentiments when you interview so many people from the same community, and these repeat sentiments really illustrate what is at the heart of a community. I go into each interview with some semblance of an idea of the person I am about to interview. I always have a long list of questions and always add more as questions arise, but I am always amazed to hear how resilient and dedicated to the pastime as everyone is.

Roller skating faces unique challenges in understanding the effect invention has on the sport and pastime, the troubles of rink loss, there being no scholarships to be gained for roller skating at universities, and the struggle to gain international acceptance into the sports world via inclusion into the Olympics. Although these challenges are always affecting roller skating, I have found through my 25+ oral history interviews that although attitudes about the ongoing challenges may be frustrating, the love of the sport and its community is always at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

I hear stories of funny skating accidents, touching stories of how a mentor changed their life forever, poignant stories about how a lost loved one is inextricably tied to that person’s experience with roller skating, and more.

From what I have learned from the Oral History Project, first and foremost people involved with roller skating are fiercely devoted to roller skating– they want to see roller skating succeed in all matters of business, sport, and recreation; secondly they share a deep gratitude to roller skating because without it they would not know the many people that comprise their long list of friends and family. By far the most common response to my questions “What is the most important thing roller skating has given you?” and “What is your greatest success in your career with roller skating?” is something along the lines of meeting people and building lifelong connections.

It’s an amazing thing to talk to so many different people united by something. I cannot begin to tell you how different the personalities of the people I’ve talked to are and I am thankful for the variety, as it makes every interview exciting. I have been touched by roller skaters’ candor and integrity and I have also laughed a ton at the “trouble” people get into. I look forward to expanding the archive of stories that will be held as long as the Museum continues to provide access to all.

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