The Olive Project

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The Olive Project began as a humble (but never simple) work of family history, emerging out of my deeply personal desire to collect and preserve the life story of my grandmother. The audio and textual materials that form the basis of this project are the outcome of a three-hour oral history interview that I conducted with my grandma in May 2009. Combining these materials with digitized photos and segments of 8mm film from family archives, I have experimented with both documentary and "post-documentary" (Frisch, 2006, p. 113) approaches to composing oral history in multiple modes.


This project is grounded in a central understanding of oral history as a co-constructed process of narrative composition. I am concerned, first, with the problematic realities of reduction and erasure that emerge when we seek to translate life via memory into oral storytelling. Questioning our dependency on the chronology of linear narrative as a means of mapping "coherence" onto the disorder of lived experience (Ochs & Capps, 1996, p. 21), my process seeks to illuminate the inevitable, irreconcilable gap between a life lived and a life narrated. Approaching this project from the contradictory positions of granddaughter and scholar, I am also profoundly concerned with questions of mediation and authority that emerge out of the interaction—and imbalance of power—between interviewer and narrator in the practice of oral history. According to Alessandro Portelli (1998), "There is no oral history before the encounter of two different subjects, one with a story to tell and the other with a history to reconstruct" (p. 28). Thus, I approached this project with a critical awareness of my own "interpretative authority" (Borland, 1998, p. 73), my power over the meanings that are made from my grandma's memories. At the same time, because this meaning-making process extends beyond my reach to sites of reception, I am also concerned with the way that you are implicated in constructing (or consuming) my grandma's story as I offer it up to you in this webtext. Thus, this project requires that you understand it not as a singular pursuit, but rather as the outcome of multiple complex investments that diverge as often as they coalesce.




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