The Olive Project

a theoretical reflection || watch || interact



After decades of dependence on the alphabetic transcript as the default final product of the oral interview, the emergence of digital media technologies has opened the field of oral history to compelling possibilities: a return to the affective power of voice at the root of the practice (Eynon, 1999, p. 23); and a broad-based access to the tools for circulating, documenting, and re-mediating oral narratives for public audiences (Frisch, 2006, p. 103). The shift toward new media and multimodality that we have witnessed in composition and writing studies has also enabled a reclamation of the rich embodiment implicit in the historical orality of rhetoric (Selfe, 2009, p. 635), while expanding capacities for the widespread production and distribution of expressive texts (p. 637). In the Olive Project I experiment with a potential dialogue that has been enabled by this digital turn in both composition and oral history.


On one hand, the Olive Project asks how compositionists might contribute to the practice of digital oral history. While, according to Frisch the challenges presented by oral history's digitization "are less technical than they are intellectual and even philosophical" (p. 104), I believe that they are also inherently compositional. Through my interactive scroll I enact Frisch's vision for "post-documentary sensibility" in my compositional practice, while questioning his assumptions of unmediated access to the "raw" materials of oral history (2006, p. 113). As an explicitly "composed" approach to the interactive digital archive, this project draws attention to the ways in which "agency and materiality are entwined" (Wysocki, 2004, p. 6) in the production of new media texts.


At the same time, this project experiments with the ways that oral history contributes to our understanding of ethics, affect, and audience in multimodal composing. Oral history's unique approach to co-created narrative (Portelli, 1998), combined with the innately sentimental nature of this project, has pushed me to grapple with complex questions of memory, mediation, and "author-ity" (Frisch, 1990, p. 226) in order to navigate the sticky incongruities between personal and professional composing. By re-imagining oral history as composition and by taking up composition as oral history, the Olive Project explores the potential for mutually inventive and energizing exchange between these two distinct but not unrelated fields.