SOHA 2020 Spotlight: Mary Gordon

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Mary Gordon has been interviewing interesting people since a National Park Service anthropologist, Phil Holmes,  suggested she interview Charlie Cooke, who some considered a hereditary Chumash chief.  Phil referred to that work as oral tradition. In the same time frame, she interviewed many people on her cable TV show and as part of her responsibilities for a major  corporation.  Looking back, she wondered , Was this oral history?  Well, aspects were.  One day, Linda Valois, then managing  archives for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, suggested she attend a SOHA conference.  She did, found it welcoming and certainly worthwhile.  One of her first reactions was, Am I an oral historian? She enjoyed meeting  SOHA members, listening to their presentations, and talking with them at lunch and dinners out.  Well, she said to herself, Maybe I am an oral historian.  With her published biography about Charlie Cooke and all the lessons learned from that project, she began giving presentations herself.  The first was a dramatization from Charlie’s story working with Julie Little Thunder.  That punctuated the fact for her that not all historians are the same, that we all have much to learn from each other, and that she could fit in. Next she wrote a family business history and started giving workshops based on that experience from venues as diverse as an NPS amphitheater, to bookstores, to community center classroom settings.

Farina King, SOHA officer, and Mary were ready to co-present a family history workshop for SOHA 2020 ,but it was delayed due to COVID-19.  All the while many of her interviews had been long distance using phone recording technology, so she was poised to work on a family history website long distance with her teenage Canadian grandson.  She often says in her workshops when people seem wary of technology, Engage a teenager. Her corporate, biography, and  family history work required not only long-distance interviewing but also integrating massive amounts of narrative data. She has presented workshops on that process at NPS and OHA,  reworking it now as part of a book in progress on family oral history. Because of SOHA connections, she is interviewing experts on the use of technology including video for that book, taking her back to her TV days but with new perspectives. Over the years Mary has come to know people at SOHA, some founders  like Joyce Moore and newer members like Farina King and our new president Jennifer Keil.  Mary is looking forward to the next conference even if it is with the use of long-distance technology. She says, Come join us, bring your questions and experience. Come whether in person or online. Yeah, SOHA!

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