by Katherine Massoth
When I joined History Corps in fall 2013, I was filled with both excitement and trepidation.
I was vaguely familiar with the project as three of my colleagues – Noaquia Callahan, Bethany Otremba Heinrich, and Sylvea Hollis – were the first graduate students to work on the project in its infancy. I knew they interviewed faculty about the role of the humanities in Iowa.
I was nervous about sitting in front of a microphone and interviewing people I respected. While I was versed in oral histories from my research on historical memory along the U.S.-Mexico border and from my committee work at the University of Iowa, I had never been the person to conduct the interviews and record my voice. Previously as a member of HerStory (an interview series with women on the Iowa campus), I stayed safely behind the camera and did administrative work. But now as a History Corps member I was asked to conduct interviews and present content to the community.
At the same time, I was excited. History Corps was an opportunity to leave my books behind for a few hours a week and share the work of the humanities with the community.
Now, I am comfortable sitting in front of the microphone and conducting interviews. I’ve moved beyond the image of History Corps as an oral history project to now knowing the importance of it as a digital history experience. I’ve even learned much more about digital platforms and archiving standards than I thought a nineteenth century historian should know.
As part of my role in History Corps, I’ve trained new members who join with similar trepidation and guide them towards projects they are enthusiastic about. I’ve participated in workshops to share the methodology of History Corps with the interested public while also learning from other community engagement projects.
I relish the moments discussing new project ideas and fixing technical issues with my colleagues. These moments allow me to apply my training in historical methodology to everyday circumstances and present the importance of the humanities to the state of Iowa.
I’ve also collaborated with members Mary Wise and Danielle Hoskins to create an exhibit – Documenting Women at Iowa – which will go live in the coming weeks. By working with and interviewing the archivists at the Iowa Women’s Archives and faculty on the campus, I’ve learned more about the women of this university who push forward changes and give meaning to the relevance of women’s history. These interviews and stories only show a fraction of the experiences we had as a group. The digital and audio footprints do not encompass moments sitting with faculty and learning their wisdom on navigating academia, hearing stories of sexism and racism, and sharing moments of personal achievements.
From 2013 to the present, History Corps has afforded me many opportunities to step outside of my comfort zone, to put my research aside, and to engage with faculty and community members whose paths I did not normally cross. I’ve been able to publicly share the important work of women in Iowa. These skills have strengthened my ability to present my research and provided new avenues to engage the community and widen the audience of historical research.
History Corps has reminded me that when I step back into my office to write, I need to make sure my storytelling has a purpose. As this is the goal of History Corps – storytelling with a purpose both for the audience and the members.
Katherine Sarah Massoth, Ph.D., University of Iowa
Katherine Massoth is a Ph.D. Candidate in U.S. Women’s and Gender History and U.S-Mexico Borderlands History. Her research and teaching explore the long nineteenth century (1776-1920) in the U.S. and the role of gender, race, and sexuality along the U.S.-Mexico borderlands and throughout the American West. She is currently at work on her dissertation, “‘That Was Women’s Work’: The Borders of Gender Roles, Cultural Practices, and Ethnic Identity in Arizona and New Mexico, 1846-1941.” Her dissertation reassess the impact of U.S. annexation of Arizona and New Mexico in 1848 by recovering the imposition of and resistance to the new national border and identities among American Indian, Euro-American and Mexican-American women.