Media: Article 1

Newspaper: Houston Chronicle
Date: Sunday, 01/15/2006
Section: Zest
Page: 11
Edition: 2 STAR

HISTORY / Telling their story

By MICHAEL HARDY

More than 100,000 evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita now live in Houston, according to city estimates. Now two Texas folklorists want to help them tell their stories.

Carl Lindahl, the Martha Gano Houston Research Professor of English at the University of Houston, and Pat Jasper, who founded the Texas Folklife Resources center, are leading a major effort to collect oral histories from New Orleanians and others displaced from the Gulf Coast.

Most oral history projects use professional folklorists and researchers to conduct interviews, but Lindahl and Jasper plan to train evacuees to do the interviews themselves.

Lindahl got the idea while doing research at the Library of Congress.

"I found that the most powerful accounts were the ones that were told directly by the survivor with as little mediation as possible," he said.

Interviews between hurricane survivors will be more intimate and revealing than usual oral history interviews, Lindahl said.

The project will host about 20 "field schools" over two years to teach evacuees how to operate the tape recorders, take field notes, and log and transcribe the interviews. The interviewers will be paid for their work.

Oral histories are often a primary source for historians. Although the principal goal of the hurricane project is to record survivors' memories of their old neighborhoods and of the disaster, Lindahl and Jasper hope it will also help the Houston evacuee community.

"There's going to be an enormous component of social healing in this," Jasper said. "Social healing for the refugees, but also social healing for the Houstonians who opened their homes to them."

Lindahl said that the project will focus on Houston because the city has the largest population of evacuees. He called Houston's generosity the largest act of civic hospitality in U.S. history.

"I can't think of a historical parallel," he said. Houston opened its doors first and opened them to the most people."

The first field school will be held in late January. Lindahl and Jasper said they expect to collect 5,000 interviews, to be housed at UH and the Library of Congress.

"I think we've got a project that can't lose," Lindahl said.

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