Reading List – History, Memory, Narrative, War

I’ve accumulated quite a number of books that I need to read or review in the wake of the summer 2017 Columbia Oral History Institute. It will probably keep me occupied till the end of the year. Even before the institute, I was thinking quite a bit about interdisciplinarity, and how that relates to oral history, public history, and aging. The concept of interdisciplinarity was only further reinforced during the institute. I think this list reflects that.

A few of the titles appearing below I have read, but many of them I have not. So these are not necessarily recommendations as much as they are simply a “to read” list. Outside of the thematic groupings, there is no order to the list.

Please feel free to add more suggestions or comment on any of the books that you have read in the “Comments” field at the end of this post.

Note: Links to Amazon appear through their Affiliate Program, in which I receive a few cents from any purchases made through the Amazon website. Links here are provided primarily for convenience, as a way to read reviews, view table of contents and use many of the other functions available through Amazon. Some publications are out of print; these links are directed to Worldcat, where you can see if your local or nearby library has a copy.

Historiography & Memory

Robert Eric Frykenberg. History and Belief: The Foundations of Historical Understanding. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996).

Joan Tumblety, ed. Memory and History: Understanding Memory as Source and Subject. (London: Routledge, 2013).

Charles Fernyhough. Pieces of Light: How the New Science of Memory Illuminates the Stories We Tell about Our Pasts. (NY: Harper Collins, 2012).


Writing and Memoir

Stephen J. Lepore and Joshua M. Smyth. The Writing Cure: How Expressive Writing Promotes Health and Emotional Well-Being. (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2002).

Mary Karr. The Art of Memoir. (NY: Harper Perennial, 2015).

Rebecca Solnit. The Far Away Nearby. (NY: Penguin, 2013).

Rebecca Solnit. A Field Guide to Getting Lost. (NY: Viking, 2005).

Louise DeSalvo. Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999).

Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson. Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives. 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2010).

Sven Birkerts. The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again. (St. Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2008). [and probably other titles in the Art Of series ed. by Charles Baxter.]


Literature, Literary Theory, and Narrative

H. Porter Abbott. The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative. 2d ed. (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2008).

Daniel Taylor. The Healing Power of Stories: Creating Yourself through the Stories of Your Life. (NY: Doubleday, 1996). Republished in paperback as: Tell Me A Story (Bog Walk Press, 2001).

Arthur W. Frank. Letting Stories Breathe: A Socio-Narratology. (Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2010). This is by the author of

Richard Stone. The Healing Art of Storytelling: A Sacred Journey of Personal Discovery. (NY: Hyperion, 1996).

Seymour Chatman. Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film. (Cornell Univ. Press, 1980).

Jean Aitchison. Words in the Mind: An Introduction to the Mental Lexicon. 4th ed. (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

T. S. Eliot Four Quartets. (Various publishers)

William Faulkner. Absalom, Absalom. (Various publishers)


Veterans, War, PTSD, and Trauma

Edward Tick. War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation’s Veterans from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 2005).

Patience H.C. Mason. Recovering from the War: A Guide for All Veterans, Family Members, Friends and Therapists. (High Springs, Fla.: Patience Press, 1998). Now rather dated, but still useful content, with many excerpts of an oral history nature from Vietnam veterans.

Tian Dayton. Trauma and Addiction: Ending the Cycle of Pain through Emotional Literacy. (Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc., 2000).

Jonathan Shay. Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character. (NY: Scribner, 2003).

Jonathan Shay. Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming. (NY: Scribner, 2002).

Tim O’Brien. The Things They Carried. (Various publishers.) A work of fiction, but relevant for insights about narrative, memory, and trauma. See particularly the chapter, “How to Tell a True War Story.”

Barbara Sommer. Doing Veterans Oral History. (Oral History Association, 2015).

Donald H. Whitfield, ed. Standing Down: From Warrior to Civilian. (Chicago: Great Books Foundation, 2013).

Cathy Caruth. Listening to Trauma: Conversations with Leaders in the Theory and Treatment of Catastrophic Experience. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2014).

Victor Frankl. Man’s Search for Meaning. (Various publishers).

J. Martin Daughtry. Listening to War: Sound, Trauma, Music and Survival in Wartime Iraq. (Oxford University Press, 2015).


Family History and Family Stories

Karen Branan. The Family Tree: A Lynching in Georgia, A Legacy of Secrets, and My Search for the Truth. (NY: Atria Books, 2016).

Thulani Davis. My Confederate Kinfolk: A Twenty-first Century Freedwoman Discovers Her Roots. (NY: Basic Books, 2006).

James Carl Nelson. The Remains of Company D: A Story of the Great War. (NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2009).


Still to come:

Reading List on Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and Caregiving

Columbia Oral History Institute – 2017

I had the immense honor and opportunity to attend the recent Columbia Oral History Institute, where Fellows from around the globe gathered to explore and discuss the topic of: Oral History and Aging: Transmitting Life Stories of Being and Becoming Across Cultures and Generations. It was an outstanding lineup of faculty, as well as a diverse group attendees. It was two weeks of intense study, lecture, and discussion, with a wealth of readings and other sources. I still haven’t processed it all. It’s going to take some time to go through my notes, continue the readings, and thoughtfully consider many of the questions that were raised. However, as I’ve done before when I’ve attended major professional conferences and events, and have lacked the time to produce fully developed posts, I thought I’d start with this Wordle of key concepts and issues that were raised for me at the Summer Institute. I hope to write more about some of these topics in the coming weeks.


History Day – and why it matters

It’s spring – and that means across the country thousands of teens are putting the final touches on their National History Day presentations.

What is History Day?

National History Day is an exciting opportunity for middle and high school students to engage with the past. They develop their own topics around a broad theme that changes each year. The 2016 theme is: “Exploration, Encounter, Exchange.” Students conduct their own research, with heavy emphasis on the use of primary sources. They analyze and interpret their findings, and their work culminates in a final project in one of the following forms: research paper, documentary video, dramatic performance, museum-type exhibit, or website. Depending on the category, students can work alone or in small groups. Students compete with others in their same general age range or grade level.

Ten Reasons History Day Rocks!

  1. It’s fun!  – Students bring and generate energy and enthusiasm for their topics, the research process, and the final outcome.
  2. It’s self-directed – Students select their own topics, and choose how to connect their subject to the contest theme.
  3. It’s challenging – Students learn to ask hard questions of sources, their teachers, and each other.
  4. It’s social – Students meet others with similar interests, learn from each other, and encourage one another.
  5. It’s inspiring – Students have a knack for finding interesting stories and presenting them in intriguing, creative, and thought-provoking ways.
  6. It’s engaging – History Day goes beyond rote dates and “facts” found in dry textbooks – and makes the past come alive. Suddenly, history is exciting again!
  7. It improves skills – Overall skills in research, critical thinking, and writing improve across all of a student’s work – not just in history class.  Technical skills such as set design, costuming, videography, web design, and others also find expression and development through History Day projects. Self-confidence grows, as does intellectual curiosity, teamwork, and social skills.
  8. Quality is rewarded – As students advance further in the contest, they find they must constantly revise and improve their work as the competition stiffens. This teaches ongoing critical thinking skills, editing, and objective assessment of their own work.
  9. There’s prizes! -Students compete at school, local, regional and state levels, before advancing to the National finals. At various levels, but particularly at the state and national levels, students may win special awards, often cash, sponsored by History Day alumni, corporate sponsors, or professional organizations; or gain other forms of recognition. Of course, the best prize of all is to advance to the next level of competition.
  10. And even scholarships! – The University of Maryland at College Park, Case Western Reserve University, and Chaminade University of Honolulu all offer scholarship prizes.
    And let me add Reason #11 — just for teachers!
  11. Teachers can win, too! – A few special prizes are awarded to teachers who exhibit leadership and encouragement to their students.

How You Can Get Involved

State and regional competitions are underway now! Contact your state coordinator and learn how you can volunteer, serve as a judge, or provide other support.

Some students may be in need of financial assistance, particularly if they advance to the national competition in Maryland in June. National History Day does not provide financial support, so most families must foot the bill themselves. Watch for students in your area to hold fundraisers or online campaigns, and contribute generously. NHD also accepts donations to aid in its operations and to get more classrooms and teachers involved in the contest.

Archives Month 2015

Interested in archives, but don’t know where to begin? Are you a family historian who has found limitations to online sources and want to delve deeper? Take a look at these guest posts at the blog on

4 Things to Know Before You Visit an Archive – Want to visit an archive, but don’t know what to expect? Read this post to learn more.

Archives Month: Searching by Context – Too often, researchers are too specific when they begin their search. Learn how using a contextual approach can aid your research.

Archives Month: Anatomy of a Finding Aid – What is a finding aid, how do I read one, and how can it help me?

Memorial Day: Remembering Oscar Pinney

Today, I briefly visited Stones River National Battlefield, and while in Murfreesboro, also paid a visit to the Healing Field. Sponsored by the Exchange Club, the field is full of probably 200+ flags. It was a windy day, and they were all highly visible. People can “sponsor” a flag, and dedicate it to someone in the military. It was a moving tribute, and as I walked among the flags and noted some of those that were being honored, I felt as if I were among ghosts. All of those who had Gone Before. From all of America’s wars. Even some of them, only a few years ago.


I thought about who I might honor. Corydon Heath, whom I came to know through the story of Milliken’s Bend, and George Conn, another officer who died with Heath, were first to mind. But then, there was absolutely no local connection to Stones River or Murfreesboro at all. It didn’t seem appropriate.

So I thought, “Who do I ‘know’ from Stones River?” And I thought immediately of Capt. Oscar Pinney, of the 5th Wisconsin Battery. I learned of his story probably 20 years ago. And I remember reading his letters. And his last (extant) letter home, written a few days before Christmas – where he tells his wife that he just received a furlough – “to start tomorrow morning” – only to inform her that it has been countermanded.

Detail of Stones River battlefield, 9am, showing Confederate onslaught. Map drawn by Ed Bearss, National Park Service

Detail of Stones River battlefield, 9am, showing Confederate onslaught. Map drawn by Ed Bearss, National Park Service

Pinney’s battery was engulfed in the early morning of Dec. 31, 1862, in the opening hours of the battle. Posted on the far Union right, and firing canister, they were nevertheless overpowered and had to withdraw their guns. Pinney was shot, and his cannoneers were forced to leave him behind. After the battle, and when the Confederates had left the field, he was still alive, but died on February 17, 1863. Several of his comrades are buried at Stones River, but Pinney’s body was sent home.

This Memorial Day, please remember his family’s sacrifice, and those of so many, many others. They did not die that you might eat more hot dogs or have an extra day off work or shop at sale. They died that we might become a stronger, more secure nation. They died because they were willing to make sacrifices that many of us are not. They died to ensure our freedom, that we so often take for granted.


These men died too. Honor their sacrifice, say a prayer for their families, and shake a vets’ hand who made it back. Thank you. We are forever in your debt.

More about Oscar Pinney and the 5th Wisconsin Battery at Stones River:

Read his last letter (page 19)

A memoir by Charles C. Cunningham

More resources about Wisconsin units, including the 5th Battery, at Stones River.

Vets today:

Help those who’ve come home: Wounded Warrior Project

Civil Rights in the Archives – Acquisitions

As the final post in the series about Civil Rights in the Archives, I wanted to end on a positive note. Most of my previous posts showed how archives and archivists have failed in the past to be welcoming and inclusive in their policies and practices towards African-Americans, and how this historical failure has had an impact on the curation and production of history.

In contrast, this post will herald some heroes, a small number of people who, over the course of less than five years, built one of the most significant research collections about the Civil Rights Movement in the South. This collection is nationally respected, but until recently, the men and women who literally put their lives on the line to gather these materials were virtually unknown.

Their story is detailed in an excellent article by Michael Edmonds in the Summer 2014 issue of the Wisconsin Magazine of History entitled, “‘Bold (Not to Say Crazy)’: Collecting Civil Rights Manuscripts.”

University of Wisconsin history graduate students Mimi Feingold and Bob and Vicki Gabriner first approached the director of the Wisconsin Historical Society about gathering documentation from the Civil Rights Movement. All three had been activists prior to their arrival in Wisconsin. Mimi participated in the Freedom Rides, and the Gabriners had worked for a time with a black community in West Tennessee. Another grad student, Danny Beagle, also worked in West Tennessee, and undergraduates Chris Hexter, Alice Kaplow had been in Mississippi. These three would become the processing archivists and corresponding secretaries of the effort. The Gabriners and Feingold would serve as the field workers, traveling South.

Initial efforts began in early 1965, and by the end of the year, WHS had received commitments from Anne and Carl Braden and collections from more than 20 individuals or groups. By the middle of 1966, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) had also agreed to send their papers. The collection was growing, and efforts were becoming more promising as the Braden and CORE materials demonstrated the sincerity and trustworthiness of WHS as an institution and their young fieldworkers.

In the summers of 1966 and 1967, the students took their efforts on the road, traveling to Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia. Gwen Gillon and Leah Johnson, both African Americans, joined the teams in 1967. Gillon, an undergraduate, was already a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, having worked full-time for SNCC at age 17.  She had also teamed up with Stokely Carmichael in 1964  in Mississippi to investigate the disappearance of three voting rights workers (Chaney, Schwerner & Goodman), who were later found murdered.   Johnson had just graduated from UW with a degree in history.

Among the notable collections these teams acquired were the papers of Daisy Bates; scraps from Fannie Lou Hamer (who was literally burning her papers as Johnson and Gillon drove up); the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party; personal papers of SNCC members and leaders; items relating to the Albany Movement in Georgia and Freedom Summer in Mississippi; and much more, including papers from small communities and organizations in the Mississippi Delta and Louisiana back country.

Although impressive, their work was not easy. And WHS director Leslie H. Fishel Jr. knew the risks these young men and women were taking. He wrote to the State Attorney General to ask if the Society would  be held liable if they were hurt or killed; the reply came back that the student workers would be covered by the Workmen’s Compensation Act. There were other matters, too. Fishel set aside $1500 for bail in case the workers were arrested.

By 1968, many of the students were finishing their studies, and Society director Fishel retired in 1969. The small group that dedicated themselves to documenting the Movement quietly disbanded through attrition.

But their legacy remains. In just three years, more than 200 shipments of materials had been received at Society headquarters in Madison; fifteen years later, leads initiated in the 1960s still were generating donations.

This story demonstrates in a powerful way how archives and archivists can shape the narratives of the stories we tell. In this case, these young people were willing to risk their lives. Much like the Monuments Men of World War II, they were operating “behind enemy lines” to ensure that the raw materials of history survived. Although their work took place over a very short span of time, their activities continue to have far-reaching consequences today, as researchers from around the world come to the Wisconsin Historical Society to research the Civil Rights Movement.

Part 4 (Conclusion) in a series.

Part 1 – Access

Part 2 – Collections

Part 3 – Description

Tourism, History and Memory

Jim Weeks, Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine
(Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2003).

In honor of the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg, instead of reading yet another book about the furious fight on the Pennsylvania hills, I chose to read this book by Jim Weeks. It was recommended to me earlier this year by Rob Thompson whom I met at the Future of Civil War Studies Conference this past spring. I had asked Dr. Thompson if he knew of a good book about Gettysburg and tourism, and this was the title he mentioned.

It is an extraordinary example of public history, and one that carries many lessons and examples far beyond Gettysburg and the Civil War:

How do tourists in the present day encounter history? What are their expectations? What do they feel they already know about the site or its story? How do their educational experiences and background affect their outlook? How has the historic site been commercialized? How do the business people involved in such activities view their association with the historic site?  What kinds of objects or services do tourists purchase, and why? How has the interpretation and commemoration of the site changed through time? How did the historic site come to be marked, remembered, and commemorated? Has this changed over time? What is the natural environment at the site – and how does that affect interpretation and the visitor’s experience? How do issues of race, class, and gender intersect with all of these issues? And the ramifications go on and on and on.

Every page is full of keen insights about the history of commemoration and tourism at Gettysburg. But even more enriching than that, nearly all of Weeks’ observations can be extrapolated to virtually any other historic site.  It is a case study, that can serve as a guide.

Highly recommended!