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The museum’s oral history collection: content and security

BIG CYPRESS — Long before European colonizers came to this continent and wrote down their versions of history,
Native peoples expertly practiced the oral transmission of history, passing down culture and personal knowledge from one generation to the next.

Oral history was the primary method of knowledge sharing used by Native peoples to preserve shared and past experiences within their clans, families, and larger cultural groups. Over the last century or so, oral history has also evolved into a specific academic discipline by which a historian and narrator can interact with one another to come to a greater understanding of the history being discussed.

This personal relationship within the research process acknowledges the agency of willing participants to more actively and accurately record personal and cultural history, and stories that have for far too long been only written and interpreted by outsiders and oppressors, i.e. the “white man’s” version of history.

Bobby Henry, of the Tampa community, has sat down with us many times over the years to preserve
his story for future generations. (Photo Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum)

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s oral history collections exists primarily as a resource for tribal members to explore and further their knowledge of their community’s history and culture. The collection includes videotapes, cassette tapes, CDs, DVDs and hard drives, all of which are securely stored and locked away in safes within a vault. The security and privacy of these oral histories is no small matter. Several recordings are restricted to tribal access only, and further still there are several recordings for which the intentions of the narrator are unknown.

Therefore, we make sure they have a full set of restrictions placed upon them. Any community member seeking to share their story with the museum should rest assured that their story will be kept safe. The privacy of the individual’s personal story and of the tribe’s history is taken very seriously.

So while this overview of the collection and its importance to the tribe cannot be too specific in referencing individuals and their testimonies, it can describe the wide variety of oral histories collected. The collection includes recordings from 1960 up to as recently as 2021. The stories told can vary in the type of storyteller as well as topic.

There are several interviews in which the narrator describes their life in its entirety, yet there are also several shorter interviews that detail the art and talent of things like alligator wrestling. If one were looking for stories of beadwork, tourism, politics, legends, songs, traditional foods, camp life, the Seminole Wars, the Vietnam War, cattle, federal recognition, etc., they would find what they were looking for within the museum’s oral history collection.

Technology changes quickly and the oral histories on all these older media have been migrated to
modern safe digital storage. This process will continue as technology does not stop changing. (Photo Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum)

As of right now during the Covid-19 pandemic, the oral history collection continues to grow. We continue to add even more unique and diverse stories via web-based video and audio conferencing platforms. Even though this method of recording oral histories is not ideal from a quality or experience standpoint, the quality remains acceptable while the safety and health of narrators and interviewers is appropriately maintained as the highest priority.

We are dedicated to hearing your stories and preserving the more personal histories the tribe would like to share, so that future generations can not only listen and watch what has already been shared and recorded, but then continue to add on their generation’s chapter to that ever-expanding story. If you would like to add your story to the museum’s oral history collection, please contact me, Alex Banks, the oral history assistant.

I’d be happy to discuss the process and opportunities with you at your convenience.