Extra Credit – Oral History

Today, I went to the Talking History discussion of “Oral History on the Rappahannock, from the Mountains to the Bay,” by Dr. Sellers and Mr. Walker.  The discussed how the Friends of the Rappahannock (FOR) use history to connect the community and history to the Rappahannock River.  The goal is to help people gain a better understanding of the river and to hopefully open the eyes of our locals about the importance.

Both Sellers and Walker described that they started their independent with the focus of the Embrey Dam Removal, which was built in 1910 and taken down in 2004.  They discussed the benefits of taking this dam down since it allowed migratory fish to move into their traditional spawning areas for the first time since 1910.  They also noted the increase in environmental activism and eco-tourism (people are now coming here to paddle).  Sellers and Walker also said that the Rappahannock is now the longest free-flowing river on the east coast.

Next, Sellers and Walker discussed the interviewing process that they went to in order to get research for this independent study.  For instance, Walker noted that interviewing has a lot of issues such as: interviewee’s age, health, and availability, their comfort and willingness.  Also, they had an issue with gatekeepers – having to go through one person to get information from another.  On the positive note, Sellers noted how this is new historical knowledge – new primary information.

Furthermore, Walker discussed other challenges they faced when retrieving their information.  Walker noted how transcripts was an issue because the transcriber did not know how to transcribe the language from the Chief of the Rappahannock River because she used Indian names for locations.  Also, linguistics is an issue because Walker wanted the removal or “um” and “you know” from the transcript, but he noted that it could be an issue because it could take away from the linguistics at this time.  Walker did further note that he does want to try to save vernacular of the individuals he interviewed.

Overall, this talk was very interesting and really opened my eyes to how little I know about the Rappahannock River, and I have lived around here since 2001.  The Friends of the Rappahannock (FOR) should be discussed more often so that the community knows that individuals can make a difference.