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So They Understand

William Schneider

Publication Year: 2002

Illustrated with numerous stories collected from Alaska, the Yukon, and South Africa and further enlivened by the author's accessible style and experiences as a longtime oral historian and archivist, So They Understand is a comprehensive study of the special challenges and concerns involved in documenting, representing, preserving, and interpreting oral narratives. The title of the book comes from a quotation by Chief Peter John, the traditional chief of the Tanana Chiefs region in central Alaska: "In between the lines is something special going on in their minds, and that has got to be brought to light, so they understand just exactly what is said."

William Schneider discusses how stories work in relation to their cultures and performance settings, sorts out different types of stories-from broad genres such as personal narratives and life histories to such more specific and less-often considered types as presentations at hearings and other public gatherings-and examines a variety of critical issues, including the roles and relationships of storytellers and interviewers, accurate representation and preservation of stories and their performances, understanding and interpreting their cultural backgrounds and meanings, and intellectual property rights. Throughout, he blends a diverse selection of stories, including his own, into a text rich with pertinent examples.

William Schneider is curator of oral history and associate in anthropology at the Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he introduced oral history "jukeboxes," innovative interactive, multimedia computer files that present and cross-reference audio oral history and related photos and maps. Among other works, his publications include, as editor, Kusiq: An Eskimo Life History from the Arctic Coast of Alaska and, with Phyllis Morrow, When Our Words Return: Writing, Hearing, and Remembering Oral Traditions of Alaska and the Yukon.

Published by: Utah State University Press


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pp. vii-viii

Compiling acknowledgments is a reminder that for me, it is the people and their contributions that make this work possible and rewarding. In the spirit of ubuntu, I want to recognize the following people. ...

Part One - How Stories Work

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1 Introduction

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pp. 3-16

The setting is northern South Africa at graduation ceremonies for the University of the North (UNIN) in the fall of 1997. The university's red brick buildings stand out against the parched fields and modest homes. Beyond the fence and entry gates, cows and donkeys graze. ...

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2 A Career Full of Stories

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pp. 19-31

Fresh from graduate school at Bryn Mawr College in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I arrived in Alaska. I had received a well-rounded education in anthropology, and I was fortunate to study with some of the best teachers I've ever met. ...

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3 What's in a Story9

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pp. 37-52

We strained to hear Howard Luke as airboats and motorboats raced up and down the Tanana River and jet planes roared overhead. Despite the urban noises and our proximity to Fairbanks just across the river, here the smell of wood smoke and the cool breezes off the river helped transport us back to a more reflective time. ...

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4 Sorting Out Oral Tradition and Oral History

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pp. 53-66

I imagine that there were quite a few surprised people that day back in 1988 when Mrs. Angela Sidney retold the ancient Kaax'achgóok story at the dedication of the new Yukon College in Whitehorse. Kaax'achgóok had been lost at sea for a long time, blown off course and stranded on an island. ...

Part Two - Types of Stories

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five Personal Narratives Shared One to Another

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pp. 71-79

As one heads south from Pietersburg in the Northern Province of South Africa a mountain appears in the distance. On one of my first trips out of town, Zakes told me that was where Ernest Mothapo was born. Ever after that we joked about the place and how Ernest might retire there someday. ...

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6 Gathering to Tell Stories: The Neglected Genre of Oral History

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pp. 81-92

A small gathering of folks took time during the hustle and bustle of their holiday season to come to the public library to hear each other reminisce about Christmases past. Like many of the speakers who followed him, Jack's story was not only a window into the past but also a statement about what he thinks is valuable. ...

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7 In Search of the Story: Interviewers and Their Narrators

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pp. 95-106

This chapter describes two projects where interviewers and their interviewees took their discussion to a larger audience in very different ways and a third project that is ripe with potential for description and interpretation. In all three, multiple perspectives on a theme form the basis to understand and appreciate, in the first case...

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8 Life Histories: The Constructed Genre

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pp. 109-121

South Africa, Sunday, June 8, 1997: Page two of the Sunday Times announces that Professor Charles Van Onselen's book The Seed is Mine was the winner of this year's Alan Paton award for nonfiction. The book captured my attention because it is so thoroughly researched and well written. ...

Part Three - Issues Raised by Stories

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9 The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth

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pp. 125-135

I have a poster on the outside of my office door that has a picture of Chief Peter John dressed in academic garb and next to him is a quote and a picture of a plant that is called wild potato. The quote is from Peter, speaking about the location of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. ...

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10 Issues of Representation

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pp. 137-147

Chapter 9 was about getting the story right: about truth, validity, and accurate cultural interpretation. This chapter extends that discussion, because getting it right also means making sure that the way the story is retold and represented to new audiences remains true to the original intent of its telling. ...

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11 Intellectual Property Rights and the Public Unfinished Business

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pp. 149-160

A few years ago, I was approached by one of my Yup'ik colleagues who had just attended a writer's workshop for people who wanted to write children's books. She was upset because the participants talked about what a rich resource Native stories were for writers. ...

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12 The Public Record

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pp. 161-167

I first heard the hymn "Amazing Grace" over twenty years ago. I was in Beaver, Alaska, that small community on the north bank of the Yukon River that is the home of some of the people who have played such an important role in shaping my understanding of story. In that setting, the hymn came to symbolize in my mind the hard life that...

Appendix A: Oral History Gift and Release Agreement

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pp. 169-170

Appendix B: Interview Restrictions

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pp. 171-172

Appendix C: Internet Use of Oral History Programs

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pp. 173-174


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pp. 175-179


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pp. 181-190


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pp. 191-198

E-ISBN-13: 9780874214888
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874215502

Publication Year: 2002