This is my inaugural post and thanks to the Archives and Public History Program for the (cyber) space.
I work at the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress, which has teamed up with NARA, NEH, the National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian and USHMM to pay tribute to women and their accomplishments, from ecology to aviation. (Here’s the official site).
The Veterans History Project has collected the oral history testimony of thousands of women who’ve participated in America’s defining conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries. You can listen to a handful of highlighted stories in our web-feature “Women of Four Wars” and you can search our database to learn about Women Airforce Service Pilots in World War II, nurses in Vietnam and Korea, and female helicopter pilots in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sometimes it’s easy to be cynical about our national history months. There seems to be one every month, and the celebrations can be a bit hokie or simplistic. Oral history helps reinforce what these months are supposed to be about. Women’s History Month celebrates extraordinary women in order to recognize how inextricable their contributions are to the accomplishments of America as a whole, as well as empower younger generations. The experiences of military women collected by the Veterans History Project illuminate how “ordinary” women became extraordinary through their actions under the most trying of circumstances. It reminds us that events do not define us, but rather how we respond to events. Military women have consistently responded in historic ways.
How else does oral history work to enhance and add meaning to our national history months? I’d be interested to hear comments from those at other institutions.