The following is a guest blog post by Owen Rogers, a Liaison Specialist for the Veterans History Project (VHP). This is the final post in a six-part Women’s History Month series.
Through VHP’s online database, we learn about the women veterans who make history. What about the women who record it?
In addition to the veterans featured in both product and process, VHP participants shape history through a “do it yourself” methodology. Crowdsourced collections, the product of VHP, are as fascinating as its process, namely, the decisions that influence individual acts of preservation. Ultimately, the organic pairing of veterans and volunteer interviewers determines whose voices are historic.
There are several critical considerations when crowdsourcing veterans’ collections. Whereas the Library of Congress reduces barriers to participation through a permanent repository, pedagogical support and program evaluation, the entire effort balances on two critical populations: willing veterans and volunteer interviewers. Altogether, veterans comprise less than 1 percent of the national population. There are, however, more veterans now than when the project was legislated in 2000. Though a minority voice, VHP accrues veterans’ representation through some 400-500 monthly submissions, a consistent measure of national volunteer interest.
Despite this grassroots approach, VHP donor activity reflects some of the challenges associated with traditional institutions—representation. During a collaborative blog series with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Women Veterans, Director Kayla Williams addressed the particularly underrepresented service of women veterans, writing:
Today, we make up just under 10% of the total population of Veterans. Unfortunately, our presence in military histories is even smaller; we are largely omitted from many narratives.
Despite VHP’s national activity, fewer than 5 percent of its collections communicate women’s military service.
Publicly-sourced collections afford agency to traditionally underrepresented groups. In the context of women veterans’ oral histories, it’s clear that women both make history and record it. A survey of 5,980 VHP female collections with interviewers’ gender information revealed that nearly 60 percent of the recordings were conducted by women, compared to about one third of overall VHP female interviewers. Furthermore, the most prolific donors of women veteran collections are feminized organizations, including the Daughters of the American Revolution, Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation, Inc., Women’s American Legion Posts and the Women’s Overseas Service League.
To quote Maya Angelou, “There’s no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” For crowdsourced archives and grassroots oral history projects, participants are the custodians of history. Give voice to the veterans in your life, record their story and share their experiences with the Library of Congress.