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Malinda Lowery to spearhead oral history program

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The new director of the Southern Oral History Program will bring a passion for history and an interest in her own Native American background to the job.

History professor Malinda Lowery, who was chosen to lead the program earlier this month, said she has always found sitting down to talk with her community members fascinating. She said she has heard stories of her elders since birth, which inspired her to make documentaries in college.

“When I’m surrounded by my family or other elders in the community and I’m listening to them talk, I feel like I could do that forever,” Lowery said.

Lowery said she studied Lumbee history during segregation in North Carolina as a graduate student, and she has made several documentary films on Native Americans. She said she is currently working on films about domestic violence and the local food movement.

“So I have a lot of different interests,” she said.

In her new role as director of the 40-year program, Lowery said she will be able to encourage the University community to explore the world around it by answering what she called the fundamental question of history — “why?”

“Whether it’s a positive situation in society or a negative one, history is where we go to understand the answer to the question ‘why,’” Lowery said.

Lowery said as director, she wants to ensure that the UNC community understands how renowned the Southern Oral History Program is.

The program, one of the oldest of its kind in the country, boasts one of the most widely used historical collections and more than 5,000 interviews, Lowery said.

Rachel Seidman, assistant director of the program, said the collection aims to gather interviews from people whose voices aren’t typically reflected in history books. She said they collect stories from people ranging from mill workers to civil rights activists to politicians.

Lowery said she enjoys listening to life stories of others.

“When someone takes the time to sit down and … tell you about their life experiences — their struggles and their joys — the way that they talk about their lives I find intensely fascinating.”

Seidman said the program is important for the research, teaching and outreach missions of the University, and Lowery’s experience in these areas makes her fit for the job.

Jacquelyn Hall, founding director of the program, said she thinks Lowery’s selection was a good decision.

“She brings a deep understanding of the program and its culture and its history, and she’s contributed to that herself,” Hall said.

The program provides resources for students to do their own research on a variety of subjects outside of the history department, such as anthropology, folklore and health sciences, Lowery said.

Seidman said taking advantage of these resources may be key in reflecting on the state of the University.

“It’s important to step back and consider the voices of the past,” she said.

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