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Local and Traditional Knowledge and the Role of Storytelling in Building and Sustaining Resilience in African American and Alaska Native communities


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Type of project
Project theme
Education & Outreach
Project topic
Education & Outreach

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Science / project summary

This award will support a workshop to explore community resilience in the face of social and environmental change. The PI and research team from Oberlin College plans to do this through a participatory methodology that creates a collaboration between community members from Africatown (Plateau), Alabama and Utqiagvik (Barrow), Alaska and the Oberlin research team. It is the research teams' thesis that the transmission of knowledge, inter-generationally, is key to long-term community resilience in response to rapid environmental and social change. Among African American communities, represented in this workshop by the residents of Africatown, this knowledge transmission often takes the form of storytelling and among Alaska Native communities, represented by residents of Utqiagvik, this transmission is of Traditional Knowledge. By understanding the relationship between resilience and storytelling and traditional knowledge the research team believes that community can be strengthened even when facing extreme environmental events such as, sea level rise and storm surge flooding or social, economic, and technological events such as, job loss due to globalization or the BP oil spill. It is the idea of the research team that by collaborating closely with the communities in co-producing knowledge through this workshop on resilience in the face of rapid change they will be able to identify key elements of the social and cultural systems that can ensure the long-term health and well-being of many communities. Although Africatown and Utqiagvik are geographically disparate communities they share similar challenges to their resilience in response to environmental and social-economic change. The PIs will hold the workshop in Africatown, Alabama that will train local community members and their collaborators from Utqiagvik, Alaska in social science methods and practices. The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida has been engaged to train all workshop participants, including Oberlin students and researchers, in best practices, methods, and ethics of community oral history, storytelling and traditional knowledge. Using a model of knowledge co-production in science, community members and researchers will work together to define the research questions, choose the methodologies, and create the analytic framework that will ultimately be turned into a long-term, community based research project. Undergraduate students from Oberlin College will participate in trainings and in the ongoing work of oral history. In recruiting students, the research team has particularly focused on students underrepresented in STEM, including students of color, women, and first-generation college students. The conference will highlight how local knowledge embedded in oral history and cultural traditions can offer responses to contemporary challenges.