Media Fandom Oral History Project

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Fandom: Multiple Fandoms
Dates: February 2012-present
See also: Fan Survey
Project logo. Star Trek art by Caren Parnes. Design by Morgan Dawn

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The Media Fandom Oral History Project is an audio record of media fans telling their fandom history in their own words. The goal is to preserve a record of media fandom for future generations.

The project was launched by Morgan Dawn and Franzeska Dickson, with the additional encouragement of the Organization for Transformative Works.

It underwent a pilot test at Escapade 2012 under the Escapade convention sponsorship, and has expanded to include other venues and locales, switching to interviews over the phone and via Zoom. In the summer of 2017, graduate student Megan Genovese secured a paid internship from her university and was able to conduct 23 interviews.

Beginning in 2015, many of the recordings were made available at the University of Iowa as part of their Digital Library Collection - Media Fan Oral History. Most interviews will offer a written transcript. The availability of these transcripts is directly related to the ability of the project heads' ability to find people to transcribe them.

In September 2016, the organizers began exploring ways to transition the project into a DIY mode, allowing fans to interview themselves and their friends directly. More about the project in the post by Mee Dee Tumblr's profile.

A 2023 interview with the two founders of this project is An Interview With The Media Fandom Oral History Project – Fanhackers, Archived version; archive link.

The project needs volunteers to conduct additional interviews and transcribe existing interviews. Contact info: oralhistoryfandom at gmail dot com.

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Project Origins

As Morgan Dawn recalls, the project began over a kitchen table. Sandy Herrold, who had already participated in the Vidding Oral History Project, and Morgan Dawn were discussing how difficult it was to persuade some fans to add content to Fanlore. There were many barriers to recording one's own history on Fanlore – unfamiliarity with wiki coding and wiki culture, physical disabilities and aging might make online participation difficult, the lack of outreach, and fandom’s inherent reticence to talk about fandom. But most importantly, many people freeze when confronted with the idea of summarizing the entirety of their fannish life. However, conversations around kitchen tables – or convention tables – are much more natural and accessible. What if fans could record some of these convention conversations much like the thousands of other oral history projects currently underway across the world? And what if the oral history was conducted by fans – for their fellow fans – as opposed to being done as part of a research project?

From there, the project germinated as other events, including Sandy Herrold's passing, temporarily took over. However, at Bascon 2011, Franzi and Morgan Dawn began discussing whether a fandom oral history project was viable and whether it could be started with just a small investment of time and money. Megan Kent, the Escapade convention organizer, was also attending Bascon that year and agreed to sponsor the project with the initial pilot planned for Escapade 2012. On February 24-25, 2012, the first set of interviews successfully took place at Escapade. Subsequent interviews took place between 2012 and 2015 at Tribal Forces, MediaWest, Con.txt, Sharecon, Vividcon and other venues. Later interviews were conducted over the phone and via Zoom and most recently by the interviewees themselves.

Project FAQ

What is The Media Fandom Convention Oral History Project? The Media Fandom Oral History project is designed to record and archive the oral history of media fans. The project had a pilot run in February 2012 at the Escapade Convention, a fan run slash convention that has been in operation for over 20 years. The project covers all types of media fandom, both past and present and welcomes fans interested in all genres, including gen, het, and slash. Volunteers currently working on the project are Morgan Dawn and Franzi, who together have also been in fandom for over 20 years.

Why are we recording our oral history? For many reasons, the first being that we think the media fandom community is full of creative, dynamic and noteworthy people who, for 40 years, have been doing something quite revolutionary: rather than passively sitting and staring at the TV or the movies, we’ve transformed what we’ve seen into millions of stories and hundreds of thousands of communities (both online and in person). Second, because what little fandom history is being preserved is often being preserved by non-fans, who peek through the cracks and often come away with a distorted picture of who we are. By recording our history using our own voices, we permanently shape our history. And last, because too often history focuses on bland events and dates. By asking fans at all levels to share their fannish memories, we can capture a broader range of who we are and what kind of communities we have created.

What topics will these interviews cover and how will they be used? The interviews are intended to capture each fan’s unique experience of fandom, the things that drew them to fandom, the friendships they’ve made, the stories, vids, or art that they’ve created and how fandom has impacted their lives. The interviews will be initially archived by Escapade, with the goal of locating a more permanent home such as the Organization for Transformative Works (a fan run non-profit), the Fanzine Archives located in Iowa, or at another University that has a media fandom collection and will most likely be made available online. They will be available for future generations of fans and visitors to listen to. While excerpts may also be included in articles, books, or other media, the oral history project is not part of any research efforts. This is a project for fans, by fans.

Do I have to use my real name and address on the permission form? No you do not need to use your real name or provide your address. Both are optional. You do need to sign with the name by which you want to be known in order for us to record our conversation with you. The form allows to you specify how you'd like to be identified: by a fannish name, a pseudonym or some abbreviation of your real name.

I am not comfortable being recorded, but I still want to participate No worries, you can fill out the Fanlore Online Profile Form. The form covers a lot of the same topics and you can also use your fannish pseud or abbreviated name. The online form will not be archived with the audio recordings however; it will be incorporated into the Fanlore wiki (see the profile page for for more details).

What will be done about real life names I may use in the interview? Will they be disguised in some way to preserve anonymity of the people I talk about? We intend to preserve the recordings as they are, so if you know a fan objects to other fans using their full real name, then please use whatever fannish name or abbreviated real life name they are comfortable with. You will be in the best position to know what they prefer.

If I participate in the Oral History Project, can I get a copy of my audio recording and transcripts? We can email you an mp3 of your interview upon request. And, as soon as transcripts are made, those can be sent to you upon request as well. In fact, we’re looking for volunteers willing to make the transcripts, so if you’re interested in helping, let us know.

Are there other Oral History Projects focusing on fans?

Yes there are. You can read about them at the Oral History page.


Media Fandom Histories by Email

These interviews were part of the project, but were not oral; they were conducted by email. They are not archived at the University of Iowa Special Collections.

Reactions and Reviews we get fans so young and new to it, and so far away from those days that they believe that all Star Wars fans are boys. Some of the young women saying, “God I wish I knew more women who were Star Wars fans,” and I think, “Oh for heaven’s sake.”...

That’s why I am really, really happy that people like you and the other people who are working on it are doing these histories, because the zines are being saved; the material is out there. Maybe not in in my lifetime, maybe not for another 50 or 75 years, but somebody is going to come as a scholar and start going through and looking at what things were like back then....

I’m very, very happy about that. I’m very happy about you calling people up and talking to them because ... you sit there and say, “People don’t believe me,” because you believe what’s your reality, and you think the other person is exaggerating, and I understand that. That’s why you have to have documentation.... that’s the one thing women have missed throughout history, documentation of what they did. You know, nobody paid attention to it, didn’t write it down, and men took the credit. [1]