German Village Society has won a $5,000 grant from the Ohio Humanities Council to implement an oral history program that will capture stories from the people who made our neighborhood and Columbus’ South End what it was and is today.
The German Village Oral History Project, a subcommittee of the Society’s Historic Preservation Committee, is important because it will capture history while those who remember it first-hand are still with us. The oral histories we plan to document are those that begin in the 1950s. This project will show how neighbors threatened by the urban renewal movement worked together to restore what is now a premier neighborhood. Our plan is to properly document these accounts for future generations who will not have the benefit of knowing these men and women personally. With 50+ years under our belt as a historic preservation and education organization, we are looking ahead to what neighborhood leaders will be able to share at the 100th and indeed the 200th anniversaries of the GVS.
This is not our first leap into capturing these stories. In fact, there are several sets of archives of previous interviews done for similar purposes – and those will be archived alongside the new interviews. German Village Society is lucky to have videographer John Clark on board for the new project. John also builds a bridge to the existing archive and has many of the previous interviews already digitized!
The intended audience, at its smallest scope, is past, current and future residents of German Village. On a larger level, the intended audience is anyone interested in German Village, Columbus, German immigration, urban renewal and historic preservation. Current and future residents, board members, architectural review commissioners, students and visitors will learn what it took to make today’s German Village directly from those who revived this section of the old South End. The German Village Meeting Haus receives approximately 20,000 visitors each year who will watch compilations of oral history interviews, as well as our online and digital visitors.
German Village Society recently purchased Past Perfect, digital archive software that will enable us to digitize and share our archive on a much larger scale. This $3,500 investment reflects our determination to share the past in the most modern way. The insights and stories gleaned by oral history interviews can serve not only as educational tools about the past, but as inspirational tools for the future.
Vignettes will include stories about what it was like when the GVS was established in 1960 (e.g., why did some families so readily join while others never did?), what Schiller Park was like before a group of neighborhood mothers took matters into their own hands and forged a partnership with the City of Columbus Department of Recreation and Parks to devise a Schiller Park Master Plan, how German Village businesses worked together to forge a downtown identity, how life changed when this pocket of Columbus’ “South End” became German Village.
The 1,800 buildings in our historic district transport residents and visitors through time each and every day. We seek to create primary source oral history interviews to do the same. Interviews will be documented individually and also will be used to create approximately 15 topical programs on these storytelling vignettes. The hope is that once edited, each individual interview will be approximately 45 minutes long; topical mini-documentaries may be 3-7 minutes long. The subcommittee plans to conduct 2-3 interviews per month over the next two years. With both formats a viewing and/or researching audience will be able to learn about specific individuals and families as well as topics and events pertinent to German Village, the GVS, and its history. The oral histories will be cross-referenced with our existing property files so that researchers seeking to understand the development of a particular address will also be able to find the stories that helped shape the home, business, park or street – a significant feature for an organization dedicated to historic preservation.
Current plans include a series of small, casual get-togethers for both GVS members and non-members to premiere the new videos, particularly the topical films. The GVS will post completed interviews/films on its website, www.germanvillage.com and will share them with the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s “Columbus Memories Project” for increased distribution.
This oral history project is mission-centric and critical to the educational component of the GVS. As a 52-year-old civic association charged with celebrating our past, members of the GVS feel compelled to capture the primary source, first-hand accounts of those GVS members and residents who came and acted before us. Sharing these accounts will strengthen our overall awareness of German Village, South End, and Columbus history, as well as give fruitful insights for where we are and where we should hope to go in the future of our organization.
We hope to achieve a lasting and accurate account of what got us here by who got us here. We are fortunate to still have charter members among us, but they are aging and few. We owe it to them, their efforts, and our future to account for what they did and why they did it. German Village would not be what it is today without their triumphs, losses, and seemingly-endless energy. This project lets us not only hope for such a tenacity among future members, but can instill a motivation that will all but guarantee it.
This oral history project can increase the GVS’ capacity for serving the public by sharing these documentaries with researchers, students, residents and guests. It will further prove that the GVS is serious about its organizational and regional German Village history.