Dr. Martha Norkunas
Areas of Expertise
Oral History; Public History; Cultural Memory; Race, Gender, and Space; Labor History
Martha Norkunas is Professor of Oral and Public History in the Public History Program at Middle Tennessee State University. She holds a Ph.D. in Folklore from Indiana University...Read More »
Martha Norkunas is Professor of Oral and Public History in the Public History Program at Middle Tennessee State University. She holds a Ph.D. in Folklore from Indiana University’s Folklore Institute. She is the author of The Politics of Public Memory: Tourism, History and Ethnicity in Monterey, California (SUNY Press, 1993) and Monuments and Memory: History and Representation in Lowell, Massachusetts (Smithsonian Institution Press, 2002/ Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2006). Her recent articles include, ““Narrating the Racialization of Space in Austin, Texas and Nashville, Tennessee,” Colloquia Humanistica, Neighborhood as a Cultural and Social Problem (2015) and “Teaching to Listen: Listening Exercises and Self-Reflexive Journals,” Oral History Review (2011). Norkunas’s work examines how cultural memory is represented in narrative and on the landscape, and how those representations intersect with race, gender, class and power. From 1999-2009 Norkunas directed the Project in Interpreting the Texas Past (ITP) at the University of Texas at Austin. She taught interdisciplinary teams of graduate students to think critically about memory, history, and culture and to create more diverse and inclusive interpretations at Texas historic sites. ITP produced award winning films, exhibits, educational materials, posters, brochures, oral history booklets, an in-depth oral history project with African Americans in Texas, and an oral history project exploring race and identity among college students. Since joining the History Department at MTSU in 2009 Norkunas has created a concentration in Oral History, and broadened the African American Oral History Project include life histories with African American in Tennessee. She continues to create community-based public history projects, involving students with people of color, immigrants and refugees, women, global workers, climate change, inequality and student debt, challenging students to ask how historical and cultural knowledge can address important social issues. Her current research examines issues associated with empathic listening in oral history, and narrating racialized space. Norkunas is the recipient of fellowships and grants from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Houston Endowment, and many other state and regional foundations. She served as a board member of the National Council on Public History, was the Program Co-Chair of the 2015 Oral History Association Conference and in 2016 was elected to the board of the International Oral History Association.
Monuments and Memory, History and Representation in Lowell, Massachusetts. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press, 2002; Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2006. Honorable Mention Eli Kongas-Maranda Prize of the Women's Folklore Section, American Folklore Society, 2003.
Work, Recreation, and Culture: Selected Essays in United States Labor History. Editor (with Martin Blatt). New York: Garland Press, 1996.
The Politics of Public Memory: Tourism, History and Ethnicity in Monterey California. Albany, New York: SUNY Press, 1993. Historic Preservation Book Award, Mary Washington College, Center for Historic Preservation, 1994.
“Narrating the Racialization of Space in Austin, Texas and Nashville, Tennessee,” Colloquia Humanistica, Neighborhood as a Cultural and Social Problem Institute of Slavic Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences, no. 4 (2015): 11-25.
“Teaching to Listen: Listening Exercises and Self-Reflexive Journals,” Oral History Review v. 38, no. 1 (Winter-Spring 2011): 73-108.
"Narratives of Resistance and the Consequences of Resistance," Journal of Folklore Research, v. 41, nos.2-3 (May-December 2004): 105-123."The Ethnic Enclave as
“The Ethnic Enclave as Cultural Space: Women's Oral Histories of Life and Work in Lowell," in The Continuing Revolution, Robert Weible, ed., Lowell, Massachusetts: The Lowell Historical Society (1991): 323-339.
“Women, Work and Ethnic Identity: Personal Narratives and the Ethnic Enclave in the Textile City of Lowell, Massachusetts,” The Journal of Ethnic Studies, v. 15, no. 3 (Fall 1987): 27-48.
Chapters in Books
“The Vulnerable Listener,” in Off the Record, Unspoken Negotiations in the Practice of Oral History, Anna Sheftel and Stacey Zembrzycki, eds., Palgrave Studies in Oral History, Palgrave McMillan, (2013): 81-96. Book awarded the Oral History Association 2014 Book Prize.
“The Ethnic Enclave as Cultural Space: Women’s Oral Histories of Life and Work in Lowell,” in The Continuing Revolution, Robert Weible, ed., Lowell, Massachusetts: The Lowell Historical Society, (2004): 323-339.
Reviews, Essays and Digital Media
“Military Monuments and North Carolina,” in Remembrance, Tar Heel Junior Historian Association Magazine, Fitz Brundage, ed. Raleigh, North Carolina: North Carolina Museum of History, (Fall 2014): 4-5.
“Revisiting Monterey 20 Years After ‘The Politics of Public Memory,’” History at Work, A Public History Commons for the National Council on Public History, posted January 14, 2014, http://publichistorycommons.org/
Producer and director: “‘And that’s how we did in the mill’: Women in the Lowell Textile Mills.” (Color, 3/4”, 30 min.). Lowell women talk about immigration, ethnic communities, and textile mills. Received Honorable Mention 1984 New England Film and Video Contest; aired on WGBH Boston 9/84; WTIU Indiana 5/85; part of the Lowell National Historical Park’s Outreach Program. Reedited and digitized 2010. Available on youtube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFX273CZsII, produced 1984, reedited 2010.
“Thinking about Climate Change as Public Historians,” (with Cathy Stanton), Public History News, National Council on Public History, v. 28, no. 4 (2008).
“A Monument is Apart from Ordinary Space and Time,” Podcast for the exhibition, America Starts Here: Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler, The Austin Museum of Art, Austin, Texas, 2007.
“Introduction, African American Texans Oral History Project,” Online Took Kit for Teaching African American History, University of Texas at Austin, 2007, http://www.utexas.edu/world/lifteveryvoice/histories/index.html
“Landmarks of American Women’s History,” The Public Historian v.27, no. 1 (Winter 2005).
“Shaping the Past,” The Women’s Review of Books, v. XXI, no. 12 (September 2004): 23-4. Review essay of Monuments to the Lost Cause, Restoring Women’s History Through Historic Preservation, and Naked Barbies, Warrior Joes, & Other Forms of Visible Gender.
Work in Progress
I am beginning new research, working with refugees and immigrants in Nashville and internationally. I am interested in human rights issues, identity, and diaspora.
My current book project is based on the narratives from the African American Oral History Project. It analyzes the lived experience of racialized and gendered space as it relates to geographies of power.
Invited Closing Plenary Panel Speaker on panel, The Dialogue between Oral History and History: Convergences and Divergences, “Oral History and the Movement of Gendered and Racialized Bodies,” International Oral History Association Conference, Bangalore, India, 2016.
Presenter, “An Urban Ethnography of Power Relations and the Racialization of Space,” Ethnographies of Urban Public Spaces Panel, Utopias, Realities, Heritages: Ethnographies for the 21st Century, International Society for Ethnology and Folklore, Zagreb, Croatia, 2015.
Invited Keynote, “The Complex Terrain of Racialized Space: Nuances, Ambiguities and the Social Construction of Power,” Burnham-Macmillan 2015-2016 Lecture Series--Memorials: Origins and Transformations, History Department, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan, 2016.
Invited Speaker, “Teaching to Listen: Approaches to Oral History,” Colloquium for the Institut für Kulturanthropologie/Europäische Ethnologie, University of Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany, 2013.
Invited Participant, “The Vulnerable Listener,” Off the Record: Unspoken Negotiations in the Practice of Oral History, Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada, 2011.
Keynote, "Listening Across Differences," Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies and the Smithsonian Heritage Months Steering Committee, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 2009.
Selected Oral History Projects
Director, African American Oral History Project, 2004-the present. Project focuses on African American life histories in Texas and Tennessee in an effort to come to a deeper understanding of the important events, values, and intellectual perspectives in the lives of African Americans, and to examine the importance of race and racial identity in America. 200 life history interviews completed. Accepted for deposit at the Library of Congress.
Student Debt Oral History Project, 2015-present, oral histories on the effect of student loans on individual lives.
Listening Across Difference Oral History Project (with Ann Graham), 2009. Oral history project for different faculties in the Austin Independent School District to build trust between teachers from difference races, genders, and backgrounds.
Director, Oral History, Identity and Diversity, 2007-2008. Directed undergraduate honors students in conducting oral history interviews with University of Texas students about their racial and ethnic identities. Archive includes fifty-five interviews 120 hours of audio.
Seminar in Public History; Oral History Theory and Methodology; Oral History Fieldwork; Interpreting and Representing Oral History and Memory; Cultural Representations of the Past; Interpreting the Oral, the Visual and the Ethnographic; Sites of Conscience, Sites of Memory
Oral History, Identity and Diversity; Public History; Work, Globalization and Human Rights; History of the Industrial City: Lowell, Massachusetts; Popular Culture; American History 1865 to the Present
Department of History
Middle Tennessee State University
1301 E. Main Street
Murfreesboro, TN 37132
Peck Hall 223
All Other Inquiries
Oral History Association
The executive offices of the Oral History Association have opened at MTSU and will be here for the next five years.
The office will be co-directed by Albert Gore Research Center Director Louis Kyriakoudes and History Professor Kristine McCusker.
The Offices are located in Peck Hall, Room 217.