I interviewed the organizers of the Media Fandom Oral History Project, and they shared about the project and what makes it important! The project collects oral histories (interviews) from fans about their fannish experiences. Oral histories help fans define for ourselves what it means to a fan, and they help preserve our histories for future generations.
The project needs volunteers! Email oralhistoryfandom (at) gmail (dot) com if you want to get involved.
Q: Can you briefly introduce yourself, the project, and its purpose?
MD: I am Morgan Dawn and have been a slash fanfiction fan since the 1990s. I entered fandom during the last years of paper fanfiction and the beginning era of online fandom.
The Media Fandom Oral History Project’s goal is to capture our history in our own words and with our own voices. The idea came when I was sitting at our kitchen table with my friend Sandy Herrold. We realized that fans talking to other fans in informal settings was the perfect way to showcase our community and our connections. What could be more fannish than talking about and sharing the things we love? We started interviewing fans at conventions, then moved to phone interviews and have finally switched the project into a Do-It-Yourself Mode with fans taking the lead interviewing their friends and choosing what they want to preserve.
The recordings are submitted to the University of Iowa’s oral history collection and are available online. We are hoping to provide transcripts for all of the interviews. The University of Iowa has one of the world’s largest fanfiction fanzine collections. You can see the list of interviews at Fanlore, one of the OTW’s projects.
FD: I am Franzeska Dickson and have also been a slash fan since the 90s. In my case, I started as a 13-year-old screaming about Scully on alt.tv.x-files during the first season. (I was a NoRomo, as I recall, mostly because I thought Mulder wasn’t nearly good enough for her.) I remember being floored when I was told about fanfic. I have no memory of being told that slash existed. I guess it didn’t seem like a big deal. I spent the late 90s and early 00s in anime fandom before swinging back to oldschool Media Fandom and later to other Asian fandoms.
I ran into Morgan at a con and informed her that her recording plans were all wrong and she needed the type of voice recorder that linguists use in the field… I ended up with the recorder and the bulk of the early interviewing work.
Q: Speaking as if to someone unfamiliar with oral history and your project, why is the Media Fandom Oral History Project important?
MD: The recordings allow us to speak directly to future generations of fans and control the discussion of what it means to be a ‘fan.’ By having fans talk to other fans we bypass the dominant narrative of how fans interact with the TV, movies, books and comics. It is also an opportunity for marginalized members of our community to talk about their experiences. There has been much scholarship surrounding live action and anime fandoms. Some of it has been done by academics who are fans themselves and it has been wonderful to see the growth of Fandom Studies. But oral history offers every fan the ability to use their own words to talk about the things they remember and what matters to them.
FD: The early zine generation is rapidly dropping dead, and even when they aren’t, I’m always running into younger fans trying to do research who have zero clue who’s still alive or where to find them. If we wait for people to do their secondary academic research, it will be too late. Primary sources now or we won’t have them!
The scope of fans who are interested in fandom history is much wider than the people who can make the right connections to talk to someone older. It’s particularly true for early zines, but it’s even true for something like Livejournal: I could rustle up thirty people in five minutes who’d be able to speak cogently on that fandom history. A lot of would-be history researchers currently in undergrad would not. For the future academics, the meta writers, or merely our curious fellow fans, it behooves us to record our history in our own words.
Q: What has the Media Fandom Oral History Project accomplished so far?
MD: We have completed 57 interviews. The first few years we went to in-person conventions and used a digital recorder to interview anyone who was interested. In 2017, a graduate student named Megan Genovese obtained funding and did 24 interviews over the phone in a single summer. During the pandemic, we moved into a DIY (do it yourself) phase – instead of a single person doing the interviewing, we now invite fans to contact their friends and spend an hour chatting about their fandom history. They can use their smartphones, Zoom/video conference recording or reserve a time slot on our international audio conference system.
We have recorded the history of some of the earliest slash writers, publishers and artists. We have preserved the memories of the first fan who created the first fanvid using a slide project and cassette audio tape. We have heard from fans who organized conventions and started letter writing campaigns to save shows. The interviews include filk singers, fans whose passion is meta, and fans who created and ran some of the first fiction archives. These fans are creators, organizers, supporters, and devotees and have so many stories to tell.
Q: In what ways do you hope the project will grow in the coming years? Or, what are your hopes for the project’s future?
MD: We’re a small project and it is difficult to scale with our current resources. By shifting to the DIY phase we’re hoping to encourage fans to take the reins of their fandom history and never stop telling their personal fannish stories. The DIY project also allows fandom communities to leverage off our existing “infrastructure” – we can offer permission forms, an international recording platform (if needed), and a place to archive the interviews.
FD: All fandom history resources suffer from a strong predilection for the researcher’s friends or their part of fandom to be the main focus. I hope people from very different parts of fandom will interview their friends about areas other people haven’t found important or accessible enough to record.
Q: What help is needed, and how can people get involved?
MD: We need 2 intake coordinators to answer questions, e-mail and collect permission forms (Participants must sign a permission form allowing their recordings to be archived at the University of Iowa). We also need help with outreach to communities that may not be aware of the project – anime, BL fans, cosplayers, filkers, fans in other countries. This is not just a historical project looking backwards. We want to capture our community as it is today and hear from fans whose experiences differ. The central focus has not changed – fans participating in transformative fandom – reading, writing, creating fanfiction, fanvids, podfic, art, managing discord communities. But it all starts with intake coordinators who can keep track of participants and follow up to get the recordings. Each oral history also has a written transcription, as we want this project to be as accessible to as many people as possible. We’ve tried some automated transcription services, and the results are very uneven. This means there’s another opportunity for volunteers, people to listen to the recordings and to help transcribe the contents.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like people to know about the Media Fandom Oral History Project?
MD: It’s a way for fans to be heard. They can describe their experiences on their own terms, in their own words, and take back some of the power of storytelling, rather than having others tell their stories for them.
It’s a way to help preserve and honor fan experiences and fan history.
Envision you and your friends, talking about the things you love, your community, and what they mean to you, and describing and preserving these things for history.
Plus, it’s really fun!
FD: If you don’t want ‘fandom history’ to mean just one kind of fandom history, speak up while you can, whether that’s here or in essays or in your own projects!