A Small But Changing World

On Saturday, November 9th, the Humanities Truck Team joined members of the Petworth community to explore D.C. history, public art, and storytelling, at its second “It’s A Small World After All” event. Organized by community historian Peter Stebbins and the Petworth Branch of the D.C. Public Library, this event was the second in a series of events highlighting the art on the traffics boxes in Petworth and throughout D.C. The event provided another opportunity for the HT Team to interact and learn from the Petworth community through oral history, and though the day was frigid, the colorful leaves and the little-league football game created a lovely setting for the event.

We were parked behind the library for two hours, during which time we tried out our new interview setup inside the Truck. For the chilly days or loud environments, having the ability to conduct video interviews within the Truck provides privacy, lighting/sound control, and protection from the elements that we don’t always have. We’re hoping to continue to test out the possibilities of different interview spaces in our future outings.

Over the course of the day we talked with a number of members of the community, some of whom wanted to look at the exhibit inside the Truck, watch the interviews from the 2019 “Celebrate Petworth” festival. We also had three community members take the opportunity to step out of the cold and into the Truck for oral history interviews about their experiences living in Petworth and the change they have seen occur in the neighborhood over time.

A common theme that continues to arise in oral history interviews with members of D.C. neighborhoods are those of redevelopment and gentrification. The topic was certainly a central focus of the interviews at the “Celebrate Petworth” Festival and it recurred during the interviews with narrators Antonio Hernandez and Buddy Moore at “It’s A Small World.” In particular, community members seem to be working through and making sense of the tensions of redevelopment—the injustices of displacement alongside the benefits of new infrastructure. This is an ongoing discussion in the District and across the country, and while it won’t be solved immediately, the importance of hearing about the on-the-ground experience of redevelopment and gentrification from those who actually experience it cannot be understated.

What the prevalence of these topics in interviews with community members demonstrate is the need for the preservation of community history. Oral history narrators, including Peter Stebbins, have emphasized the importance of acknowledging neighborhood histories (especially amongst newcomers) in establishing thru lines of collective community memory, and the work undertaken by organizations such as the DCPL, HumanitiesDC, HolaCultura, the DC Oral History Collaborative, and many, many, others, endeavors to address this. And speaking on behalf of the Humanities Truck Team, we will continue to come alongside community members in order to assist these efforts in any way we can.

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