15 marzo 2011

They Say in Harlan County: annunci e recensioni

da Harlan Daily Enterprise, 5 marzo 2011

da Journal of Folklore Research

They Say in Harlan County: An Oral History
By Alessandro Portelli. 2011. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 456 pages. ISBN: 978-01-977-3568-6 (hard cover).
Reviewed by Doug Boyd, University of Kentucky
[Review length: 535 words • Review posted on March 9, 2011]
Over the past few decades Alessandro Portelli has brought a multidimensional approach to the study and understanding of oral history. Through his books The Death of Luigi Trastullia and Other Stories, The Battle of Valle Giulia, and The Order Has Been Carried Out, and a prolific output of journal articles, Portelli has profoundly changed the way oral historians interpret narrative. Introducing a more folkloric approach to oral history, Portelli has historians thinking about genre and narrative as verbal art. He has enhanced their understanding of oral history as something beyond just the narration about the past so that historians are thinking of oral history as an expression of culture, memory, identity, and individual and collective meaning.
Portelli’s most recent book, They Say in Harlan County: An Oral History, is based on more than thirty years of interviews and research on Harlan County, Kentucky. Portelli conducted more than 150 interviews with men and women from Harlan County, who tell their stories. Very interested in class struggle and heavily influenced by Appalachian folk music, Portelli was drawn to this county early on and has, subsequently, spent extensive time with residents of Harlan.
The book begins with a reflection on his relationship with the region, his early tour guides of the county, and his earliest impressions. Together, Portelli and his informants explore the history and culture of Harlan County, examining themes of hardship, conflict, religion, art, and love as well as exploring labor struggles, outmigration, and race. Of course, the role of the coal industry is continuously weighed throughout the book as his informants discuss Harlan County’s dependence on the mining industry. Portelli‘s narrators do explore the complexities of mountaintop removal, a divisive issue currently gripping the region. Although the research was conducted prior to the current methamphetamine epidemic, Portelli additionally examines the newer dependencies plaguing the Appalachian region, the epidemic of drug addiction and its devastating consequences.
They Say in Harlan County is a place-based ethnographic oral history that celebrates the interplay of narrative, history, music, poetry, and art. The emerging narrative offers a more comprehensive, cohesive, and, therefore, more relevant narrative clearly articulating the themes of poverty, pride, resistance, and, ultimately, survival. They Say in Harlan County effectively navigates meaning throughout this rich work, and many of the people interviewed prove remarkable storytellers, writers, artists, and poets. One of the most important components of this work is the fact that Portelli is not the typical Appalachian scholar. A professor of English literature at the University of Rome in Rome, Italy, Portelli came to Harlan County, Kentucky, with a rich accent of his own. An outsider not only to Harlan County and the Appalachian region, but also to Kentucky and the United States, Portelli came to Harlan County asking questions and building relationships. He regularly returned to Harlan County over the next thirty years to ask more questions, to meet new friends, and to reconnect with lifelong friends. The trust built up between Portelli and his informants plays a critical role in the overall effectiveness of these interviews and this book; clearly, the residents hold Alessandro Portelli in high regard, revealing incredibly personal details and cultural information. Portelli returns the favor in the publication of this masterful book


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