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UTSA Awarded Grant To Collect Oral Histories From Women In The Military

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The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded $100,000 to the University of Texas at San Antonio to collect the oral histories of women in the military.

Updated Dec. 31.

The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded $100,000 to the University of Texas at San Antonio to collect the oral histories of women in the military.

Students at two San Antonio-area universities, UTSA and Our Lady of the Lake, will conduct interviews with women in the south Texas region who have served. As part of the project, they will also comb through archival holdings at the 37th Training Wing History Office at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland and the Fort Sam Houston Museum. They will then digitize their findings in an archive accessible to the public.

Kirsten Gardner, an associate professor of history with UTSA and co-director of the project, says women’s stories often get marginalized — or go unrecorded.

“We wanted to create a space that really targeted female audiences and invited women veterans to share their stories and to get it them into a digital archive so people across the country can access them,” she said.

Women make up more than 16 percent of active-duty military personnel. They have gained new service opportunities and additional pathways for promotion and career specialization since 2013, when Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta eliminated the barriers to women’s direct combat roles.

Valerie Martinez, an assistant professor of history at Our Lady of the Lake University and co-director of the project, said she wants to capture this uniquely female time in American military history.

“We are most definitely capitalizing on this moment where women are now open to combat roles,” she said. “We're hoping that they will reveal the racial, gender, and sexual politics of women's incorporation into the military. So we're pretty excited.”

The project begins with what’s called an Oral History Institute, which will impart oral history methodology and best practices onto faculty.

“The beauty of the Oral History Institute is that it is interdisciplinary, so faculty from across both campuses, whether it be in Spanish, sociology, or political science, they can use these different methodological practices that we have amassed,” Martinez said. “They can use this within their own courses for their own research means.”

As faculty integrate the practices into their curricula, they will also mentor and identify students for paid internships generated by the NEH grant. In the two final semesters, 30 students will dedicate 150 hours each to collecting women veteran histories.

Gardner says the archive works as a experiential learning tool from start to finish and will eventually be used across disciplines.

“By getting our students out of the classroom, doing research, doing projects, digitizing, transcribing, they both learn the material but also gain some skill sets that will stay with them for the rest of their lives,” Gardner said.

The oral history project begins in January and will take two years to complete. For more information about the program, or to be added to the list of possible interviewees, contact Valerie Martinez at vamartinez@ollusa.edu or Kirsten Gardner at kirsten.gardner@utsa.edu.

Carson Frame can be reached at carson@tpr.org or on Twitter @carson_frame

NOTE: This post has been updated with contact information to included in the project.

Carson Frame was Texas Public Radio's military and veterans' issues reporter from July 2017 until March 2024.