Clark was in the field training interviewers, reviewing transcripts, and trying
to make sense of the diverse experiences she was hearing in the fall of 2001,
another, simpler story was developing in the media. As often happens after
historically important events, a mainstream view of September 11 was
emerging: The attacks in New York and Washington were acts of war and, as such,
required swift retaliation.
contrast, for the majority of those who gave oral histories of September 11, the day largely wasn't about retaliation, "it was a deeply sad day," Clark
says, one that gave people pause and time for mourning. According to Clark,
sadness, survivor's guilt, and a sense of surrealism -- not anger -- were the
predominant affects her team found in the collection. In the collection,
Democrats and lifelong Republicans speak about their worry that the U.S. rushed
to war too quickly and lamented that only more violence would most likely
James Dobon, a paramedic who rescued scored of people Lower Manhattan
that day is one example: "The one thing that's changed the most is, like,
what's going on now in Iraq -- no, not Iraq, in Afghanistan, I'm sorry, in
Afghanistan," he says. "Even after this happened and they started talking about
retaliation, I'm more of a pacifist than ever. I said -- and I'm a
Republican -- because what I saw that day, the devastation, I could not basically
see us doing to other people. Life is too cheap then; it doesn't mean anything,
and there's not reason for it."
to get to this personal meaning of September 11 wasn't easy. Given the
research on consensus memories, Clark knew that her interviews would have to be
more complex to get at the personal experience people had on of September 11.
To do this, she employed an interview technique known as the life-history
approach that lets people start the oral history at any point in their life.
The interviews, then, follow the narrators they thread a story through the most
important moments in their lives until they make arrive at September 11,
2001, setting the events of that day against the rest of their lives. As such,
the interviewees tell the events of his life at their own pace and within the
narrative of their own lives rather than a hopping onto the pervasive
traces her ability to patiently conduct hours-long interviews like these back
to her childhood, where she learned to train wild horses in the rural North
Carolina town where she grew up. "I'm comfortable with silence. I'm comfortable
with observation. I'm comfortable with non-verbal communication," she says. "A
lot of the interviews I do are based on my ability to communicate with people
non-verbally, maybe to sense what is going on beneath the surface, which is
what you have to do with horses. If you can't feel it, you're not going to know
it," she explains. "Oral history is not about mastering the facts, it's about
understanding where they are coming from, understanding what they may be
feeling when they are talking, knowing when not to press too far, knowing when
to press a little more."