Mark Souther, a history professor at Cleveland State University and co-founder of the Center for Public History and Digital Humanities, shares insights about his early life in Gainesville, Georgia, his educational journey through Furman University, the University of Richmond, and Tulane University, and his career path leading to CSU. He discusses his passion for history, influenced by his family background, and his involvement in public history and digital humanities projects. Souther also touches on his musicianship, the challenges of academic life, his publications, and his experiences conducting oral history projects. He offers advice on interviewing techniques and emphasizes the importance of staying engaged and present during interviews.


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Souther, Mark (interviewee)


Kanewa-Mariano, Makialani (interviewer); White, Bali (interviewer)


Project Team



Document Type

Oral History


46 minutes


Makialani Kanewa-Mariano [00:00:05] Okay. Today’s date is Monday, June 3, 2024. My name is Makialani Kanewa-Mariano. I’m with the Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection at Cleveland State University.

Bali White [00:00:19] And then I am Bali White. I am also with the Regional Oral History Collection at CSU. I will be focusing on the middle half of the interview. Makialani will be focusing on the beginning.

Makialani Kanewa-Mariano [00:00:35] And today we’re here with Dr. Mark Souther. Hi, Dr. Mark Souther. Thank you so much for being with us today.

Mark Souther [00:00:40] Sure, my pleasure.

Makialani Kanewa-Mariano [00:00:41] So we’re just gonna kick it off right away with some background information. So where and when were you born?

Mark Souther [00:00:47] I was born in Gainesville, Georgia, in 1971.

Makialani Kanewa-Mariano [00:00:51] Cool. So did you go to school in Gainesville? High school?

Mark Souther [00:00:55] Yeah, I went all the way through high school in Gainesville. Yeah. So public school all twelve years.

Makialani Kanewa-Mariano [00:01:02] Did you leave to go to college somewhere else, or did you stay in the area?

Mark Souther [00:01:05] I went two hours away to Furman University, which is in Greenville, South Carolina. So, close enough that I could go home when I wanted to, but far enough away that I felt like I was going away to college.

Makialani Kanewa-Mariano [00:01:18] What did you focus on in college?

Mark Souther [00:01:21] I started out thinking I was going to do music education, and I did stay very involved in the music program. I was in band, both symphonic and marching band, through the college years. But I changed, really, after the first year. I decided that I really was not sure that I was cut out for a career in music. So I would keep that as a lifelong hobby, hopefully. But I turned to history and got a history degree, ultimately.

Makialani Kanewa-Mariano [00:01:56] When did you first realize that you had an interest in history?

Mark Souther [00:01:58] It was actually a long time before college. I grew up in Gainesville with- All of my grandparents lived one or two miles from our house. In fact, I grew up in the house that my great-grandparents built, and my grandmother grew up in that house, my paternal grandmother. So there was a lot of history, sort of in my lived experience, both from the places - literally, the house I lived in was built for the family - to hearing my grandparents’ stories about how they had lived in that community, and honestly, going back even generations before. So there was that sort of personal piece of it that was always strong for me. My grandmother survived the 1936 tornado that was one of the nation’s worst that literally went up our street, and I think the house was in the funnel. It was moved off its foundation and had to be moved back after, and she survived that. So being able to hear a story like that about someone surviving a direct hit by an F4 tornado is pretty profound. And, you know, my parents took me places, you know, historic sites growing up, and it was a combination of factors. I was interested from a child, but never imagined that there might be a career in history until much later.

Makialani Kanewa-Mariano [00:03:21] Wow. Wow. So it seems like you have a lot of familial history in that area, a lot of generations there. So what kind of got you to this area, then? To Cleveland.

Mark Souther [00:03:30] Actually, just because the academic job market has never been good, at least not in the last few decades. So it means you apply widely. And I was very happy to get a job in Cleveland, Ohio. I became an urban historian along the way in grad school, decided that was the area that I wanted to focus on, and so living in a city was certainly a plus. But I applied to a number of jobs all over the country. And, you know, Cleveland was just one of many, initially, places that I considered. Not all of them considered me, though.

Makialani Kanewa-Mariano [00:04:09] So did you- Were you in any other cities before you came to Cleveland, then, other cities kind of post-college and before you got your job here?

Mark Souther [00:04:16] Yeah, Gainesville, of course, was, I mean, that’s a small city, a small town, really, in the scheme of things. It was an hour out of Atlanta. Still is. And so Atlanta was the closest city that I encountered, really, as a kid. But in terms of living in one, the first, I guess, decent-sized city I lived in was Richmond, Virginia, for two years for my M.A. at University of Richmond. And then I lived in New Orleans for several years, 1996 to 2002, while I was working on my doctorate in history. So New Orleans is a comparably sized city to Cleveland. That was a pretty big city. Yeah.

Makialani Kanewa-Mariano [00:05:00] So New Orleans is where you were before you came to Cleveland?

Mark Souther [00:05:02] Yeah, exactly.

Makialani Kanewa-Mariano [00:05:03] And what’s your current job, your occupation?

Mark Souther [00:05:05] Right now I’m a professor of history at CSU and Cleveland State University and also the director of the Center for Public History and Digital Humanities.

Makialani Kanewa-Mariano [00:05:16] What year did you begin working for Cleveland State University?

Mark Souther [00:05:19] I came in 2003. So there was that one year between the Ph.D. completion and starting the job here. In that one year time, I was teaching courses in the history department at Tulane University, where I got the Ph.D. So I had that opportunity because a professor that had been recently hired went to another university on a one-year fellowship, and that opened up right at the time that I happened to need some experience and didn’t have a job yet. So I was very fortunate that the then-chair of the history department decided to take a chance on me and give me that opportunity.

Makialani Kanewa-Mariano [00:05:59] So what kind of interested you or inspired you to want to become an educator?

Mark Souther [00:06:02] First, really just the interest in the subject matter and the interest in conveying that to other people through both writing and teaching. Both were, I think I would say, equally important to me. So I think as a kid, I never would have imagined myself as an educator. It was not something I considered early on, but I became interested in it basically because of my own college experience. I had a liberal arts college experience at Furman, and that always was my sense of what college should be like. And I wanted to create that kind of environment as much as possible, meaning I would know my students, my students would know me if they cared to. So anyone who cared about the class and wanted to be involved, I was going to make them feel known and seen and give them the kind of experience that, or try to give them the kind of experience, that I had, which was very positive for me. And I like to be able to give that to someone else if I can.

Makialani Kanewa-Mariano [00:07:05] That’s good. Why do you think learning about urban history or public history is very important for students? What do you hope that they, even if they’re not majoring in a history-focused area of subject of study-?

Mark Souther [00:07:21] I guess I’d answer that question in two ways, because you’ve asked about urban on one hand and then public history on the other. So it’s sort of two answers. I’ll start with urban, I guess, for urban history, what I really hope is we’re living in a city. Not everyone is from a city who goes to Cleveland State. Some people are from here, and other people are maybe from a rural or small town or maybe exurban, sort of distant to a city. I think that anyone who is at least in the city for college has some experience of the city, and it’s useful for them to know the history of how the place that they move through, live in, et cetera, study in, how it developed and how it is either similar or different from the experience of people in urban environments elsewhere in the country, and the world for that matter. So I think it’s a useful- It’s useful in that sense. I think it potentially can make someone a better citizen of a city or metropolitan area if they know what some of the challenges and problems and the trajectory of the city’s history was over time. They kind of know what’s been tried in the past, what’s worked, what hasn’t worked. Maybe they could envision a better urban future. Now, for public history, that’s a very different answer because it gets very much to the heart of what you can do with a history degree. And I think that history, like so many disciplines, it’s an academic discipline, and you can think of it as a scholar would, that you’re communicating knowledge to other scholars, but when you limit it to that, you’re greatly reducing its ability to shape how people understand the world and the country and the community that they live in. So I think really public history is an opportunity to connect those dots, help people see where maybe their family history, their personal lived experience, their experience of their community, tie together with something broader and then thinking about the ways that they can convey that, whether digitally or whether through tours, whether through museums- So public history is a way of connecting that kind of experience of the past with something tangible, creating ways for people to engage with it.

Makialani Kanewa-Mariano [00:10:00] I like how you said connecting experiences of the past with the present. Outside of teaching, I know you mentioned you founded the Center for Public History and Digital Humanities, is that the organization that you participate with outside of teaching? Is that the only organization that you participate with?

Mark Souther [00:10:17] That’s. Yeah, and I’m the co-founder, actually, with Mark Tebeau, who is a onetime employee, professor of history from Cleveland State, who went on to Arizona State University. So he and I co-founded the center in 2008. It’s the- So sort of yes and no. I have been involved in public history in a couple of other ways over the years, but going pretty far back, really. I was a tour guide when I lived in Richmond. I was a tour guide at a historic House museum for about one year. And I was also part of an NEH planning group for a regional humanities center that was being started at Tulane. I was fortunate to be brought into that as a grad student, research assistant basically. So I did that from, I guess, 1999 to 2001. So it was while I was writing the dissertation that I was also working on that. And it was nice because it turns out that that was part of what helped me get my position here was that experience.

Makialani Kanewa-Mariano [00:11:33] Just for the record, could you spell the, your other co-founder?

Mark Souther [00:11:37] Yeah. M-A-R-K T-E-B-E-A-U.

Makialani Kanewa-Mariano [00:11:44] And what was the original goals that you guys came up with for the Center?

Mark Souther [00:11:49] Originally, the Center came about because he had written a series of U.S. Department of Education grants as part of a program called Teaching American History, which the funding for that was cut maybe about a decade or so ago, but for a period of maybe five or six years, maybe seven or eight years, even before that program ended he was quite successful in getting a series of those grants. They were large grants, and we worked with K-12 teachers in a several-county area around Northeast Ohio. And it was a way of connecting what they were teaching in their social studies courses to both content, regional content that connected local and regional themes to national history around the state teaching standards. But it was also a way of imparting certain skills, public and digital history skills. And so the Center initially became a way of formalizing that kind of work and thinking about creating an entity that would become recognized as a practicing entity in the region to do that type of work. It was a hub for that here to sort of interface with the broader community and with other organizations. So we found that it really to kind of formalize our work and give it a recognizable home.

Makialani Kanewa-Mariano [00:13:21] Interesting. So it’s expanded, since you first began developing the organization, it’s kind of expanded into more than just formalizing your notes, or could you explain that just a little bit?

Mark Souther [00:13:34] Yeah, it did. It formalized in sort of a series of steps. I mean, initially it was set up as a research center, and there’s a process for doing that in the university. And, but it was informal in the sense that while it was housed in the history department, there was not a lot of direct connection, for example, to the Dean’s Office. It became a little bit more formalized. Actually, after Mark went to Arizona State, there was a new layer of formality added where I started reporting directly to the Dean as well as the department chair on the activities of the Center. And the university gradually started to just show more of a formal interest, I suppose, in the Center. And it was not that there was a lack of interest before. It’s just it became a little more formalized. And the university, as time went on, has done more and more to highlight the Center’s work and to, you know, to seek to amplify it in various ways in terms of publicity, seeking potential donors that could support the Center. So the university has been very supportive, and increasingly so as time has gone on, as they’ve seen that this is something that has staying power.

Makialani Kanewa-Mariano [00:14:59] So the university is very supportive. Who else kind of contributes to the work that the Center does and works in the projects of the center?

Mark Souther [00:15:07] Well, I would be remiss if I didn’t immediately mention Erin Bell, the developer in the Center, because his work is absolutely central to making all this possible. He was actually, he was a student of both Mark’s and mine. If you go back a number of years in the two thousands, he was a history major and went through our public and urban history courses and local history seminar and all of that. So he did some of this place-based history work like the projects that the Center does now as a student. And he went on to get his Master of Library and Information Science degree at Kent State University and then came back during that period where we were getting those TAH grants through the U.S. Department of Education that I mentioned. And so he didn’t start out a web developer, but he increasingly learned that skillset and became, over time, became really one of the, I would say, the foremost developers in Omeka, I mean, the platform that some of our projects are based on. He has done a lot of development around using Omeka as the content management system and of course has developed other skills along the way, including some app development and working in WordPress and other platforms. So he’s really essential. And it’s a rare combination of talents, I think, that combines the technological, but also with a strong humanities background. So he knows his history quite well. And I think it’s good to have both that technological and humanities strength in one person. He adds on multiple levels, I think, to what the Center does.

Makialani Kanewa-Mariano [00:17:11] So he was a student when he first began working with the Center?

Mark Souther [00:17:14] Before the Center existed, actually. So the Center was founded in 2008, and he would have to tell you the years because I lose track, but I seem to remember him being a student more like around ’05, ’06, around in there. We were actually doing work for a project called the Euclid Corridor History Project. It related to the Healthline that is the bus rapid transit on Euclid Avenue. And so he and another group of- I may mix up the, just exactly on this because I think he may have actually returned during that time after doing his work at Kent and before we founded the Center, it was all, now it’s running together in my mind. But I think he was, he started out when this project began, he was doing oral history interviews in the community around the Euclid Corridor, but he ended up coming back and working with us then after he finished his degree. And that segued into the Center, basically. And it became more and more of a permanent position. I mean, at first it was like strung together, okay, we have this grant for this amount of time, and then, well, what after that? And initially it was sort of like a year to year basis, but as time went on, we managed to turn it into something that would be more long-term.

Makialani Kanewa-Mariano [00:18:49] So do the majority of your workers on your projects, are they usually students? Besides Erin Bell?

Mark Souther [00:18:57] Usually it’s students. And we’ve always had graduate students involved in the Center going back to the start, but increasingly it’s been more programmatic because of the Museum Studies program. So I think that was started in 2007, but I’d have to go back and look to be certain I’m speaking correctly. Initially it was a very small program. It still is rather small, but we have a larger number of students that are in the program now than when it started. And most of those students have been involved in the Center over the years. And now it’s become much more the case that we try to have every student have some time working in the Center as part of their experience. So, yeah, through that and also through the public history course and sometimes the U.S. urban history course, I’ve involved students contributing to the projects and always with an eye toward, ultimately, this is something that, you know, you, the student puts your name on. It creates a different set of, higher stakes for the work, I think, and a personal investment that this is something that I, you know, as a student then can put in my sort of digital portfolio, as it were, and show this to a prospective employer. This is a sample of my public-facing writing. So that to me is one of the real benefits of the work, is to have a recognized place, part of an ongoing long-term project that a student can then say, okay, here’s a durable URL and it’s still there ten years later. You know, that’s our goal, is for that to be something you can always say, hey, I did this and here it is.

Makialani Kanewa-Mariano [00:20:48] Before I hand off the rest of the interview to Bali, I guess just building off of that, so based on your experiences, is that kind of how you hope to expect or how you see in other educators and institutions sort of utilize the Center to encourage understandings of public history, urban history, just the stuff that the projects that you guys work on?

Mark Souther [00:21:07] I’m not sure I understand the question. Do you mean how it compares to other centers or- I may have misunderstood your question.

Makialani Kanewa-Mariano [00:21:15] Just based on kind of your experiences so far, maybe with the Center, with the organization specifically, that you guys have kind of formed and curated throughout, throughout a while, over time using, you know, you said kind of like having a formal URL and being able to just kind of search through your archives or the oral history project. Is that kind of how you’ve hoped you would see educators and other institutions kind of utilize the work the Center does specifically?

Mark Souther [00:21:46] Partly, yes, but I mean, I think of like others using this, this work for a whole variety of purposes. I really think of this work also as just sort of public, public-engaged work that people use for many purposes that we may not even know. On one level, it’s just public education, people sharing this. You know, it becomes a place to answer questions they have about places in Cleveland, for example, becomes a trusted source. I think that’s one of the things I’ve been most pleased about, is that people do see this as a trusted source of quality information. And on some level, admittedly, it’s because it’s coming from a university, and it gives it a certain imprimatur that this is a university project. And we shouldn’t necessarily assume that something coming out of a university is necessarily better than something that comes from some other location. But I think that might be why some people look at it in that way. It’s been humbling, though, that at times we’ve gotten things wrong. And, you know, we have to admit that sometimes people outside the university know more than we know, and they tell us when we’re wrong and we respond constructively to that. We do our best to verify, you know, if we need to check out what they’re saying a little bit more and see if we can find, you know, not necessarily accept it at face value without thinking about it more, but we’ve, you know, we’ve made modifications to content. People have contributed in that way. Yeah.

Makialani Kanewa-Mariano [00:23:23] Awesome. Thank you. I’m going to go ahead and pass it off to Bali.

Mark Souther [00:23:26] Sure.

Bali White [00:23:27] Hi, Dr. Souther.

Mark Souther [00:23:28] Hi.

Bali White [00:23:29] So you had mentioned that you received your Ph.D. from Tulane. Could you share with us some of the harder aspects of the Ph.D. program you were a part of?

Mark Souther [00:23:39] The harder aspects? There were some. I guess one of the things that was difficult, it was difficult when I first got there because I went in thinking I wanted to do southern urban immigration history. And when I got there, I realized that I just wasn’t- That was not the area for me, but I didn’t know what was. And so it was kind of a challenge fishing around for how I was going to do something new and original. And it was also a challenge that took some time to work out. And I definitely had some help along the way there. It was also hard because two, a succession of people left Tulane. Two left in quick succession to take positions at other universities. So I went from the person I went in to work with to another person, and then he left. And then I went to a third person, and the third person stayed. And the third person turned out to be, you know, a wonderful advisor, Larry Powell. Lawrence Powell is his name. He was a reconstruction historian. That was not what I wanted to do but he taught Louisiana history. He was very interested in New Orleans, and he was very expansive in his thinking about, you know, how he directed dissertation students doing dissertations, and he was the one who actually came up with the suggestion that I look at New Orleans tourism. I had done a master’s thesis at Richmond on the early development of Virginia Beach, Virginia, as a seaside resort in the period from- The 1880s through the 1920s was the focus. And knowing that, he said, well, have you thought about tourism as a subject to apply, you know, to look at elsewhere? And I said, well, no, actually, I don’t know why, but I never thought about that. And I was immediately interested because living in a city like New Orleans, I could tell from day one this is a very touristy city and I could see all sorts of possibilities for how to explore that. And he helped really shape that. But it was a challenge at first, not knowing what in the world I was going to do a dissertation on and feeling that pressure. So that was a challenge. I guess those are the main things that come to mind. Other than just, I mean, getting through a dissertation, it’s daunting because there are times you think, I’m never going to get all this together. I had all these sort of illusions that maybe I was doing the wrong thing and maybe I should go to law school or whatever else. And I entertained all kinds of ideas for escape hatches along the way that I’m glad I didn’t take. But there were moments I thought, I don’t know if I can get through this.

Bali White [00:26:55] Seems like a tough time.

Mark Souther [00:26:57] Yeah, but good friends. I had wonderful friends there and the faculty were great. So, yeah, it was- I mean, I had a support structure that was really strong, which helped immensely. I mean, I couldn’t have done it, couldn’t have gotten through without friends. But it was tough. You know, it can be a lonely experience, too, because you feel this camaraderie when you’re in classes with these friends, but then you get out and you’re all responsible for doing your own dissertation and it can be a long road. And even though you may still get together and hang out- You know, and there’s plenty to do in New Orleans, obviously. It’s a great city for hanging out. I never had a problem in terms of, you know, the willpower to keep going and working. I was a hard worker, but sometimes I just felt like I was spinning my wheels and, you know, it’s just like, I don’t know if anything I’m doing is really going to come together. But it did. It just- I had to just keep plugging away at it and the pieces did fall into place. So, yeah, that was a challenge.

Bali White [00:28:01] You had mentioned that you play instruments. Could you share with us what exactly you play?

Mark Souther [00:28:07] Yeah, I play trumpet and played it since 6th grade, like many people. Like, around there, 5th or 6th grade is when people tend to start an instrument. And I stuck with it. I loved band, went all the way through college marching and symphonic bands, and was really- I mean, over the years after that, I really missed it and was only playing, in terms of performing, I was only playing, like, Easter services and Christmas Eve services at churches over the years and not really doing anything other than that and getting the trumpet out and just playing for fun, playing old stuff, you know, from college and high school and all that, getting out copies of the music. That was how I kept going for a number of years. And then in more recent years, I got more involved once I got settled in my work here, got past, got tenure thankfully back in 2006, I think, yeah, I guess it was conferred in ’07. I applied for it in ’06. After that, I started to find more opportunities to play music, and so I played for about ten years in a community band, University Heights Symphonic Band until the pandemic really put a stop to that. And then after the pandemic, I decided to try some other ensembles, and I find my way into some other opportunities. And more recently, I’ve been playing in Cleveland Winds, Cleveland Repertory Orchestra, and Euclid Symphony Orchestra. So I guess you could say I’m more of a classical trumpet player than anything, but the classical in the sense of versus jazz versus, you know, other forms of music. But in terms of where I focus my playing, and I guess the- Where was I going with that? I guess I was just going to say that the orchestral part, though, is newer to me. I had never been in an orchestra. I’d been only in band through the pandemic. And it was after the pandemic that I started in the Cleveland Repertory Orchestra first. And that’s been a great new opportunity to have to transpose, for example. And that’s a skill that- The thing I like about music is that it’s a constant challenge, and there’s still new things to learn, and it’s fun to try to tackle those problems of, like, transposition and just having to approach music in a different way. It’s different in an orchestra than it is in a band, so I’m enjoying the challenge of doing something different.

Bali White [00:31:06] Absolutely. You had mentioned that you taught at another university for a year before coming to CSU. Could you tell us what that was like?

Mark Souther [00:31:17] Yeah, I was green as could be and- So I was at Tulane, where I got my Ph.D. and I was very young, so, and I felt like it was very difficult to have any kind of professorly kind of distance because I was practically a student myself. So it was a little bit odd that way at first, just feeling like I’ve never taught these courses and I’m suddenly teaching these courses. So I was over-prepared and- Actually, this is a funny story. So this is in New Orleans, remember? And New Orleans is very hot. So you can imagine August, when you start the semester, is miserable and you’d love to just be able to show up in shorts and a t-shirt, anything more than that in you’re, you’re dying inside basically from the heat and humidity. So that first day, I was super nervous. I had- Actually, I’ve got to back up because I’m mixing up two stories. The funny story is actually not from that year. It was actually- This makes more sense now that I’m clarifying. It was actually my first time teaching as a graduate assistant. So we were responsible, basically, instructor of record, had to develop the course. So this was the, I guess this was probably the equivalent of HIS 112. It was either 111 or 112. And funny, I can’t remember which one I did first, but I believe it was like the 112, basically. So it’s the second half of the U.S. survey. I was over-prepared for that too, and very uptight about it. And I remember leaving my apartment and walking to campus to teach that day. And it was August, and so I’m burning up. And I’m also just like feeling practically sick from nervousness from doing this for the first time. And I’m walking down the sidewalk, kind of lost in my thoughts, I think, about what I’m about to do, and a car backs out of the driveway and hits me, actually. I mean, not running over me, but kind of clipped my leg and I kind of wheeled around because I was just passing the car and it caught my shin, I guess, and they stopped immediately and we were both just shocked. And of course, I was embarrassed and apologetic and everything, and they were too. But then it was funny how having that experience of nearly being run over by a car on the way kind of made me relax more, and by the time I got there, it’s like, I just survived being hit by a car. I think that’s probably the worst thing that’s going to happen today. It was actually a good icebreaker for the first class to say, be able to admit, hey, I was kind of nervous. This is my first time doing this. But, you know, I nearly got run over by a car on the way here, the car literally hit me, and I’m here. So I think everything that happens from here on is gonna be just fine. So it was actually kind of. Sometimes these things happen, and you can kind of say, hey, you know, that kind of seems to have happened for a reason.

Bali White [00:34:33] Your book, Believing in Cleveland: Managing Decline in “The Best Location in the Nation” was initially published in 2017. Could you walk us through what it was like researching and writing for this book?

Mark Souther [00:34:46] That was another big thing, because, you know, your first book, typically as a historian, if you’re doing, so, as like a professor, comes out of your dissertation, usually. And so you did that with a great amount of support. You had your friendship network. You had your professors, your committee. You had- Looking back on it, you had all this free time, which you didn’t think you had at the time, but you didn’t have the same necessarily. And I’m speaking from my own experience. Not everyone has that experience. Some people have families and other responsibilities. They may have health issues that complicate the road. I did not have that. So it really was just whatever pressure this experience brought to me and pressure I put on myself. So the first book was hard enough to do, to turn a dissertation into a book and get it published, but it was so much easier in retrospect than the second book. The second book is so much more difficult, and I’ve heard so many other people say this, because you don’t have that same support structure. You no longer have the time that now, looking back, seemed like a luxury that all you had to do was do this. Now you- I was doing this, you know, I started the project. I was married. When I really got into the project, I had a two-year-old daughter. So that changes things quite a lot. You don’t have these big blocks of time. I used to think, oh, I can only do this as a big block of time. So that was part of it. And then trying to conceptualize it, it took quite a bit of time to think, what belongs in this book? This is a big topic. What belongs? What doesn’t belong? And went through so many iterations of that. That part of it was quite a challenge just trying to do this with a very different kind of setting.

Bali White [00:36:47] Could you tell us your experience conducting oral histories?

Mark Souther [00:36:52] Yeah, that goes back, in a formal way it only goes back to, what, 2005? And that was part of that Euclid Corridor Project. I didn’t really have a lot of oral history experience at the time, but we had- This is before the Center formed again, but we brought in people from the American Folklife Center at Library of Congress, and we talked to NPR’s Story Corps, and- That’s what I’m remembering. Maybe- I hope I’m not leaving out anybody, but those, we definitely talked to them read a lot, you know, learning the methodology, really getting the methodology fine-tuned to this project. And that’s where we came up with the facilitator role that we sometimes still use but don’t always use now. But back then, we were really focusing on having one person focus on the interview and another person working on sort of making sure the recorder was working properly and making adjustments. That was harder to do back then because we had a setup that was a little bit, I think, harder than this one right here is to use. So it really did. There was a lot more, like, moving parts kind of thing. But anyway, the experience initially was mainly working with students, teaching students to do this. And I was still, you know, fairly new to it myself, but also doing some of my own interviews. So it- But I found it really very enjoyable work. And once I got comfortable listening and kind of freeing my mind to listen and not being overly uptight about, you know, just what I should and shouldn’t do to guide the interview, learning to relax a little bit and just enjoy listening to what the person was telling me and thinking about what questions that raised, I’ve always really enjoyed it. Was that the question? I feel like I may have drifted away from what your original question was.

Bali White [00:39:14] You touched base on it, for sure. To follow up with that, has there been anyone that you interviewed that has left a mark on you as a historian?

Mark Souther [00:39:24] Wow.

Bali White [00:39:27] That’s a loaded question.

Mark Souther [00:39:28] No, it’s not really a loaded question. I suppose it’s just sort of a- It’s a hard one to answer on the spot because there have been so many really good interviews, and I’ve just been, you know, reflecting on it a lot more. I think it’s hard to really pick out any one, and I don’t even know if it’s, like, one that I did necessarily, but just, I mean, I’ve heard so many that either students have done or I’ve done lately. I mean, I’m not gonna single out any names, I suppose, because I don’t know what the one would be. But lately I’ve been listening to the ones that were collected that Dr. Shelley Rose was the lead on, and she and I worked together with a student one summer, it must have been about 20, I think it was 2017, if I’m remembering the date right. And it was part of the Protest Voices project that she spearheaded. And so the student interviewed anti-Vietnam War demonstrators, people who were involved in that activism, and also people who were involved in the InterReligious Task Force in Central America, specifically in El Salvador. And I’ve just been listening to and going back and transcribing some of those interviews that had never been transcribed. And I’m just struck by the profoundness of the experience of what people relate about how it changed them to go to Central America during a civil war and to put themselves in harm’s way in such a selfless manner that they were there to help the people. They were there to empower the people to live better and just all the things they did to try to help make a better society and at great risk to themselves and to the people that they helped. They saw some just horrific things happen and not knowing if they would make it out alive. So that was just- It’s not about Cleveland, but there are people from Cleveland who had these experiences that were transformative for them. And I think they’re sort of transformative in a way. I think listening to that is inspirational, and it just kind of reminds you of, I guess sometimes it’s like you hear these things, you’re like, wow, you know, I could only hope to make a tenth of that impact on someone and to be that selfless. It’s hard to, you know, I’m sure I don’t measure up to some of these people but - not even close - but it’s inspiring, you know, when you hear those stories.

Bali White [00:42:13] So before we wrap this up, are there any goals you have moving forward in academia?

Mark Souther [00:42:20] Oh, yeah, always. Well, I mean, I’m finishing up a third book now, and that’s actually in the peer review process right now. So fingers are crossed. And I don’t know what I’m going to do in terms of another book after this. I’ve been thinking about various topics, and I’m not exactly sure yet. And maybe that’s a good thing, to just be comfortable- Increasingly, I’m comfortable with the idea that I’m not sure what I’m going to do next. So book wise, I don’t know exactly what’s next. Public history wise, I mean, a lot of it right now is continuing to develop existing projects. So I don’t know what the next thing is, to be honest. And I’m increasingly just okay with that, that part of the value, I think, of doing the public history side of this is sustaining the existing projects is really important. And you can be too quick to rush on to the next big thing, and what’s that going to be? But when you do that, sometimes it’s, you do find yourself being almost a little bit selfish and - potentially selfish - and saying, I need to make another big splash of this or that. And that’s not really what it should be about. It’s really about engaging people. And as long as we’re doing that, I’m happy with the work we’re doing. We should always be thinking of the projects as active and seeking to bring as many people into them as possible. And it can be a ten-year-old project or it can be a one-year-old project and it doesn’t matter in a way. So I think quality over quantity. I’d like to just keep working on making the existing projects better and better, and new ideas will come along. And when they do, that’s great. But I’m not worrying so much now about, oh, I’ve got to come up with some new ideas.

Bali White [00:44:22] And then last but not least, do you have any advice for Makialani and myself with our summer projects?

Mark Souther [00:44:30] Number one, listen and enjoy. Enjoy the experience. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself when you’re interviewing people - that’s easier said than done - and the more you do it, the more comfortable you will be. But really, just being present, I think, is the most important advice I can give because it’s so easy to- You can become self-conscious very quickly. I can. You can begin to become sort of too self-aware and being concerned about how the person sitting across the table is perceiving what you’re doing. If you can set that aside and just be present and just listen to what they’re saying and, you know, it’ll kind of come to you what to do with the interview. So I guess that’s my biggest advice, really. It’s just sort of a general thing that’s the hardest to do in some ways, but makes it work best.

Bali White [00:45:27] Awesome. Well, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate you teaching us how to do that. Any last thoughts, Makialani?

Makialani Kanewa-Mariano [00:45:33] Nope, I think I’m good. Thank you. Thank you for doing this.

Mark Souther [00:45:37] Okay. Thank you.

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