Voices From Our America

About VFOA
MissionFounding Director

Mission

Find out what we’re passionate about.

VFOA is a publicly engaged research project dedicated to collecting, preserving, and disseminating forgotten, hidden, or unknown stories of American experience. We believe that the story of America, and of any particular nation within America, cannot be truly captured and told if so many voices are left out. VFOA seeks to raise the volume of these voices from faint whispers to a place of powerful and deliberate expression through two core dimensions:

  • The first gathers oral and life histories through interviews and conducts archival research with and on specific populations.
  • The second component works with individuals, schools, and community groups, using the interviews as a basis for innovative approaches to educating the peoples of America about each other.

VFOA’s materials, models, and methods aim to round out America’s story and by doing so provide a venue through which students, faculty, community members, and institutions can work collaboratively to advance awareness, connectedness, and cooperation. Through curriculum development resources, community education workshops, publications, and public history programs, we aim to advance understanding across cultures and generations in Our America.

Founding Director and Principal Investigator

Ifeoma Kiddoe Nwankwo

Professor Ifeoma Kiddoe Nwankwo is Associate Professor of English at Vanderbilt University, with secondary appointments and affiliations with the Department of Teaching and Learning, the Center for Latin American Studies, and the Program in African American and Diaspora Studies. She earned her Ph.D. from Duke University in 1999. Professor Nwankwo’s research has focused on encounters among African-American, Latin American, and West Indian peoples in the areas of culture, identity, and ideology with the goal of understanding the persistent barriers to progressive cross-group engagements. Her book, Black Cosmopolitanism(2005), is a comparative study of people of African descent in Cuba, the U.S., and the British West Indies in the wake of the Haitian Revolution. In it, she reveals that fear fostered by the revolution determined and has continued to determine the ways African-descended peoples in this hemisphere relate to each other, as well as to other American populations. The implications of this analysis attempts to understand whether relations between U.S. African Americans and recent immigrants to the U.S. are significant. Professor Nwankwo has also provided new insight into U.S. African American-Latino/Latin American-Caribbean relations through articles that have appeared in journals such as American Literary History, Radical History Review, and Cuban Studies/Estudios Cubanos. Her other publications include African Routes, Caribbean Roots, Latino Lives-a special issue of the Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies, Rhythms of the Afro-Atlantic World (edited with Mamadou Diouf) focused on music and dance, and Critical Approaches to Louise Bennett-a special issue of the Journal of West Indian Literature.

Focus Areas

Panamanians of West Indian Descent

This segment of VFOA works to capture the beautiful and ugly experiences of modern-day Panamanian West Indians in their own words, and guides interested individuals and groups in using that material to expand awareness of these histories and stories in Panama and in the U.S.

Black Women Travelers

This segment of VFOA works to compile scholarly and popular views of Black women’s mobility through interviews with, and educational workshops on, African-American and Caribbean women expatriates, migrants, and tourists.

Middle Tennessee Worldviews

This segment of VFOA seeks to collect, compile, and disseminate narratives from local African-American life in order to provide insight into the experiences of this ethnic group in Tennessee.

OUR METHODOLOGY

STRONG, COMPASSIONATE METHODOLOGY IS THE BEDROCK OF OUR WORK.

VFOA gathers its new narratives of American experience through semi-structured interviews conducted based on interview guides tailored for each focus community. Interviewees in each focus site are identified through snowball, random, and judgment sampling. Interviews are conducted primarily by project personnel from within the focus communities, and are done in accordance with established VFOA protocols. These protocols include consent forms that allow respondents to specify whether and how they wish their interview to be handled and/or made public and confidentiality agreements, which require interviewers, other project staff, and contractors to operate in accordance with the stipulations on those consent forms. The interviews presented here have been transcribed using the intelligent verbatim model, in which ums and ahs are deleted, but the rest of the text remains exactly as spoken.

In terms of methodology, the project, especially in its reliance on interviews as its primary information-gathering tool, is clearly interdisciplinary. As such, it employs language, approaches, and values from Sociology, Anthropology, History, and Literary and Cultural studies. This blended approach is intended to allow the study to better identify and productively address the gaps in knowledge about its subject populations, gaps that have recurred because the paradigms with which scholars have approached work on these populations have been restricted by too-rigid disciplinary boundaries. The interview guide, particularly in its focus on questions of identity, cultural memory, family, and community, is highly influenced by Literary studies and Sociology. Hints of anthropological ethnography appear in the study’s focus on encouraging lengthy narrative statements rather than shorter, more structured answers. Reflections of the attentiveness in contemporary Literary studies scholarship to the already questionable “truth” contained within autobiographies and testimonies, to notions of the “hybrid” and doubly creolized identities born of the secondary and tertiary migrations of African Diaspora peoples; and the unconscious transmission of memory and cultural knowledge among generations are evident in the framing of the questions.

VFOA’s goal is to capture as many individual viewpoints and experiences as possible, so the project’s purpose is not to gather an exactly proportional or representative sample of the population, or to measure the stories against historical data, or to prove any predetermined or hypothesized truth. This project’s intention is to elicit more primary source knowledge so that teachers, scholars, and community members will not have to be as dependent on external and official histories and documents as they have been. New primary sources will build the foundation for generating a more nuanced discourse on the communities of Our America, and, simply put, make more perspectives on these populations possible.