History From Below


 Exploring Rural Oregon’s Social Movement History

This traveling workshop will engage rural and small town Oregonians in an exploration of how ordinary and organized citizens from our own communities have shaped history.

  • Learn about moments in history when passionate, principled or simply fed-up people from rural Oregon have banded together in hopes of changing the course of history!
  • Engage in thoughtful dialogue about the past and present of rural grassroots organizing—and discover insights for today’s struggles.

Do you want to bring the History from Below tour to your community?

Download the Call for Sponsors
Apply for your town to be a tour stop using our online application form!

Applications are due Friday, June 1st


History from Below: Exploring Rural Oregon’s Social Movement History

Whether it’s Wisconsin’s union members and students taking over their Capitol Building to protect the right to organize, Tea Party activists flooding congressional phone lines over the national debt, or youth and the unemployed occupying Wall Street to speak out against deepening economic inequality, the past year has seen an upsurge in popular protest.  Ordinary people across the country are exercising their rights to free speech and popular assembly in the hopes of shaping the course of our nation’s history.  Rural Oregonians are no exception.  For instance, Oregon has more “Occupy” sites in rural and small towns than any other state in the nation.  Indeed, at critical moments in Oregon’s history, rural communities have been sites of unconventional and noteworthy social movement activity.  Drawing on the disciplines of history, sociology and political science, Rural Oregon’s History from Below will make the connections between past and present, inviting rural Oregonians from all walks of life and political persuasion to use the humanities to understand how an engaged and active citizenry in their own, local communities has, at different points in the past, shaped the course of history.

This program comes out of an ongoing, community-based oral history project coordinated through the Rural Organizing Project to collectively document, critically analyze and publicly disseminate the history of grassroots, progressive organizing in rural Oregon over the past 25 years.   With History from Below, we are excited about sharing original historical research and fostering dialogue around deeply political issues with people of different political backgrounds and viewpoints.  Indeed, we see the exchange of ideas across lines of ideology and identity as critical to the development of a vibrant democracy.  Past ROP programs (such as our Roundtable Dialogues for a Democratic Economy) have brought together diverse sectors, across political lines, to address critical rural issues.  More recently, Tea Party activists accepted Occupy Mosier’s invitation to join them at the local occupation for a cup of tea and conversation.  The time is ripe for History from Below, which will encourage small town Oregonians to form their own opinions and analysis, and introduce historiography as a useful method for critical inquiry and civil dialogue around controversial social issues.

Program Objectives

  • Expose participants to the critical-historical method and whet their appetite for digging deeper into their community’s own history
  • Highlight the role that “ordinary” rural Oregonians can and have played historically in evolving the ideas, policies and decisions that inform and shape residents’ daily lives
  • Engage rural and small town community members of diverse political perspectives in a civil and meaningful conversation about issues of concern to contemporary social movements

Format, Content, and Audience

Participatory workshops will bring together 25-50 rural community members each in granges, libraries, historical societies, or sites of local historical interest to critically examine their own community’s social movement history.  We hope to attract an audience representative of the diversity within Oregon’s rural communities that includes active participants in contemporary social movements, local community leaders, teachers, students and local history enthusiasts.  Each workshop will be held in a rural or small town in a different region of the state.

Professional archivists, historians, and scholars will work with local community leaders and the Project Coordinator to tailor workshop content for each host community.   Workshops will invite participants to explore moments when passionate, principled or simply fed-up people from their community have banded together in hopes of changing the course of history at the local, state, (or in some cases) national level.   Workshops will focus on issues and historical social movements that are of relevance to the politics and socio-cultural dynamics facing rural Oregon’s communities today.  A rough agenda for each 2-3 hour workshop:

I.      Opening Introductions

II.    Keynote Address/Presentation

Overview of Oregon’s social movement history, emphasizing local and rural manifestations (Populist movement, unemployed councils of the 1930s, the Granges, Chicano movement, etc.), and tailored to include historical content specific to each host community/county.

III.  Working Groups

    1. Split into small groups of 4-6.  Each group will receive a packet of primary source documents (segments of an oral history interview, newspaper articles, photographs, letters, etc.) related to one aspect of local/rural social movement history and a set of questions to guide a collective, historical analysis of the materials.
    2. Short report-backs – each group shares 1-2 key insights or questions from their discussion.

IV.  Facilitated Discussion

Project Coordinator facilitates an open, seminar-style discussion with the full group, exploring the connections between past and present.

V.    Concluding Remarks

Documentation to Expand our Reach

With this program, we hope to engage rural Oregonians in an active and meaningful exploration of their own communities’ histories—and in thoughtful dialogue about popular expressions of grassroots organizing in today’s sociopolitical milieu.   Careful documentation will allow us to share program content and supplementary materials with a broader audience in a multi-media, online format.  A tour website will share information, archives and research on the history of social movements in rural Oregon, and include audio-visual documentation of the workshops themselves.


This program was made possible in part by a grant from Oregon Humanities (OH), a statewide nonprofit organization and an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which funds OH’s grant program.