Thursday, March 24, 2005

Oral Histories

I have this problem with always thinking about stuff that can be done and then thinking that I have to do it. Now. It's no wonder I'm always behind on sleep and little pesky things like that.

So I've come up with an idea for an oral history project which just popped into my head a couple of days ago, and I already have a committee assembled to start working on it. What I want to do is to build on USM's project and focus only on retired teachers in Mississippi, mainly two-year college teachers and even more specifically from my own school. The goal is to build an archive of materials chronicling the history of education in Mississippi as remembered by the teachers. I'm thinking that we will do interviews with retired teachers, record the interviews on digital voice recorders, then transfer them to CDs and to some sort of online format. Then the human experience of the history of the school and the state will be preserved for future students and researchers to access. And, of course, I'll have yet another item of interest to blog about.

Call me a nerd, but I'm excited about the idea.

I'm also trying to formulate how I might transfer this kind of thing to the classroom. I'm considering doing a local history theme in a composition class and have the students do oral history interviews then write about them. I also thought they could use the original response paper to the interviews as a springboard for getting into a more focused research project and paper.

Another idea I had was to give them a choice of doing a photo essay on local history and writing in response to it.

Have any of you ever tried anything like this before? Any advice would be welcome.


Rosa G. said...

Great idea, Sharon. I'm going to link to it over at CCE at once. I would like permission to post your piece on regionalism over there, too, because it's quite thought-provoking, and I think that the busy-ness of the 4 C's and spring breaks may have kept some people from reading it.


Sharon Gerald said...

Feel free to repost anything of mine as long as you link back. I'm glad you're interested in this idea. I'm hoping to get some help brainstorming this project.

There are good resources on the USM site for people interested in doing oral history interviews.

I've still got to work out some of the techie what format to put them in for posting online. I'm going to play around with digital voice recordings this weekend while I have a whole family around as test subjects. :)

Clancy said...

Those ideas all sound fantastic to me. I hope you'll keep us posted as you continue to think through this course theme.

Nick said...

If you're going to do oral histories, students can also post, with permission of those whom they interview of course, audio clips.

If you go to you'll see an example of what might be possible by your students. It's a report on the towns and peoples that were moved so that the towns could be flooded to make the Quabbin Reservoir, which provides water to Boston.

When I was at UMass, Amherst, working on my ABD, Andrea Stover, did a community service writing project with her students where they interviewed people still living in the area who had been displaced to make the Quabbin. As I recall, her students would visit folks in their homes (sometimes nursing homes), and interview them and write profiles of them and their stories. Each person would get a copy of their story.

I don't recall whether Andrea had these saved in a central repository of some kind. This is all well over ten years ago now.

Back then, it wasn't so easy to do what you see on the WBUR site above. But with blogs, audio blogs, photo blogs, digital cameras, digital video, digital audio, it's possible, with some pluck and planning, for a FYC class to make a pretty good oral history site.

If you begin the project, the first few classes might dually be charged with doing a few histories, but also thinking about and planning what the site will be like so that future students can add to it in some organized way.

It'd be a heck of an intellectual feat -- planning an archive that's yet to exist, and making it intelligible and navigable.

Perhaps a librarian could visit the class and speak about the importance of archive planning and why it matters.

I'll stop. Too many ideas now and since I'm not teaching at the moment, I'm jealous I can't try them.