June 6, 2011

Student-Based Oral History Projects

It's bright and sunny and warm here in the Carolinas. Still have to pull on a sweater at night, but it's nice to finally have the piles of quilts off the bed, the front door wide open, the garden in full swing. We could do without the carpenter bees. Any advice?

I've been working through the current issue of The Oral History Review, the journal of the Oral History Association. It has some excellent papers on the intersect of oral history and theology, the art of listening and reflexivity, oral history, democracy and civic engagement, and inter-generational memory collecting. The papers capture several obvious but essential elements of oral history; that history is not just about the great men and women of history books--kings and queens, presidents and statesmen, warriors and diplomats. Nor is it just about great events like wars and elections and natural disasters and stock market crashes. History is about and is shaped by the seemingly little people: the ordinary folk who in mundane and often imperceptible ways participated in and witnessed key events in our history. Their stories matter too.

Here are some examples of student-based oral history projects that are documenting the vital stories of such 'ordinary' folk:

Civic Voices: An International Democracy Memory Bank Project is building an inspirational and educational tool for transmitting the stories of the world's great democratic struggles from one generation of citizens to the next. It is a partnership between teachers’ unions and other partners in eight countries: Colombia, Georgia, Mongolia, Northern Ireland, the Philippines, Poland, South Africa and the U.S.

Fox Point Oral History Project: Through the Fox Point Oral History Project, graduate students in public humanities at Brown University work with community elders and with students, parents, and teachers at a neighborhood elementary school to document, preserve, and present local history.

Telling Their Stories--Oral History Archives Project: OHAP is a combination of a high school elective history course at The Urban School of San Francisco, a digital video oral history production protocol, a public Web site, and a growing collaboration with other educational institutions from around the country. Students learn oral history technique, conduct two-hour long video-recorded interviews, complete the transcription, edit movies, and publish to the OHAP website. Most OHAP interviews deal with witnesses of key twentieth century events involving acts of discrimination, including survivors, witnesses and liberators of the Nazi Holocaust, Japanese American internees, and elders involved in the southern Civil Rights Movement.

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