Oral History: A Community College Assignment

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Next up in our Oral History series, an example of a project assignment for community college students working in groups to conduct oral histories. This is student-facing content; we’ll address teacher-specific content and tips soon!

This assignment was used in a community college setting, but with tweaks, it could easily be used with high school students or other adult learners.

Next up: strategies for helping students conduct respectful interviews and act as responsible historians.

Oral History Project

We often think of history as big events—think battles, coronations, explorations—that’s observed impartially, recorded, and carefully preserved in libraries and universities for later generations. But history is as much about the lives of every day people as so-called great events, and we all can play an important part in preserving our own, and our community’s, history.

During the second half of the quarter, you and your group will be completing an oral history project. Since we’ve begun this quarter by reading, writing, and discussing issues of immigration, you’ll continue with this theme and interview an immigrant to California. You’ll choose a subject, conduct background research, conduct the interview, preserve the interview, and get it in shape to share with the world.

Your group will be responsible for the following portions of the project:

  1. Create and submit a group Oral Histories Project plan.
    • Meet with your group, review the project requirements, and assign the work to individuals. Be sure to divide work as equally as possible and keep in mind each group member’s strengths and weaknesses. You are required to turn this in to Emily. Use this list to help you anticipate the work that you’ll be responsible for doing.
    • This plan can, and probably will, change over the course of the project. You’ll note that in your final self/group project evaluation.
  2. Identifying an interview subject and coordinating the interview. YOUR SUBJECT CANNOT BE A MEMBER OF THIS CLASS. Beyond that, anyone with an immigration story to tell is qualified.
    • Approaching the subject to request an interview
    • Setting up meeting times and places that work for everyone
    • Getting the basic facts about the interviewee’s story in order to conduct background research (ie where they immigrated from, when, etc.)
    • Having a backup plan!
  3. Preparing and submitting a formal group work distribution plan.
  4. Conducting background research both before and after the interview
    • Before the interview: use research to help formulate questions. You should know a little bit about the interviewee’s homeland and immigration situation. Were many other people making the same journey at the same time? Was immigration driven by world events?
    • Before the presentation and essay portion: Follow up on anything the interviewee mentioned that you don’t know much about. This will help you put this particular story in context.
  5. Generating interview questions
    • Create a list, longer than you think you need, of potential questions to ask. Storycorps is a great place to begin.
    • Prioritize and prepare your potential questions for easy access during the interview
  6. The interview! THIS MUST TAKE PLACE IN PERSON!
    • Coordinate the interview! Choose an appropriate and comfortable time and place for the interviewee. Be sure to consider the needs of the interviewers for recording purposes.
    • Know everyone’s roles.
      1. Who will make sure that the interviewee and interviewers know when and where to meet?
      2. Who will ask questions?
      3. Who will manage the recording (audio required; video optional)
      4. Who will provide any other necessary support?
  • Find out whether interviewee is open to follow up questions after the official interview, whether via phone, email, or any other method.
  • Be sure to have a backup plan and contact information for everyone.
  1. After the interview
    • Send the interviewee prompt thank yous and an invitation to presentations.
    • Group review and recap ASAP to be sure you’re on track with all the project work and requirements.
    • Identify further areas to research.
    • Any follow up questions for the interviewee? Ask!
  2. Presentations, location TBA
    • Your audience: classmates, community members, and your interviewees, if they can make it.
    • Five-ten minutes to present background, summary of interview, and why/how this story is important. You are required to incorporate both audio and visual elements (ie voice recordings, photos or maps, props, and any other material that can help the audience appreciate the history that you’ve taken).
    • Sharing more broadly: preservation techniques. We’ll discuss options in class.
  3. Written requirement: Oral History Essay
    • Each group member is responsible for his/her own final essay on the interview
    • Your essay will incorporate some of your background research and the interview material and will make an argument about why this story is important to preserve. We’ll discuss how this will work more as we get closer to the deadline.
  4. Self and Group Evaluation
    • You’ll complete an evaluation for both your own role and that of your group in completing this project.

 

 

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