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April 9, 2003

students and oral history

My colleagues and our high school class have been using oral history methods to construct the Prince George's County Information Commons history page. Today an expert from the Oral History in Education Institute at University of Maryland came to class to teach our students proper interviewing techniques—unfortunately too late to improve our most important interviews, which are over. I thought one of the most interesting distinctions she made was between journalism and oral history. She claimed that oral history is less adversarial than reporting. "We are recipients of the story," she said. She taught the students to avoid leading questions and questions that anticipate yes/no answers. Open-ended questions are the oral historian's tool.

The class and I came to understand our serious responsibilities better as a result of the session. The desegregation of Prince George's County Schools was an epic struggle. Understanding it is crucial, since racial divisions and inequities remain, and no one is sure how to address them. In nearly half a century since the struggle began, no one had interviewed some of the key players, such as the first African American students to attend White schools in our county. Chances are, no one else will interview them after us. So we alone are creating primary source materials for later historians—and they better be good. We didn't seek this responsibility. Our original intentions were to provide a civics lesson and to develop innovative ways of using websites. But the responsibility is real even if we backed into it.

We were given these links to good online oral history projects conducted by youth:
What Did You Do, Grandma?
The Whole World Was Watching: An Oral History of 1968
We Made Do: Recalling the Great Depression
The Stories of the People

(I have found the same list on this webpage.)

April 9, 2003 12:01 PM | category: a high school civics class | Comments


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