Working Lives | Oral Histories

Course:  Documenting Memory (Dr. Rebecca Meacham)

Context:

  • Upper division English practicum course. Each offering of course had a different theme: UW-Green Bay’s 50th anniversary; silent voices; and working lives. Fifteen students enrolled each course offering.
  • Students learned the art of capturing stories via oral history interviews.
  • Assignment elements included framing a question, identifying interview subjects, learning oral history principles and practices, conducting three interviews, creation of metadata, and development of projects centered on the interviews.

Outcomes:

  • One iteration of the class had students working in partnership with social work students to create life journals for patients at a local hospice.
  • Students gained a deep appreciation for capturing the stories of individuals who might otherwise not have a voice in history. Topics were highly personal in many instances such as polio survivor; a single lesbian mother; siblings of adoptees; military spouses; and protesting social injustices. Students often commented that the individual narrative they captured allowed them to better understand the past. History was human…not just dates!
  • In course discussions, students gained an appreciation ethics, creating and preserving history in lieu of written records, and the value of storytelling.
  • The Working Lives version of the course saw students focused on capturing the stories of particular professions and the stories of a process in specific profession. The stories were diverse, ranging from theatrical set design to aftermath of 9/11; from Hispanic women in higher education to the judicial process, from arrest to trial.
  • Oral history interviews have been deposited in the Archives for use by future researchers

Hum 400 Sample by Kate Farley