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.)

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