Friday, August 19, 2011

Oral History As A Pedagogical Tool

Students in my online course, SOC 210 Sociology, recently completed their oral history interview projects.  Students interviewed family members or friends about their life histories, placed individual life experiences in historical context and shared their papers in a discussion forum.  In doing so, they learned an important concept in sociology:  the impact of history on individual lives. Oral history research is an excellent pedagogical tool and helps build a cohesive community in the online classroom. 

In his book, The Sociological Imagination (1959), sociologist, C. Wright Mills, writes "neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both."  "Seldom aware of the intricate connection between the patterns of their own lives and the course of world history, ordinary people do not usually know what this connection means for the kinds of people they are becoming and for the kinds of history-making in which they might take part. They do not possess the quality of mind essential to grasp the interplay of individuals and society, of biography and history, of self and world"  (Chapter One:  The Promise, The Sociological Imagination, 1959). 

The diverse cultural backgrounds of the students further enrich the learning experience.   Here are some examples of the students' interview subjects.

A father who immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba during the Carter administration in the late 1970s.
A mother who lived through the 35-year civil war in Guatemala.
Family members who lived in the Dominican Republic during the Trujillo era.
A family member who witnessed the Newark riots in the 1960s.
A mother's memories of living in South Korea during the Korean War.
A grandmother who described living in the South during Jim Crow segregation.
A grandmother's memories of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

During our final discussion forum, students reflected on the experience of doing their oral history projects. 

"I want to say that the class was a great experience. I not only learned new things from my fellow classmates, but I also learned new things about myself and society."

"In the words of my uncle: 'we need to try to understand the past, in order to understand the present.' He has said this many times about history and people. It is important to know where we all come from; what struggles our relatives have gone through. I feel that if we are aware of that, we can understand who they are and why they do, or don't do certain things; why they react, or don't react in certain ways. It also helps us have better understanding, and thus reduce stereotyping and discrimination."  

"During this project, I have discovered a much greater appreciation for my mother and her sacrifices for her family.  This class helped me gain that closer relationship I always wanted to have with my mother.  Thank you."

“I have a greater appreciation for people who lived through the Great Depression, for the life and times I live in, and of course my grandma. My favorite part of the interview was when she was describing all the emotions she felt during the Great Depression and World War II. There were so many details that I now understand better.”

Go to the following websites for more information on doing oral histories.

Oral History Association
International Oral History Association
Do History:  Step-by-Step Guide To Oral History

No comments: