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Throwback to ’88! A look back…

Follow our weekly series, Throwback Thursday, designed to help celebrate 50 years of OHA. We’ll profile a year in the life of the organization each week with photos, logos, and highlights taken from the Oral History Association Newsletter. We welcome your memories, photos, and comments at

OHA in 1988…

In 1988, Friends of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial launched an oral history project

President: Ronald J. Grele, Columbia University
Site of the Annual Meeting: Baltimore, Maryland
Newsletter: Jaclyn Jeffrey, editor
Editorial office: Baylor University, Waco, Texas
Annual individual membership: $20

Highlights of the year from the OHA Newsletters:

  • OHA welcomed Richard Candida Smith as the new Executive Secretary of the Association, and OHA headquarters moved to the Oral History Program at UCLA’s Powell Library.
  • Thomas Charlton made the case for the OHA endowment fund, stating that “now is the time for more than a few good oral historians to come to the aid of their association.” From its modest start in 1988 with just over $6,000, the endowment has grown to more than $390,000 in 2016. Let’s keep it growing!
  • In his welcome to the 23rd annual meeting, Ron Grele wrote: “Since its inception, oral history in the United States has been both a movement and a historical methodology. As a movement, it finds it fullest expression in the many local and community history projects throughout the country; as a methodology, in the growth and maturation of the OHA. At times each has gone its own way. At other times the two have met with startlingly original and creative results. The program this year, I think, represents one of these moments of meeting.” The theme in 1988 was “Community History, Multiculturalism, and People of Color.”

Who we were interviewing in 1988…

  • Friends of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial — remembrances of the persons whose names are engraved on the wall of the monument.
  • Minnesota Historical Society — surviving activists and radicals involved in Minnesota’s labor, farm, ethnic, and political movements and in the arts and cultural life of the state.
  • The Blues Archive, a branch of the J.D. Williams Library at the University of Mississippi, and Media Productions International (MPI) of Memphis — artists on the history of the blues leading to a series of radio programs called The Original Down Home Blues Show.

Check back next week for 1989…



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Annual meeting workshop preview: Creating Digital Oral History Exhibits

Janneken Smucker is an Assistant Professor of History at West Chester University where she specializes in digital and public history and material culture. She is also president of the board of the Quilt Alliance, a national non-profit dedicated to documenting, preserving, and sharing the stories of quilts and quiltmakers. Smucker will be leading the workshop Creating Digital Oral History Exhibits on Wednesday, October 12, at the OHA annual meeting. For more information see Workshops.

For a couple of years when I was first out of graduate school I worked as a content specialist at a web and interactive firm specializing in projects for museums and cultural heritage organizations. I was spoiled: I worked with a team of designers, programmers, and information architects to craft custom solutions for our clients, including several projects with an oral history component. These boutique tools worked great. But they were a bit like re-inventing the wheel every time a client needed a solution. And like everything else in the digital age, they will eventually become out of date and the funds that were once available to create the projects might not be available for an upgrade when the time comes.

When I reentered academia as a professor specializing in digital history, I experienced culture shock.  At my regional state university, I did not have a team of professionals helping me create projects with my students.  And I did not have a budget. I had me, and my students. With this rude awakening, I realized my students and I needed to be our own designers, programmers, and information architects, in addition to developing content for our classroom projects.  Thankfully, many free and low-cost tools—many of them open source—exist that allow us to share our great content in engaging ways that do not require a team of tech professionals to implement. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel—or have an enormous budget—in order to effectively curate and share oral histories.

In my upcoming OHA workshop, Creating Digital Oral History Exhibits, we’ll explore some of these tools that are well-suited to sharing, repurposing, and enlivening your oral history assets. Maybe you’d like to curate a selection of your oral history interviews as an online exhibit. Perhaps you or your organization have discovered the joys of indexing with OHMS, but don’t know how to effectively share an index on your website. Maybe you want to add audio excerpts from interviews to a map or timeline, or as hotspots on an image. You can still feature full audio and transcripts from your archive, but finding ways to further curate and interpret these materials in engaging ways using easy-to-use tools can make your oral histories have further reach and greater impact on your audiences.


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Throwback to 1987…new “eighties” logo debuts

Follow our weekly series, Throwback Thursday, designed to help celebrate 50 years of OHA. We’ll profile a year in the life of the organization each week with photos, logos, and highlights taken from the Oral History Association Newsletter. We welcome your memories, photos, and comments at

OHA in 1987…

New logo adopted in 1987…

President: Donald A. Ritchie, U.S. Senate Historical Office
Site of the Annual Meeting: St. Paul, Minnesota
Newsletter: Jaclyn Jeffrey, editor; Thomas L. Charlton, Lois Myers, M. Rebecca Sharpless, David Stricklin, associates
Editorial office: Baylor University, Waco, Texas
Annual individual membership: $20

Highlights of the year from the OHA Newsletters:

  • “Federal Judge Grants FBI Access to Sealed Papers” is the title of an article in the Spring issue that describes the recent decision of a federal district judge in the case of Wilkinson et al. v. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Author John Neuenschwander discusses how the decision may impact the practice of programs offering restricted access to tapes and/or transcripts and advised that materials may not be protected from a subpoena.
  • The National Archives and Record Administration announced that basic policy toward federal agency oral histories had been formulated and details were being worked out. According to John Vernon, NARA archivist, “everyone stands to profit from the joint effort to clear up federal oral history’s murky status.”
  • The National Oral History Association of New Zealand was established and held its first conference in May of 1987. The Maori Oral History Unit was a pilot project of the New Zealand Oral History Archive in which the Maori themselves identify individuals to be interviewed.
  • OHA adopted a new logo in ’87! After considering this move for several years, Council adopted the new logo described as “a little more eighties” than the previous logo in service since 1969.

Who were we interviewing in 1987?

  • The Marriott Corporation — interviewing employees to help celebrate its 60th anniversary and for use in recruiting, training, and public relations.
  • Brigham Young University — children of polygamous marriages on living arrangements, relations between family members, and feelings about the practice of polygamy.
  • USS Arizona Memorial Museum — interviewed 45 survivors who were in Hawaii for a reunion of the 45th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack

Check back next week for 1988…


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Throwback to 1986 — 20th annual meeting is held on Queen Mary in Long Beach

Follow our weekly series, Throwback Thursday, designed to help celebrate 50 years of OHA. We’ll profile a year in the life of the organization each week with photos, logos, and highlights taken from the Oral History Association Newsletter. We welcome your memories, photos, and comments at

OHA in 1986…

President: Samuel B. Hand, University of Vermont
Site of the Annual Meeting: Long Beach, California
Newsletter: Jaclyn Jeffrey, editor; Thomas L. Charlton, Lois Myers, M. Rebecca Sharpless, David Stricklin, associates
Editorial office: Baylor University, Waco, Texas
Annual individual membership: $20


Highlights of the year from the Oral History Association Newsletter

  • Ellis Island experiences are being chronicled in a new oral history project sponsored by the National Park Service and the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation. The project consists of interviews with persons who either immigrated through Ellis Island or who worked at the immigration center between 1892 and 1954. Interviewees have ranged from 67 to 102 year of age. During the peak period of immigration from 1900 to 1924, more than 5,000 people a day passed through Ellis Island.
  • West Coast oral historians won a major victory when the California governor signed Assembly Bill 2014 into law creating a state oral history program. With public funding for oral history on the wane during the Jerry Brown gubernatorial era, there was little hope that oral history work focused on the state’s executive branch would be supported. State archivist John F. Burns called the passage “a fairy tale story of a Cinderella bill, a poor waif that lacked every traditional monetary and political inducement to legislators” but passed due to good timing, good luck, and the use of political chits.
  • OHA President Samuel B. Hand editorialized about the passing of the guard for OHA publications in 1986. He thanked outgoing Oral History Review editor Art Hansen, Newsletter editor Tom Charlton, and Pamphlet Series founding editor Joel Gardner for their dedication and skill. OHA welcomed Michael Frisch as the new editor of the Review, Jaclyn Jeffrey as Newsletter editor, and Jessie Embry as editor of the Pamphlet Series.


Who were we interviewing in 1986?

  • Conrad Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant management, University of Houston — individuals with knowledge of the business career of Conrad Hilton and history of the modern hotel industry
  • James Monroe High School, Bronx, New York — more than a dozen JMHS graduates from each of the last six decades, reinforcing ties between current students and alumni and giving students a sense of “what it was like to live and go to school in various decades of the recent past…”
  • Birzeit University, Ramallah — former residents of Arab villages in the West Bank, Gaza and Jordan about folklore, clan relationships and history, economic life, and political and war experiences.

Featured Photo:

The Queen Mary, one of the largest and most luxurious ocean liners in history, embarked on her maiden voyage in 1936. From the favorite mode of travel for the rich and famous to troop transport vessel in WWII, the Queen Mary has a rich history. The Queen Mary is now docked at Long Beach and serves as a hotel and conference center.

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USC Shoah Foundation Executive Director to speak at OHA annual meeting

The Oral History Association welcomes Dr. Stephen D. Smith, Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation — The Institute for Visual History and Education, as the 2016 keynote speaker at the October annual meeting in Long Beach. Dr. Smith is committed to making the testimony of survivors of the Holocaust and of other crimes against humanity a compelling voice for education and action. His leadership at the Institute is focused on finding strategies to optimize the effectiveness of the testimonies for education, research, and advocacy purposes.

A theologian by training, Smith has a particular interest in the impact of the Holocaust on religious and philosophical thought and practice. He wrote his dissertation on the “Trajectory of Memory,” examining how Holocaust survivor narrative — and in particular, visual history — has developed over time and shapes the way in which the implications of the Holocaust are understood. He founded the UK Holocaust Centre in Nottinghamshire, England and cofounded the Aegis Trust for the prevention of crimes against humanity and genocide. He was also the inaugural Chairman of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, which runs the National Holocaust Memorial Day in the United Kingdom.

In October 2013, Smith was named the inaugural UNESCO Chair on Genocide Education. Smith will collaborate with genocide researchers and educators around the world to develop educator training and multidisciplinary programs that foster learning about the causes and effects of mass violence.

Smith is involved in memorial projects around the world. He is currently a delegate of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.  He was the project director responsible for the creation of the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in Rwanda and trustee of the South Africa Holocaust and Genocide Foundation.

As an international speaker, Smith lectures widely on issues relating to the history and collective response to the Holocaust, genocide, and crimes against humanity. His publications include Never Again! Yet Again!: A Personal Struggle with the Holocaust and Genocide and The Holocaust and the Christian World. In recognition of his work, Smith has become a member of the Order of the British Empire and received the Interfaith Gold Medallion. He also holds two honorary doctorates, Honorary Doctor of Letters from Nottingham Trent University and Honorary Doctor of Laws from University of Leicester.

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Education Committee Blog

Linking Research and Teaching: International OH in the US Classroom

Dr. Amber Abbas
Assistant Professor of History
St. Joseph’s University
July 2016

One of the wonderful things about oral history research is that you can do it anywhere in the world. With a well-conceived project, some portable recording equipment and a lot of patience, your research depends on people, not institutions. The bulk of my oral history interviews have taken place in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and I have been lucky to be able to travel throughout South Asia as I collected them and explored the histories my narrators recounted.

When I began teaching, though, I faced a conundrum. How was I supposed to teach oral history in South Asia to American undergraduates in the United States? As a historian, my interests and expertise are distinctly rooted in South Asian experience, but I clearly could not take my students to South Asia (at least not right away). Lucky for me, from 2000-2010 South Asians were the fastest growing immigrant group in the United States, increasing in population at a rate of 81% over the decade. I shifted my focus to South Asians in the United States and designed an oral history project that focused on South Asian Migration.

At about the same time, a new digital resource came online that has been indispensable to my work: The South Asian American Digital Archive. The archive did not contain any oral histories, but their mission was to collect artifacts of many kinds that preserve the history of South Asians in the United States since their arrival over one hundred years ago. I contacted SAADA to ask if they might be interested in oral histories created by my students? The answer was yes, and thus began an ongoing partnership. My students must locate a migrant from South Asia who came to this country under their own power (not brought as a child by an adult) from a South Asian country. After students design, conduct, record and transcribe their interviews SAADA considers them for inclusion in the archive. This gives the students’ work a life beyond the classroom and helps to build the archive of South Asian experience that SAADA sustains.

The first time I taught the class, as a graduate student in 2012, I established the model I have used since. The course has focused on the history of South Asian migration, and students also learn oral history methodology through reading key OH texts like Paul Thompson’s The Voice of the Past. They read sources that incorporate oral histories, they listen to existing oral histories. About halfway through the class they begin to design their questionnaire. We refine it together, with the goal of engaging the we have learned about in the history of migration and the best practices of oral history so that students might listen carefully to the stories their narrators tell. After transcribing the interviews, the class has created a small oral history collection that becomes the source material for interpretive final papers.

I have found, as have many others who have worked with college students and oral histories, that the students find the experience transformative. It “humanizes” history for them, makes it more tangible. But I have also struggled with students’ interpretive abilities. It is a challenge to get them to listen for the story behind the story, to do the sophisticated work of listening for meaning drawn from the past into the present. The majority of South Asian migrants that they have located are upwardly mobile, highly educated, upper class. Their stories are not, on the surface, stories of struggle. Though these voices are underrepresented in American spaces, they tell familiar stories of the American Dream. The students have been dazzled by the success stories of a group often seen as a “model minority” and have not always heard the stories of discrimination, loss and grief that often lurk within.

To address these challenges, as I prepare to teach the class again in spring 2017, the focus will shift. Students will continue to interview South Asian migrants to the US, but I will coordinate with a local refugee community in Philadelphia. This will lift the pressure on the students to locate their own narrators, provide some shared characteristics among narrators, and hopefully present stories that challenge the prevailing stereotypes of the South Asian “model minority.” Above all, it will help to give these underrepresented communities a voice as SAADA continues to partner with me to bring these stories to the public.

In the past, the balance of content in the class was on the history of South Asians, now it will be on oral history. I am putting together a reading list on designing projects, giving back to the community, listening. I welcome your suggestions in the comments section below!

As an educator, it is always a challenge to link research and teaching, and the challenge is especially acute when as an oral historian working outside the United States, it is not easy to take students into the field. However, with a slight shift in focus, a great community partner, and a supportive department (that, among other things, has allowed me to purchase high quality recording equipment) it is possible to bring the field to students. As an oral historian, I can work anywhere. In 21st century America, the world is often right on our doorstep if we can step out of our comfort zones to find it.

Check out Amber’s blog post from 2012 for the South Asian American Digital Archive after teaching the oral history class for the first time, as a graduate student.
Find a lesson plan describing her oral history and South Asian Migration class including bibliographies.

SAALT. “A Demographic Snapshot of South Asians in the United States.” news release, July 2012.

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International Committee Blog

Oral History Association International Scholarships

Sixteen international scholarship applications were received this year and the decisions on which to fund were very challenging for the committee. In the end, five scholarships were awarded:

Joana Craveiro, Portugal

Marella Hoffman, UK

Meera Anna Oommen, India

Annie Pohlman, Australia

Samantha Prendergast, Australia

Congratulations to you all! Your attendance and presentations at the Annual Meeting will indeed be of great interest to those in attendance.

Below are the abstracts of three of the awardees papers/presentations. This month we feature Joana Craveiro, Portugal, Marella Hoffman, UK and Meera Anna Oommen, India. Last month we featured Annie Pohlman and Samantha Prendergast, both of Australia.

Joana Craveiro, Portugal

ROUNDTABLE: Approaches to Oral History in Latin America, Portugal, and Spain

The Palgrave Studies in Oral History has just published Memory, Subjectivities, and Representation: Approaches to Oral History in Latin America, Portugal, and Spain, a collection of eleven original essays written in Spanish, Portuguese and English. The Series’ first volume of translated essays, the book crosses linguistic, disciplinary, and interpretive boundaries, showing a range of approaches to the analysis and presentation of oral material. Themes include: collective and individual memory, construction of individual subjectivities, visual representations of oral narratives, memories of war and political activism, women’s narratives, emotions and memory, migration, sex work, pedagogical uses of oral history, tattoos as auto-bio-graphical inscriptions, reshaping national narratives, and oral history performance.

Rina Benmayor (US) – coeditor. Interdisciplinarity and the importance of translation.

Pilar Dominguez (Spain) – coeditor and author. Individual and collective memory among trade union workers in Spain at the end of the Franco dictatorship.

Cristina Wolff (Brazil) – author. Gendered narratives of former women militants in revolutionary movements in the Southern Cone.

Maria Eugenia Cardenal de la Nuez (Spain) – coeditor and author. The Biographical Narrative Intepretive Method in interviewing and analyzing professional identity formation in times of economic crisis.

Miren Llona (Spain) – author. Emotions and “enclaves of memory,” in the narrative of a Basque nationalist woman.

Alberto del Castillo (Mexico) – author. Journalistic photographers of the 1968 Tlateloco student massacre interpret their images in the present.

Marella Hoffman, UK

A New Development – Using Oral History to Improve Public Policies and Programs

This paper describes a new development in applied oral history that is spreading fast around the world, bringing new relevance, career opportunities and funding for oral historians. In fields from agriculture to law enforcement, ecology to town planning, oral history is increasingly being used to shape public policy-making and improve public programs.

This presentation – the first to explain this new direction – provides a ‘How To’ guide demonstrating how oral history is used in public policy. It provides case studies illustrating why oral history has become so effective in these contexts. It also explores why this movement is still largely below the radar of mainstream oral history, not yet recognized as a new phase in the historical evolution of the field. It suggests that these policy projects may even be the first truly ‘applied’ use of oral history, explaining why earlier oral history projects might be better described as ‘engaged’ rather than fully applied.

The presentation shows how oral historians can help to do this work in socially beneficial ways, train policy professionals in oral history skills, and navigate the ethical issues involved. It also shows oral historians how to package the measurable impacts of their projects in ways most valued by public policy funders.

The speaker worked in public policy for two decades before integrating oral history into that work. As a policy insider, she shows why this is seen as a growing, money-saving practice that helps generate twenty-first century solutions for the complex policy challenges ahead. The paper helps oral historians situate their skills within this movement that’s sweeping through government, industry, technology and social policy. This engaging, transdisciplinary presentation uses multimedia and audience-participation to give both local and global perspectives, and to offer positive futures for oral history and its practitioners in the decades ahead.

Meera Anna Oommen, India

The Elephant in the Room: Settler Memories of Famine and Wildlife Conflict Underlie Resistance to Conservation in an Indian Forest Fringe

Conservationists generally view local communities as problematic elements and focus on contemporary issues with little appreciation of the continuing role of historical processes in motivating resistance to forest and species protection. This paper traces the evolution of conservation conflict in a forest fringe landscape in the Western Ghats hotspot of southern India where migrant settlers practicing marginal agriculture oppose conservation through retaliatory killings of charismatic species and everyday acts of resistance. We analyze these actions in view of the cumulative impact of two traumas which impacted

this community: (1) impoverishment, famine and subsequent dislocation from their native villages, followed by (2) protracted conflict with crop-raiding elephants in their new settlements in the hills.

We trace these experiences through an analysis of oral histories of first and second generation settlers. Displaced by unemployment and localized famines catalyzed by the Second World War, impoverished villagers from Central Travancore were encouraged by the erstwhile princely state and its newly independent counterpart to clear mountain forests for food production. For the migrants, their new home proved to be a harsh and impenetrable frontier, whose hostility was compounded by the unwelcome presence of elephants. Settler remembrances are dominated by memories of daily elephant raids on their settlements which forced them to construct houses in the safety of tall forest trees. While famine has been a long-forgotten story in the plains, it has remained a recurring narrative in the memories of settlers, urging an inordinate focus on food crop cultivation despite poor returns. Contemporary conflict is, therefore, a complex ongoing narrative characterized and fueled by the persistence of memory. By ignoring historical contingencies and privileging only the claims of indigenous residents such as forest-dwelling tribal communities, conservation interventions in the Global South, especially those promoted by international agencies, often overlook the elephant in the room.

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Education Committee Blog

Teaching History, Empathy, and Understanding through Oral History

By Erin Conlin & Christine Baker

In many Americans’ minds, the Middle East is inextricably linked to terrorism and upheaval. We often hear horror stories in the news about violence, chaos, and general turmoil. Most of us are far removed from the situation. Hearing only the negative news easily breeds fear and suspicion of people who appear to be very “different” from “us.” This raises an important question for historians. What can we do to teach content and help students overcome feelings distrust or antipathy so they better understand the world today? As educators and historians we should develop activities that build knowledge, understanding, and empathy.

Dr. Christine Baker undertakes this challenge every semester. As the Middle Eastern historian at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), Dr. Baker teaches a variety of courses that cover different periods and people within the Middle East. This past spring semester (2016), she taught a Modern Middle East class. Most students enrolled in the class had limited knowledge of the region or its people (past or present). IUP draws largely on students from Western Pennsylvania. Most live in small towns with relatively homogenous populations, and few students have interacted with anyone from the Middle East.

Dr. Baker uses a variety of teaching and historical methodologies to engage her students. She approached me about incorporating an oral history component since I am the department’s oral history specialist and coordinator for the IUP Oral History Program. Dr. Baker and discussed the logistics and goals of the class, starting with the goals of the project and identifying how many interviews she hoped to have her students conduct. She identified potential intervieews by networking with Middle Eastern students she knew from previous classes and she asked both IUP’s International Office and the Muslim Student Association to email students to request participants.

For this blog post, I asked Dr. Baker to reflect various aspects of on the experience. (She was traveling at the time so we communicated in writing rather than doing an oral interview.) We selected a few segments to illustrate how oral history can be incorporated into a traditional content-driven history course and highlight the different purposes it serves and opportunities it provides.

Why did you want to do an oral history project with your students? What were your goals?

I had a few goals in mind with this oral history project. First and foremost, I wanted to teach my students about historical sources and how they’re ‘made’. I thought that this oral history project would achieve this because they’d be able to see how they were creating historical sources; by interviewing students from a minority (and sometimes maligned) community on campus, they had the opportunity to go beyond traditional media/scholarly sources about the Middle East or Muslims in America and

create something that future historians may be able to use. In doing this, I encouraged them to think about what kinds of sources are traditionally available to historians and the ways that some people and groups are often ‘left out’ of those sources. In addition, I wanted them to compare what they had learned about the Middle East from scholarly and media sources that with the way that people from the region would talk about what was going on.

Dr. Baker then elaborated on the need to teach undergraduate students to “consider the nature of expertise and the need to interpret evidence.” Part of this process entailed evaluating an interviewees’ testimony and determining what elements were fact-based and which were opinions. She noted with the 2016 election around the corner, this is a valuable skill for students and general citizens alike. If we can teach students how to do this in a structured class setting, they will eventually learn how to apply it to other facets of life.

In addition to teaching students useful analytical skills, the project would also

humanize “the Middle East,” by giving students studying the history of the region an opportunity to interact with someone from the area. Dr. Baker noted, “Especially with the rise of Islamophobic rhetoric in the US right now, I thought it was important to have them actually meet Muslims and people from the Middle East to learn that they are also multifaceted real people, not some kind of caricature.” It’s worth noting recent studies have found that simply interacting on a personal level with someone of another race or ethnicity is most effective at combating negative stereotypes or attitudes. Providing students with opportunities to interact with different people on a personal level is one of the most valuable tools we have as oral historians.

I know we discussed possible issues of “tokenism” and concerns over making an interviewee feel like what they said represented everyone in their racial, ethnic, or religious group. What did you do with your students to help mitigate this issue?

I will admit, this was difficult and I am not entirely sure that I managed to really ‘solve’ this issue. I emphasized to my own students that their interviewees represented only one opinion on issues in the Middle East – and not necessarily a more informed opinion than they would find in the news or more scholarly sources. I talked to my students about their own knowledge of US politics and international relations and, of course, there was a spectrum of knowledge and interest – some of my students knew lots about politics and some knew nearly nothing. I reminded them that they were interviewing fellow IUP students – and that, just like we don’t expect other American students to be experts in US politics and policy, the Middle Eastern students they were interviewing would not necessarily be ‘experts’ on issues related to Middle East. I encouraged them to think of their interviewees as providing a ‘snapshot’ – just one person’s view of the region.

I also worked with my students to create an Interview Guide with them. We brainstormed questions as a class and discussed problematic questions (such as asking them to ‘explain’ regional conflicts). I emphasized that they were getting to know these students as individuals.

With the interviewees, I emphasized that students would be interviewing them as individuals, not as representatives for the region. Although I suspect that this was not wholly successful and they still felt the need to ‘explain’ their entire region, race, religion. But I think that this is more of an issue of being Muslim in the US right now, and less an issue about this particular assignment.

Students’ reactions to the activity varied, but most found it interesting and illuminating. As Dr. Baker noted, in some cases interacting one-on-one with a Muslim forced the interviewee to confront their own pre-existing views about Muslims. In particular they saw that Muslims, like people of any religious faith, vary in their level of devotion. Additionally, students often seemed to have an image of all Muslim students as defined nearly exclusively by their religion (and the most stringent rules of their religion), so it was eye-opening for them to see the diversity.

Some students actually became friends with their interviewees, which Dr. Baker considered to be another great benefit of the project. As she noted, international students can often feel kind of isolated on campus. She hoped bringing students together could help put different groups in contact with one another. For that reason, she also hosted a party at her house at the end of the semester for both the students in her class and their interviewees to thank the Middle Eastern students for participating (and, in part, to facilitate the development of relationships between the groups). Community-based oral history projects strive to foster a sense of community and to serve the interests of both the oral historians and the participants. Providing avenues for engagement outside the interview facilitates these goals.

We worked with students and their participants to determine the best course of action regarding their interviews and transcripts. Most participants agreed to have their interviews and transcripts archived and made available to the public. Since one of the goals of the course was to teach students about creating and interpreting sources, I concluded the interview by looking to the future and how the sources may be used.

How do you think future students could use the archived interviews?

I am hoping to do a longer-term project related to this – I hope to have future classes of students continue working on oral history projects with students from the Middle East. I think that, especially considering the rhetoric around Muslims in the US right now, it could provide an interesting snapshot of Muslim views of the US and American politics. I have also considered assigning the archived interviews as a source for future classes when they are researching conflicts in the Middle East and how Muslims react to them.

I also know that other faculty are considering using the interviews as a source – in Fall 2016, a sociology prof at IUP will be teaching a class on “Islam in the US” and may use the interviews as part of a larger assignment.

I am also hoping that they’ll be used by future students and historians who are interested in social life at IUP. I think that, in archives like this, it’s easy to focus on majority communities on campus and international students often get left out of them. So I hope that adding more interviews by international students will give a fuller picture of life at IUP.

Dr. Baker’s project illustrates how instructors can incorporate oral history in a more traditional content-driven course. It is an excellent tool for understanding and evaluating historical sources. It also provides students the opportunity to move beyond talking about how sources are created, to engaging in the actual process of making an historical source. Additionally, oral history projects can help humanize subjects, which makes it easier to apply classroom content knowledge to the real world. Students engaged in these types of projects may not be expert oral historians, and there may be some issues with the quality of the interview as a historical source. Nevertheless, the experiences students’ gain can help them to become more knowledgeable and thoughtful. The value of a liberal arts education resides in teaching students how to understand and interpret the world around them. Hopefully equipped with greater insight and empathy, our students will become aware and informed citizens and leaders.

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Throwback to 1985…a time of change at OHA

Follow our weekly series, Throwback Thursday, designed to help celebrate 50 years of OHA. We’ll profile a year in the life of the organization each week with photos, logos, and highlights taken from the Oral History Association Newsletter. We welcome your memories, photos, and comments at

OHA in 1985…

President: Martha J. Ross, University of Maryland
Site of the Annual Meeting: Pensacola, Florida
Newsletter: Tom Charlton, editor; Adelaide S. Darling, Harriet H. Fadal, Rebecca S. Jiménez, and David Stricklin, associates
Editorial office: Baylor University, Waco, Texas
Annual individual membership: $15

Charleszetta Waddles, the “one-woman war on poverty,” profiled in Women of Courage.

Highlights of the year from the Oral History Association Newsletters:

  • Ronald E. Marcello, the Association’s first Executive Secretary, stepped down from his post after almost 10 years of outstanding service to the OHA. During his tenure, the responsibilities of the position and the activities of the Association “have increased in geometric proportions” according to the Newsletter editor. Anne G. Campbell was named Marcello’s successor at the fall meeting. Campbell was curator of the Appalachian Collection at University of Kentucky in 1985, and UK was selected to host the office of the executive secretary.
  • The 1985 recipient of the New England Association of Oral History’s Harvey Kantor award, Ruth Edmonds Hill was profiled in the Fall issue of the Newsletter for her work at the Schlesinger Library on the Black Women Oral History Project and the Women in Federal Government project. When photographer Judith Sedwick photographed a group of the women profiled, an exhibit was born. “Women in Courage,” first shown in December 1984 at the New York Public Library, displayed the photographs and capsule biographies of the women profiled. The exhibit traveled for the next three years to Boston, Seattle, and Atlanta.
  • Oral History and the Law, by John A. Neuenschwander, rolled off the presses in the summer of 1985. The publication was the first OHA pamphlet in a new series of publications prompted by numerous requests for practical, timely oral history information.
  • Attendees at the 1985 Annual Meeting (as it is now referred to in the Newsletters) “proved in a special way their unflagging commitment to both the Association and their field of interest.” Those who journeyed to Pensacola arrived in the midst of Hurricane Juan, dubbed the “Halloween Howler.” Flights were cancelled or diverted, speakers could not make it to Pensacola, and the Pensacola Hilton suffered broken windows and leaking ceilings. A highlight of the meeting was a buffet reception at the Naval Aviation Museum honoring pioneer oral historian Forrest C. Pogue, biographer of George C. Marshall and past OHA President.

Who we were interviewing in 1985…

  • The Smithsonian Institution — chronicling the roles of a wide array of individuals and groups associated with the internal history of the “Pepsi Generation” advertising campaign, building upon a donation of more than 200 items from Pepsi and examining the American passion for youth.
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and the Blue Ridge Regional Library — the people of Patrick County, Virginia, on making a living in hard times, community life, migration, and their rural heritage.
  • State Historical Society of Wisconsin — union members of the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA).



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