Oral History on the Web

By Reti, Irene | The Oral History Review, Summer-Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

Oral History on the Web


Reti, Irene, The Oral History Review


MIAMI VALLEY CULTURAL HERITAGE PROJECT: ORAL HISTORY AND FOLKLORE OF THE MIAMI VALLEY, OHIO. Created and maintained by Marjorie. L. McLellan. 1998. Website, http://www.muohio.edu/oralhistory.

The Miami Valley Cultural Heritage Project (MVCHP), directed by Marjorie L. McLellan at Miami University, has developed an invaluable oral history Web site, which is not only successful in "making visible the rich traditions, accomplishments, hard times, struggles, failures, and successes in the lives of the people of the Miami Valley," but is also a remarkable resource on oral history, folklife and cultural studies, and most of all, oral history in education.

The introductory Web page ventures far beyond the usual summary of a project's accomplishments to pose provocative and substantive questions about oral history itself: "It is important to keep in mind, as Allesandro Portelli has written, that oral history `tells us less about events than about their meaning.'" After this quote, readers of the Web site are challenged, "The transcripts and exhibits presented here are meant to be viewed with an active and critical eye. The viewer must make such assessments as well as the synthesis between the many threads presented here and the wider context of events, stories and histories." Readers are also invited to critically consider this Web site itself, to think about, "the relationship between new technologies and the public representation of oral history interviews."

The "Exhibits and Projects" section of the Web site features five model high school or college student research projects which make innovative use of oral history:

"Women at Work" is an oral history project conducted by students in Economics and English at Middletown Senior High School. Students interviewed female relatives and other adult community members about their working lives. Teachers should find useful the assignment section, which addresses high school students directly and effectively. Posted here are edited synopses of the interviews and links to relevant Web sites.

The "Hard Hat Research Project" grew out of McLellan's Fieldwork in Folklife and Material Culture class which researched the dress and work stories of industrial workers through oral history interviews. These oral histories were incorporated into an exhibit at the National Folk Festival held in Dayton, Ohio, in June 1998. The online exhibit posted here is a tribute to the self-expression of workers through creative modification of hard hats, lunch boxes, and tool boxes with lettering, artwork, stickers, decals, and political statements. I particularly enjoyed the photo and interview clip about the worker who modified his hard hat with an actual set of deer antlers!

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