Practice and Pedagogy: Oral History in the Classroom(Practice and Pedagogy: Oral History in the Classroom)

By Lee, Charles R.; Nasstrom, Kathryn L. | The Oral History Review, Summer-Fall 1998 | Go to article overview

Practice and Pedagogy: Oral History in the Classroom(Practice and Pedagogy: Oral History in the Classroom)


Lee, Charles R., Nasstrom, Kathryn L., The Oral History Review


In the last fifteen years oral history has been transformed by practitioners who have developed a new awareness of the methodological, analytical, and interpretive depth of their craft. Oral history, the most narrative of all disciplines, has turned reflective. During the same period, since James Hoopes's Oral History: An Introduction for Students appeared in 1979, relatively few have addressed the matter of teaching oral history.(1) This special volume of the Oral History Review is dedicated to oral history education and asks the question, "What are the connections, if any, between doing and teaching oral history?"

More precisely, this volume is the outgrowth of a two-year effort by the Oral History Association (OHA) Education Committee to survey the field of oral history education. In 1996 Marjorie McLellan, chair of the committee, and Tracy K'Meyer asked OHA members to contribute syllabi and respond to a questionnaire about teaching. Their survey results yielded two of the articles printed here. A third, edited by Timothy P. Fong and Ava F. Kahn, is the edited transcript of a roundtable held at the 1997 OHA annual meeting in New Orleans. We invited Ronald Grele and Vicki Ruiz to write essays drawing on their experiences teaching oral history. Review essays concerning teaching round out this issue.

Hoopes's small volume began with the assertion that oral history research is both a "test of other people" and a "test of ourselves," a modest statement that anticipates our current understanding of reflexivity and the practice of oral history.(2) This collection of essays and reviews uses as its point of departure the notion that both practice and pedagogy are situated within distinct but overlapping sets of relationships. Exchanges between interviewer and narrator, like those between student and teacher, are only the first, and most obvious, forms of interaction. The interview, in fact, represents a moment in the relationship between interviewer and narrator, self and society, between social and cultural groups or communities, often between generations, and between the present and the past.(3) The product, whether it be a transcript or some other use of oral history, is a cultural construct, one that is mediated by both the interviewer and narrator, by the student and teacher.

The articles printed here speak to the practical dimensions of the classroom experience as well as the larger theoretical issues at the forefront of much recent work in oral history. How to interview, how to transcribe, and how to use oral history for historical interpretation: these are the preoccupations of those of us who both practice and teach oral history. As is apparent in the following pages, it is exactly these preoccupations, the "explicit curriculum" of oral history education, that lead students time and again to a values-laden awareness of self and place, an "implicit curriculum."(4)

The Classroom Experience

The broadest treatment of oral history education is to be found in Fong and Kahn's roundtable transcript, "An Educational Exchange: Teaching Oral History on the Post-Secondary Level," and the article by K'Meyer, "'It's Not Just Common Sense': A Blueprint for Teaching Oral History." The most prominent thread running through the roundtable discussion is the practical application of oral history in the classroom. What texts work best for different types of courses? How does one create assignments to assure quality in the project design, development, and product? How can one wedge everything into a semester, or quarter, unit of study? For both the novice and experienced instructor, there is much to be gained from this discussion. (And, for those with web access, Mary Larson's review essay, "Beyond the Page: Non-print Oral History Resources for Educators" reveals that a great deal of practical material is available on the World Wide Web as well.)

If a thread of practical advice provides narrative coherence to the roundtable discussion, then secondary themes offer glimpses of wide-ranging pedagogical and philosophical matters. …

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Practice and Pedagogy: Oral History in the Classroom(Practice and Pedagogy: Oral History in the Classroom)
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