Tag Archives: oral history

Hard Times: Oral History

terkel-micStuds Terkel is one of America’s greatest treasures: a person who devoted their entire life to recording and retelling the stories of common people who lives encounter extraordinary events and issues.  Perhaps one of Terkel’s greatest works is Hard Times, a collection of oral histories from the Great Depression.

Here in AP US History, we are going to explore his work in a multi-part project. For examples of how this project worked with my students in 2009, 2008 and 2007, please click on the links.  There is some very creative and well-researched student work there.

Part I:

Text Analysis:
Describe 10 Facts & Research a Topic [Read, Describe, Choose, Research, Post & Respond] Students will 1) read Chapter 24 in The American People (The Great Depression and the New Deal, Part One and Part Two) and AMSCO: Chapter 24: The Great Depression and then 2) describe ten facts (or statistics, events, individuals, issues, etc.) that represent some of the main ideas of your reading. Students will then 3) choose one topic from their reading to research.  This topic may reflect any of the issues, events or individuals related to the political, economic or cultural aspects to the Great Depression or FDR’s New Deal.  Students will then 4) use the Internet to research their topic and then 5) post a descriptive essay concerning their findings (primary sources are encouraged and all sources must be cited).  Finally, students will be asked to 6) respond to another student’s post by explaining what you learned either a) from their essay or b) from their sources concerning their topic.  Your 10 facts and research topic will be worth 40 points each [80 total] and your question/comment will be worth 10 points. Finally, your detailed response to a student’s post will be worth 10 points.

Part II:

Lewis Andreas | Dorothe Bernstein | Sam Heller | Jerome Zerbe | Robin Langston | Louis Banks | Emma Tiller | Buddy Blankenship | Jim Sheridan | Eileen Barth | Bob Stinson | Evelyn Finn | Dorothy Day | Max Naiman | Oscar Helein | Cesar Chaves | Doc Graham | Peggy Terry | Mike Widman | Arthur Robertson | John Beecher | Jane Yoder | Aaron Barkham | Earl Dickinson | Ed Paulsen | Vincent Murray | Larry Van Dusen

People: Write a brief (1 page) biography based on your interviews and your understanding of the personal experiences of your character.  You may use artistic license to add information as long as you don’t change the historical context of your character or the events/issues of the times. [Example: I am a 25 year old woman living in western Oklahoma whose husband left the farm two months ago in search of work.  The dust blows so hard at night that we have to cover our windows with wet towels] [20 points]

Describe the historical events that have influenced your life during the Great Depression. You may write a description in paragraphs or compile a list explaining the connections to your personal experiences.  Connections may be direct (personally experienced) or indirect (affecting the scenario around you). [Example: When the Federal Farm Board was established, we thought we could continue to grow more food to pay our mortgage, but no one was buying. Prices plummeted.  We overproduced and were left with rotting crops.  Things even got worse when the Farmer,s Holiday Association tried to sabotage our food from going to market] [20 points]

How have any of these issues below affected you?  What is their relationship to the events you are connected to? Explain in detail by analyzing the relationship between your experiences, historic events and these issues.  Choose a minimum of four of the issues listed here. Justice | Patriotism | Racism | Politics | Economic Power | Rights | Prejudice | Gender | Equality [Example: Hoover seems to want to protect the large farmer-owners and not the small ones. (Economic Power) Doesn’t everyone deserve to be protected from poverty in this country? (Equality) [20 points]

Randomly select groups.  Introduce yourselves and then create a story involving yourself and two others.  You may decide to either write a short story (4-5 pages) or outline a skit and then act it out in the class (10 minutes).  The objective of the story is to describe and explain the political, economic and social impact of the Great Depression through your collective experiences, but remember to have fun creating and/or acting out your story as well!] as well as adding feedback to each others stories for accuracy and context. [40 points]

Part III:

Dear Mrs. Roosevelt Letters from Children of the Great Depression
http://newdeal.feri.org/eleanor/index.htm, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/eleanor/
Imagine yourself as Eleanor Roosevelt.  You’ve toured most of the country, visiting injured factory workers, climbing down mine shafts, ate dinner with dispossessed sharecroppers and listened to countless stories of unemployed and homeless Americans.  You return to the White House late at night from another trip abroad to a small mountain of letters.  You notice they are all from children.  You begin to imagine the Depression through their eyes as you read their letters. Choosing three of the letters available on the website, write a response for each in detail both to the child and to the parent explaining your efforts & feelings. [50 points]

Photo Essay of the Great Depression
Assignment: Imagine yourself a photographer during the Depression. You’ve been given a position working for the government documenting the effects of the economic crisis.  Your supervisor visits you one day completely disheveled and speaks to you in a hurry.  You have been asked to bring your photos to the President himself.  He wishes to know more about your work and how it may help him create policies to help the nation.  You have to select ten of your best photos and explain why they are symbolic of the times.  Visit the website and choose ten images.  Explain what message each image tells and why it is important to remember. [50 points]

Oral History Interview: 90’s

We’re going to begin one of our first projects with someone both fun and deeply historical. It’s the practice of interviewing common and uncommon people in history. You’re going to ask questions to someone who was an adult in the 1990’s to learn more about a topic or issue in that decade.

First, what are oral interviews? Here are a couple of examples:

Now we need to know the step by step process.  Let’s take a look.

  • Step 1: Choose a Topic
  • Step 2: Do background research
  • Step 3: Prepare your questions
  • Step 4: Conduct the interview

Here are some good background research sites on the 1990’s.

Here are also some very good guides to doing oral history projects.

After we look at some interviews from above (and other sites) let’s have a discussion on these questions.

  • What is the subject of the interview? What event(s) and/or social development(s) in American history does it address?
  • What did you learn from the interview? How does it enhance or increase your understanding of a specific moment in American history?
  • What information does the interview provide that could help you explain the causes of the event(s) or social development(s) this person witnessed?
  • How would you learn more about the subject of this interview? What resources could broaden your perspective on the event(s) and/or social development(s) it addresses?

After doing steps 1 and 2, you’re ready to plan your questions. You will create 10 questions. Here are some important reminders.

  • Avoid questions that invite a “yes” or “no” answer. Instead of “Did you support the Vietnam War?” ask “What were your feelings about the Vietnam War?”
  • Avoid leading questions that suggest the response you want. Instead of “Wasn’t it exciting when Neil Armstrong first stepped onto the moon?” ask “How did people react when Neil Armstrong first stepped onto the moon?”
  • Ask open-ended questions that prompt a wide-ranging response. For example: “Tell me about your experiences during the Energy Crisis.” or “What do you remember about the beginning of the Space Race?”
  • Plan to ask follow-up questions that elicit specific details. Ask “where” and “when” questions to pin down an anecdote. Ask for examples to back up a general observation. And always be ready to ask “why?”

And here’s a checklist before you ask your questions:

  • Plan to tape record your interview. Practice operating the tape recorder before you hold the interview. Bring extra tape and extra batteries.
  • When you schedule the interview, ask your family member to bring along photos, news clippings, and any other items that might help them tell you about your topic. Such “pieces of the past” can stir vivid memories and provide a tangible link to distant times.
  • Print out your list of questions in a type size and format that is easy to read. Bring a pad of paper and a pen so you can make notes during the interview.
  • When you set up your equipment, label the tape with the date, the full name of the family member you are interviewing, and the topic you plan to explore.
  • Before you begin the interview, ask your family member to sign and date a release form that explains the purpose of your interview and how you plan to use the information you collect. You should also sign the release form at the same time.
  • When you turn on the tape recorder, create an aural label by saying, “This is (your name) and I am interviewing (your family member’s name) on (the date) at (where the interview is taking place). We are going to talk about (your topic).”
  • To get things started, you might ask you family member to talk about where he or she was born and raised, or you can simply ask your first question.
  • Take your time during the interview. Let your family member take as long as he or she wants to give an answer. Don’t feel you have to rush through your questions, and be careful not to interrupt. Sometimes just sitting in silence for a second or two can prompt a whole new set of recollections.
  • Resist the impulse to challenge the accuracy of your family member’s memory. Telling someone they have the facts wrong usually makes them reluctant to keep talking. It can also turn a good interview into a pointless argument.
  • When you have asked all your questions, always ask one more: “Is there anything I haven’t asked about that you think I should know?”
  • Before you turn off the tape, remember to thank your family member for helping you with your oral history project.
  • After your interview, you might send a copy of the tape to your family member along with a thank you note.

After you are done with the interview, fill out this Sound Recording Analysis Worksheet.  We’ll talk more about this in the class.