Saturday, November 05, 2005

Oral History

Several of our students presented at the iPod showcase for the Apple Digital Campus Leadership Institute. I am very proud of our projects, and you should be too. For this week, we have Dr. Lee Ann Caldwell with us to discuss oral hisory. Most of you know Dr. Caldwell and I know we will enjoy this session. It gets even better, as Dr. Jesse Hingson has arranged some projects for us to complete in oral history. You will be interviewing members of the Cuban community here. Dr. Hingson has graciously arranged all of this and will be lending his help to you while we work through the project. Once again, we will be pod casting the interviews along with your analysis of the material. If you have not listened to the genealogy projects of your peers, you will want to do that, as they were very interesting. We have lots to discuss about our materials over the last couple of weeks, so I am looking forward to our next class and to discussing these materials on the blog.

20 Comments:

At 2:34 PM, Blogger donna said...

The oral history class was very interesting. The biography I chose for next week was based on several years of oral history with an individual. So, the discussions about how that should be done were very timely for me. I look forward to working with you all as we interview the folks for Dr. Hingson.

 
At 5:03 PM, Blogger Joey said...

Greetings everyone. As we continue exploring the different research methodologies available to us from each of the professors on campus, I never cease to expand my own methodologies just a little bit further. Dr. Caldwell’s presentation on oral history ignited my curiosity somewhat and I have spent the last couple of days rooting around the internet, “googling”, and attempting to get a broader understanding on how oral history has changed the historical profession. Truly, the concept of oral history surpasses any other historical methodology since it was narration and the tradition of older generations relaying history to younger generations through stories that came before the concept of writing and recording the past. Historians coin this the “prehistory” phase because we have little to no written record of the period. Throughout the classical period, it seems that oral history received little attention from scholars. Ballads, I believe, were one of the greatest uses of oral history during the “Middle Ages.” Yet, it appears that somewhere during the Victorian period, oral history was relegated to non-academic research tool that was often neglected by historians of the time. With the professionalization of the historical profession in the 20th century, I believe we as historians have begun to embrace oral history as a research tool with definite benefits. At the beginning of the semester I made the comment that manuscripts, journals, and diaries, were the best way to understand the thought processes of the people in our particular research area. Oral histories do the same thing but allow the historian to interact with the past in a way that written records cannot allow. In closing I would like to share with each of you a website that relates to oral history. The site allows people to log on and post their reflections of significant events in their lives, the JFK assassination, Vietnam, and current events. The site was very informative. It can be found at: www.memorywiki.org.

 
At 6:36 PM, Blogger Jesse Hingson said...

Here is a list of questions that we brainstormed on Tuesday evening. By the way, I had a great time! What I have done is divide the questions into three groups depending on the type of interviewee: 1) first generation Cuban-American, 2) second generation Cuban-American, and 3) a friend, neighbor, or co-worker of Cuban-Americans in Milledgeville. This last category of interviewee will be essential in order for us to fill in background knowledge. At any rate, let's start. These sets of questions, of course, are not exhaustive considering the time constraints and follow up questions that you may have.

First generation Cuban-Americans: 1) What drew you and your family to Milledgeville, Georgia? 2) What are your happiest memories in Cuba? 3) What would you want your children or future generations to know about your experiences in this country (especially Milledgeville)? 4) If Fidel Castro falls from power, would you want to return or have your returned? 5) What should the United States government's policy be towards Cuba? 6) Could you comment on what it was like in Milledgeville when you first arrived and how it has changed since? 7) Did the Milledgeville community embrace you and your family?

Second-generation Cuban-Americans: 1) What was it like growing up in the United States, and in particular, in Milledgeville? 2) What are the happiest memories of your childhood? 3) How did you and your parents adjust to life in the United States and in Milledgeville? 4) Would you ever want to go to Cuba or do you still have family there? 5) What should the US government's policy be towards Cuba? 6) Could you comment on what it was like to grow up in Milledgeville? 7) Were you and your family able to maintain Cuban traditions?

Friend, neighbor, or co-workers of Cuban-Americans: 1) How long have you lived in Milledgeville, and what have you done here? 2) What Cuban-Americans or Cuban-American families did you know in Milledgeville and how did you know them? 3) From your perspective, how did the Cuban-Americans that you knew get along with the Milledgeville community? 4) What are some of your fondest memories of your Cuban-American friends, neighbors, or co-workers? 5) Do you still keep in touch with your Cuban-American friends, neighbors, or co-workers?

These may be edited as necessary. I hope that this helps start us off for next week.

 
At 8:39 PM, Blogger Dr. Deborah Vess said...

I am not sure what Joey means when he claims oral history "surpasses" other historical methods. I believe many professional historians would dispute that claim. Too, can Joey perhaps explain more what he means when claiming oral histories allow for interactions wtih the past that the written record does not? After all, many oral histories are transcribed -- this is standard methodology. If he means merely that oral histories preserve what may not be preserved elsewhere in writing, that is certainly true of many African cultures prior to modern times.

 
At 8:43 PM, Blogger Dr. Deborah Vess said...

I want to add one more thing to consider -- Joey wrote that "Truly, the concept of oral history surpasses any other historical methodology since it was narration and the tradition of older generations relaying history to younger generations through stories that came before the concept of writing and recording the past." Does this claim that when one tells narratives and stories told from generation to generation one relays "history" raise any issues for the rest of you, especially in the context of assigned readings? One thing I hope all learn from Dr. Hingson's project is that it is one thing to take an interview, but another to make "history" out of it. Would anyone like to comment on this point -- to agree or to disagree?

 
At 8:30 AM, Blogger Joey said...

In my "surpasses" argument, I was refering to age rather than method. Oral history has been around longer than written recordings. Sorry for the confusion. There is a difference between telling stories to younger generations and oral history. However, many stories that are passed down do have some historical credibility that if properly researched could validate those stories. Oral history projects that we conduct allow us to ask specific questions that we may not be able to get from a text. True, the participant may not have an answer, but we have the better probability of understanding a particular portion of the past from a person who is alive and recounting the story than a deceased person's memoir, who is unable to elaborate on a certain issue and may not have considered the aspect we are researching important enough to include it in their journal.

 
At 6:55 PM, Blogger colin said...

I think that as far as historical method goes, oral history makes up a necessary part of the whole project of doing history. While it would not be prudent to validate a hypothesis with only oral history accounts, it would also be rash to disregard them altogether. A good historical method is one that uses as much empirical data as possible. It is important to leave our own inferences at the door, present the material as unbiasedly as possible, and let the data speak for itself.

As for the oral history projects, I feel that our task is not one of historical fact, in the sense that there isn't necessarily a right or wrong answer to what we are looking for. If I understand the assignment, we are attempting to see Milledgeville, and the U.S. as a whole, from the perspective of a cuban immigrant, or those close to them. Because of the nature of this project, I feel that it is important for us to ask questions that are multifaceted. For example, a good question might be "Who were your childhood heros?" Their answers will provide us with what they aspired to; possibly what their parents were instilling in them; what or who was influencing them; hence indirectly revealing to us what their life was like in Milledgeville in the 60's. "What were your aspirations?" and other questions like this may help us gain valuable information.

 
At 10:32 PM, Blogger Kathleen said...

I think Dr. Caldwell also commented on the "history" aspect of oral history. She cautioned us to remember that each person interprets experiences differently. Dr. Wilson also reminded us that memories are faulty and subjective. Dr. Caldwell also explained how sometimes the gender, ethnicity, race, ect. can change what the interviewee might relay. I believe I will enjoy interviewing our subjects. I love hearing people's diverse experiences. I found the discussion very interesting but it also made me quite homesick. My Dad and I will have to go eat pork sandwichs and drink expresso in Little Havana at Christmas.

 
At 4:55 PM, Blogger Jesse Hingson said...

For our meeting tomorrow evening, we will be meeting at the Mary Vinson Public Library. In case you do not know where the public library is, it is located only two blocks away from the university. The address is:

151 S. Jefferson Street
Milledgeville, Georgia 31061

From GCSU, proceed east on Hancock Street until you come to Jefferson Street. Then, take a right onto Jefferson Street. You will see a two-story building, and you may park for free in the library parking lot. I will be waiting for our guests outside, but in case I miss you, we will be meeting in the Special Collections room located on the second floor. Please make sure to arrive on time.

Incidentally, we will have two (and I hope three) interviewees, one from each of the categories that I mentioned in my last posting. The first interviewee (scheduled at 5:30 p.m.) will be Lily Grimes, a second generation Cuban-American who is very knowledgeable about the history of Cubans in Milledgeville.

 
At 7:08 PM, Blogger Donnie said...

I really enjoyed class tuesday, and I am excited about doing the oral history project. Oral history is a very interesting subject. So seldom do we hear accounts of events or ideas that haven't been polished by their tellers. When a politician talks they are normally giving a speech that they have already pondered over in their minds time and time again until it becomes more of memorization and regergitation than an actual spontaneous speech. The concept of spontinaety (sp) is possibly what I find most attractive about oral history. While digging in their memories and retelling their stories they are verbally going through their thought process which allows for total unfiltered information. I feel that it is the best way to truly understand how a time period affected someone. The same goes for a book, the author has taken so much care to write the right words that sometimes it may take away from the emotion of the story, but that can not be said for oral history. With that in mind, I am looking forward to listening our speakers tuesday.

 
At 8:48 PM, Blogger Ansley said...

I think that oral histories are different from written histories in some respects: An oral history is usually a recounting of or a remembrance of the past from a first-person, primary, and/or subjective point-of-view. Conversely, a written history often consists of an objective point-of-view from a person who hasn't experienced the actual past they're studying; it's important to remember a person who hasn't experienced the past is somewhat at a disadvantage no matter how knowledgeable they are; at this point, the oral history (transcribed or not) or other primary source material becomes so fundamentally essential. And in this way, both histories (written and oral) are needed for the most complete representation of the past. It seems to be a symbiosis kind of relationship if you ask me; by that I mean that the written history is first and foremost necessary to provide somewhat of a blueprint or background synopsis of a portion of the past. BUT the oral history completes it as if the written history is quite incomplete without an actual person's primary point-of-view because people are first and foremost the foundation of history in my opinion. ALthough this primary POV is attainable through such written primary sources as diaries, the oral history is particularly useful and unique by way of its impromptu rendering. A person will speak to their interviewer more sporadically than they will when writing. The process of writing usually brings about some measure of hesitance or reserves, whereas an extemporaneous conversation will bring up thoughts from the recesses of the mind--thoughts that might not make it to a sheet of paper. Just as the concept of oral history ignited Joey's curiosity on the matter, that concept in form ignites the curiosities of others who seek to study any history. Once a person is clued in to another person's actual experience, they want to know more--that of course being human nature. Written histories that lack a first-person POV or reference, in my opinion, fail to ignite curiosity among others. Many view impersonal histories as facts and figures sans relevance. To me the most important truth about an oral history is its ability to spark an interest--to invite inquisitive minds. When I think of oral history, I also think of The Iliad and The Odyssey, etc. MONUMENTAL history/literature/art/culture preservation/etc.
In the sense that history comes in many forms, YES I think that some forms of history surpass others. The empirical method surpasses the oral history method b/c it's more detailed, complete, and professionally perfected. However, I agree with Colin that: "While it would not be prudent to validate a hypothesis with only oral history accounts, it would also be rash to disregard them altogether." In the way that each oral history is a semblance of a person's own history, I don't think one oral history surpasses any other. They're all most important to, if no one else, the interviewee and they're all equal in that way.
I enjoyed Dr. Caldwell's and Dr. Hingson's presentation and look forward to getting these oral histories administered.
Joey, thank you so much for the website and for your extensive help and knowledgeableness in the courthouse today.

 
At 11:21 PM, Blogger Dr. Deborah Vess said...

Note Dr. Hingson's directions to the Milledgeville Library. We will see everyone over there at 5:30 and will later return to the seminar room in A&S for further discussion. Dr. Hingson thinks the interviews will take around one hour. We need to discuss the rough drafts of your research papers, our biography projects, and the next stages in the oral history project. Busy night!

 
At 11:23 PM, Blogger Dr. Deborah Vess said...

Kathleen, thanks for your helpful reflections. Colin, I always appreciate your postings, but you remind me of von Ranke when you say the historian should "let the data speak for itself." What would Carr say about that?

 
At 3:48 PM, Blogger Lindsay said...

I really enjoyed the oral history class last TUesday. I think oral histories are very beneficial even though hard facts should not be gained from the interviews. I think evn though hard facts cannot be gained from oral history interviews, the information gathered can still serve a historical purpose. The oral histories can give historians context of the period and they can also give historians a glimpse into what people might have been feeling at the time. Even though memories may change over time ,I think that oral histories are second in importance to primary sources because they make the experiences in history seem real and they give a face to history.

 
At 4:31 PM, Blogger Dr. Deborah Vess said...

Lindsay, oral interviews, like those we will collect tonight, are primary sources.

 
At 8:31 AM, Blogger Jesse Hingson said...

I would like to thank all of you for a wonderful session last night! I thought that you all asked excellent questions that stimulated many surprising responses from Mrs. Grimes. For those who are interested, I hope to set up a time and date for interviewing Mr. Ray Olivier, a long-time resident of Milledgeville and employee at Central State. I will let you know as soon as possible about when he would be available if you are interested in speaking with him. I know that I spoke with those who interviewed Dr. Stowell.

 
At 7:01 AM, Blogger Ansley said...

I thought the questions were excellent too, Dr. Hingson. I especially enjoyed hearing Mrs. Grimes when she talked about her personal experiences. That to me is the best thing about oral history--very moving.
I've listened to the podcasts and very much enjoyed them. Joey, I saw that same History Channel presentation on The Land of the Czars. I thought that was one of the best productions they've ever played. VERY good!!!
I won't be in class Tuesday, so I'd like to wish a Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

 
At 8:23 PM, Blogger Kathleen said...

Mrs. Grimes interview was touching and enlightening. My Aunt died last month. She was the last link my family has to the islands. I wish we had preserved her stories as a young girl in Jamaca in the 1920's. I enjoyed being part of the interview and would love to do more of them. Her reflections of Castro's Cuba are something so foreign to us that grew up in a democracy. I plan to use her interview in my classroom to contrast the differences between a Communist and a Democractic government. My students listened to end of the interview when she described the conditions in Cuban schools. They couldn't believe that Cuban children do not have the freedom to voice their opinions and that they lack necessary school supplies. Also, they were amazed that someone could get arrested for going to church or that the government would dare detain a minister for preaching.

 
At 11:46 PM, Blogger Dr. Deborah Vess said...

One of the things about technology that is the most valuable is the extent to which it allows many people to have access to materials that otherwise they would not have. It is wonderful to hear that you shared this material with your students. We can be proud to have done something that has enabled others beyond our class to learn.

 
At 3:49 PM, Blogger Jesse Hingson said...

I promised that I would have another interviewee scheduled for the Cubans in Milledgeville Oral History Project, and I wanted to let you know that if you are interested, I am going to meet a select few of you at the Humber White House at 4:30 p.m. before meeting Mr. Ray Olivier, who works at Georgia Military College, at 5 p.m. on Monday, November 28th. He has agreed to meet with me (and us) to talk about his experience as a staff member at Central State Hospital during the 1960s and 1970s.

 

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