Interdisciplinary Approaches to Oral History Narrative

We live our lives through story. These stories take the form of religious scripture, songs, novels, gossip, Facebook posts, diary entries, and, not least of all, oral histories.

From start to finish, oral history is a creative act of collaboratively making meaning, rather than a staid recounting of events. During an oral history interview, the narrator often comes to understand more about their own life, as well as their place in the larger culture and in the grander sweep of history. And when oral histories are used in museum exhibitions, radio programs, scholarly monographs, or social justice projects, audiences often extend the act of interpretation by commenting, making mash-ups, or sharing their own stories.

In this course students learn and practice the skills required to conceptualize, conduct, and analyze oral history narratives. While popular oral history projects are ubiquitous today— ranging from StoryCorps to oral histories of Star Trek—a rigorous practice requires sound theoretical grounding. When done well, oral history offers an opportunity to explore the complex ethical, psychological, and affective dimensions of the interview encounter—and, by extension, any human encounter.

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