Saturday, May 25, 2013

Oral History and American Religious History

Michael Pasquier
Michael Pasquier has a nice piece at Religion in American History on using oral history in his teaching of American religious history.  As I have said before, I think oral history is an under-utilized way of capturing religious and spiritual experience in the United States, but I have not given a lot of thought to how it might be used in the classroom.

Here is a taste of Pasquier's post:

The first (and easiest) is to use audio/video recordings and transcripts already produced by oral historians to supplement reading assignments and lectures. They introduce students to the art of primary source interpretation and provide them with personal accounts of major developments in American religious history. There are hundreds of websites—most of them curated by universities, libraries, and other public institutions—with content that might be of interest to educators in American religious studies. The Oral History in the Digital Age initiative (sponsored by Michigan State University) has a list of 370 online repositories, from national organizations like the Smithsonian to universities like Baylor to public libraries in Noxubee County, Mississippi.

I recently used this Documenting the American South oral history in a survey course on American Religions, wherein Margaret Edwards (age 52) talks about her life as a child of sharecroppers in North Carolina, her experiences of segregation and racism, her Baptist upbringing, her intermediary conversion to Pentecostalism, and her most recent conversion to Mormonism.  

The second (and toughest) way to incorporate oral histories into the classroom is to train students to conduct and produce oral histories. Again, the Oral History in the Digital Age initiative is a great platform for educators who wish to facilitate oral history projects in high school and college classrooms. The website offers users over seventy short essays on collecting, curating, and disseminating oral histories, including general overviews of the craft and specific case studies on a variety of topics. The “Getting Started” page allows users to begin the process of designing an oral history project that matches overall course learning objectives with student ability, university support, and community interest. Following the planning phase, guidance is available to users on digital equipment, legal issues, collaboration, preservation, transcription, cataloging and metadata, accessibility, and archival curation.