What are some methodological considerations that you must attend to in writing an oral history?

Oral History Essay African American Studies.

Must follow instructions exactly as described also must review grading rubric before starting which will be provided. Must be willing to send preview two days prior to due date. 


For this essay, you will need to interview a person who experienced one of the historical events listed below. From your interview, you will write an analytical essay to relate the interview and its historical context.


Follow these instructions to complete your essay:

  1. Choose an individual to collect an oral history of their experiences of one or more of the historical events listed below (remember, these can overlap depending on the time). This individual can be a family member, a friend, a community member, an educator or anyone else who lived through or has direct knowledge about this selected time and its legacies:
    1. Living under Jim Crow
    2. The Great Migration
    3. The Civil Rights Movement
  2. Follow these guidelines when collecting your oral history:
    1. Be clear in your own mind what you want to find out.
      • Only conduct your interview after you have completed the associated learning module so you know a little more about your subject of inquiry. Bring along or share other sources of information that you have, such as news clippings, photographs, or course readings. Also, ask your source to bring anything they can share with you, such as a scrapbook, a photo album, or other important media. These materials can help spark memories or deepen the conversation.
    2. Acquire Informed Consent.
      • Please make sure you explain to the interviewee prior to the conversation the purpose of the interview, what you hope to accomplish, and that you will only use what is spoken about for the oral history essay you have been assigned for class. Tell them why you selected them and what you hope to find out. Then explicitly as for their verbal permission or consent to undertake the interview. You are required to keep the conversation anonymous and not share any of the information to anyone other than your instructor via your essay. If you choose to use a tape recorder, you must ask for permission to record the conversation and once you have used the data obtained from the recording, you must destroy the content of the recording. Again, you are only allowed to use this information for the purposes of this class assignment.
    3. Create a list of questions to use as a guide.
      • Use open-ended questions rather than general questions that can only be answered by “yes” or “no”. For example, “What are some of the things that you can remember happening to you at school?” NOT “Do you remember what happened to you this school year?” These questions are meant to help prompt your source to begin discussing their experiences.
    4. You do not have to follow your list exactly.
      • Undertaking a semi-structured interview means that you only use your list of questions as a guide. Anticipate that the conversation will flow organically out of these questions, but may go in a different direction than you originally intended. It is important that you learn from the information being conveyed to you so some interesting items will emerge that you might not have thought to ask about. Of course, if the conversation gets seriously off topic, then you can bring it back using another question on your list.
    5. You do not have to write everything that is said.
      • It is important not to distract yourself with writing down every word that the interviewee says, but rather to take short notes to remind yourself about what was said after the interview is over. Sit down and write out what the person said as soon after the interview as possible. Remember to also right notes about your own impressions, feelings, and reflections about what was said. If you have access to a tape recorder you can use it during the interview and transcribe what was said later, again not necessarily transcribing each and every word that was said, but point to things that made an impression on you.
  3. Write an analytical essay about your oral history. Your essay must include all of the following components, in no particular order:
    1. In Module Two, Paul E. Lovejoy introduces us to the importance of methodology in the consideration of African American histories.
      1. You must provide the context for your interview by framing the historical period/moment in your own words, drawing from your knowledge gained in the course. Please cite all sources used.
      2. Position your oral history as a text that contributes to the production of knowledge within African American Studies. What do oral histories offer us as we attempt to redress the silence of African American experiences within the dominant canon of U.S. history? How can oral histories be viewed as a “revisionist” approach to the historical study of Jim Crow, the Great Migration, and/or the Civil Rights Movement?
      3. What are some methodological considerations that you must attend to in writing an oral history? Do you focus on demographic details in determining the why, when, and how of individual lives? Do you focus on geography and the spatial aspects of social relationships? To what extent might you weave into the story biographical accounts? A sociological analysis of the process by which individuals formed new communities and new identities? How might you “unpack” the use of categories and labels “in context”? How might you manage the problem of chronology and time? (Please review Lovejoy’s discussion and Chapter Two lecture presentation, as well as the WPA Slave Narratives readings).
    2. You must then share the selected parts of your oral history that stood out or made an impression on you. Tell us a bit about your interviewee and the experience s/he shared with you. What new information did you learn? How has your understanding of the topic deepened? Be specific.
      1. Use Chapter Three of CG Fleming’s Soon We Will Not Cry as a model for how to write from an oral history. You must analyze the information gained through applying concepts, ideas, and arguments encountered in the course.
      2. Reflect upon what you learned from undertaking an oral history? Why do you think oral histories are important to your understanding of the topic at hand? What did you learn that no academic reading could teach you?
    3. To what extent does your oral history help to correct the largely absent “herstory” of African American Studies? Beverly Guy-Sheftal urges “a new angle of vision” and “new questions” to be asked when taking a black feminist approach to African American Studies. What new questions might offset the dominant conceptual frameworks that have been shaped by a “hegemonic black nationalist discourse” that conceptualizes black liberation as heavily focused on “recuperating black manhood, constructing patriarchal families, and ending racism,” while at the same time silencing other intersecting forms of oppression (gender, class, sexuality)? Can you provide an analysis for how gender, race, and class intersect in the experience of your interviewee?
    4. Please attach a bibliography and your list of questions as an appendix to your final essay (Note: not included in the 7 page minimum).
  4. Format your essay according to these guidelines:
    • Length: 5-7 pages
    • Line spacing: double-spaced
    • Font: 12-point Times New Roman
    • Margins: 1-inch
    • Footer and/or header: include your name and page numbers
    • Bibliography: follow the APA Formatting and Style Guide; this is not included in the page minimum.
    • File format: .doc or .docx
    • File name: “yourname_essay2”

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