Oral history projects provide primary source materials that aid us in our understanding of the past. From oral history interviews we gain what is often missing from textbooks – perspective. Oral history projects in the classroom give students a personal perspective, helping them connect to and make more meaning from the past.
Students can bring history to life by documenting the important stories of ordinary people. This is a process that helps students to think like historians as they become active participants in history rather than just consumers of it. Through preparing for and conducting interviews, students also develop valuable research, listening, and communication skills.
A short, ten minute documentary was made to demonstrate the use of oral history projects in the classroom. To see this documentary on YouTube, click the play button above. As seen in the above short film, oral history projects spark an intergenerational dialogue, crossing the barriers of age, culture and race. This process is one of discovery for both the student and the person they interview.
Sometimes, oral histories on a topic will cause us to reevaluate what we know. However, it is important to understand that oral histories are a part of a bigger story. Noted historian Elizabeth Tonkin explains that oral history helps us to “understand how history as lived is connected to history as recorded.” Students can make this important connection through thoughtful lesson plans in the classroom.